In late 2010 I received one of the coolest emails ever from a guy named Brian Connor – here’s an excerpt –
First of all, let me explain that I had never heard of Stolpman Vineyards
prior to my trip to Los Olivos last week and a good friend in L.A. told me
I absolutely had to check you guys out. Having tasted through the full
lineup with Andreas, I was absolutely FLOORED by these wines! In fact I’m
comfortable saying that pound for pound, these are the best American wines
I’ve ever tasted (and this is coming from a jaded East Coast wine
retailer). I’m now really regretting not buying more bottles while I was
It turns out Brian was a young, passionate guy running a wine shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We ended up meeting up to enjoy a great Italian feast during my Launch trip to Boston about a year ago. He’s now distributing boutique micro-brews; certainly a good friend to have around.
I replied to Brian’s email that I would love to open the Boston market and supply his shop with wine but I needed his recommendation of a distributor-partner who was also focused on world-class boutique wine, not just liquor, box wines, and gimmicks. He gave me a bunch of different options, but passionately vouched for a small, rapidly growing house. I sent samples out to Scott Weinstein, a young and aggressive manager at Baystate Fine Wine.
By April 2011, I was on a plane out to Boston. Prior to this trip, my knowledge of Bean Town was limited to the Head of the Charles Regatta , Boston College v. Notre Dame Football games, and a Kennedy Family biography.
Boston – as a wine market – remains somewhat of a mystery to me. The long established Bostonian wine & liquor import businesses might now be limiting their own progression and evolution. After all, this is where Joe Kennedy had a strangle-hold on the Scotch Whiskey market for the better part of a generation. Massachusetts is still one of America’s largest markets that refuse to let boutique wineries ship their wines directly to consumers. This fact alone keeps a lot of the country’s best, limited production wines – like our Angeli – out of the Mass. Boston is also the closest major US city to Europe, and the old European allegiances still run deep, as one realizes upon entering any of the city’s great Italian restaurants. Lastly, the strong, established distributors seem hell-bent on dumping every crap, cheesy, negociant label on the poor folks of Boston. I’ve never walked into wine shops and seen so many cutesy, cuddly, or joke labels. I get the feeling that most Bostonians have gotten used to these cheap wines, and all of a sudden Stolpman wines are seen as high-end luxury products, a total juxtaposition from my day in Napa only the week prior.
The owners of Baystate shrug it off – “what can we say; it’s a very unsophisticated market”. Baystate started their independent distributorship very strategically, beginning with high-volume entry level wines that fill up their delivery trucks and then adding on boutique gem wineries like Stolpman for prestige.
But it’s not just the big distributors who are responsible for Boston’s susceptibility to bad, cheap wine. Boston is still very much a blue-collar working man’s town, and damn proud of it. Even some of our fine wine shop supporters rely on lottery tickets, “nips” of cheap vodka, cigarettes, and full-calorie Budweiser to pay the rent. These customers are rarely in the mood for a $30 Syrah when they decide to try out a bottle of vino.
So flying back to Boston this April, I was prepared to do battle just to bring our awesome, estate grown wines to the people.
Off the plane, I headed out to the Berkshires, the mountains about 2 hours west of Boston Proper. I was struck by the beauty of the wooded hills as I sped up the Mass Pike. Vacationers from all over the East Coast come up here to escape the hot, humid summers, and many of these folks have sophisticated enough palates to understand Stolpman. We had a lot of fun showing the line-up to knowledgeable retailers and restaurateurs. That night we hosted 35 guests at the Old Inn in New Marlborough a restaurant built in 1760, a new record for the oldest establishment to house a Stolpman Wine Dinner! The attendees lapped up every drop of 2009 L’Avion which has just recently opened up into a beauty to rival the 07 and 08.
My holiday in the Berkshires had to end as I was needed back in Boston for more market work and many more wine dinners and consumer tastings. Scott Weinstein and his Baystate team were ready to work me to the bone to further cement Stolpman as the premier Rhone Ranger brand in Boston. So much so that Scott demanded a small allocation of 2010 Grenache, “but Scott, we only made 300 cases and we had to play United Nations to keep wine club members from fighting over the 2008 vintage”.
I quickly remembered there’s no point in arguing with these brass-balled New Englanders. I didn’t regret giving them a bit of Grenache either, as once I informed our wine dinner audience that these were the only 21 cases to make it out of California to a distributor, I suddenly had the room’s attention.
Thanks to a passionate, albeit small, group of fine wine retailers, the week turned out to be extremely productive. We got together for an after-hours party at one such downtown retailer and it was great fun to pop a bunch of good bottles with great people.
Baystate ended up selling out of all the 2009 Estate and Originals Syrahs in the state, so Massachusetts will become one of the first states to get its hands on the 2010 stunners.
Who knew Bean town could be a leading Stolpman market?! One more uphill battle won in the ongoing war for Syrah!