THIH’s Wine Guys recently suggested a vacation in a bottle. That is something Jon Genderson, head of operations at Schneider’s, has been seeing in action. Despite the current state of the economy and accompanying decline in retail generally, Schneider’s has seen an uptick in unit sales, even as dollar volume has remained steady. Genderson thinks it is because people are eating at home more and looking for those little affordable luxuries, like wine, to brighten their outlook. Fortunately, the discerning customer on the hunt for a good value is right up Schnedier’s alley.
Celebrating their 60th anniversiary in September, this family owned institution is well known in industry circles and brings incredible expertise to the neighborhood. One needs only to walk in with a menu or occasion in mind to appreciate the benefits. Looking for something to go with spicy Thai in the $10 range? You’ll get a handful of options. In-laws in town? Here’s something sure to impress without breaking the bank. Celebrating a new job? There’s bubbly for the newly minted staff assistant or the recently appointed Assistant Secretary. Customers can certainly browse the towering shelves to find the right bottle, but when you’re totally clueless or in a rush, nothing beats the experienced sales staff that can offer a spot-on recommendation AND track it down for you in short order.
This level of customer service does not just come from experience; “it has to be a hobby as well as a business” according to Genderson, who remembers every bottle of wine he’s had. He sees this in his younger employees too — an excitement to learn that makes them part of the Schneider’s culture. All of this knowledge is backed up by research as well. Travel is a key element for maintaining a unique product mix. Genderson’s objective is to seek out small estate wines that stay true to the craft. While they do sell some widely available brands, its these small estate finds that really set the shop apart. For instance, I spoke to Genderson just before he left for two weeks in Argentina. His favorite regions are Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, so he makes trips there yearly. Keeping up to date with emerging growers as well as the new releases from wineries and distributors with which he already has established relationships is an important part of the job.
So what does Genderson look for when evaluating wines? “Taste, price and region, in that order.” Once a wine passes the taste test, he looks for offerings in different price ranges and then makes sure a variety of wine growing regions are represented. When asked if he has any domestic favorites outside California, Gunderson said Oregon has had a lot to offer; here on the east coast he said some options can be found from Long Island and Virginia, but they lack consistency. What he really sees as worth keeping on your radar are wines from Spain and Argentina, especially Torrontes, a white grape that is becoming the hallmark white wine of Argentina.
So who should you trust when looking for a wine recommendation? Genderson does not think much of the magazines or reviewers. “Trust the wine shop,” he says. Well, that makes for at least one trustworthy institution on the Hill.Schneider’s of Capitol Hill 300 Massachusetts Ave, NE Washington, DC 20002 202-543-9300 www.cellar.com