05 Jan

Dining:

Capitol Hill Wine Stories: Josh Genderson & Schneider’s

Courtesy of Schneider’s.

On Capitol Hill, just about everyone’s favorite wine shop is Schneider’s. It’s a neighborhood institution – the store opened its doors more than 61 years ago – and it offers more than 12,000 different wine selections, ranging in price from $1.99 (for a 2003 Outback Chardonnay) to $5,000 (for a 1900 Chateau Lafite).

And the staff is both friendly and helpful. As Sharee Lawler explained on THIH last year, “nothing beats the experienced sales staff that can offer a spot-on recommendation AND track it down for you in short order.”

If you’ve visited Schneider’s in the last few months, you might have met Josh Genderson, who recently moved back to DC from New York. If that last name sounds familiar, that’s because Rick and Jon Genderson, Josh’s father and uncle, respectively, own the store. 

Josh’s path back to Schneider’s seems both surprising and predictable. Surprising because he didn’t even appreciate wine until after he moved away from home and seemed determined, as a young professional, to pursue a career in entertainment – yet predictable because, well, it is the family business.

When Josh graduated college at the University of Maryland, wine was the last thing on his mind. So he went off to Los Angeles, where he landed a job at Endeavor, the Beverly Hills talent agency founded by Ari Emanuel. (For those who don’t follow this stuff, Ari Emanuel is the brother of former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. And he’s the inspiration for Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage.)

While in California, Josh lived in Venice Beach and had a blast. But after just one year, he realized that LA wasn’t a good fit – so he packed his bags and headed to New York City, as he had secured a job with The Bowery Presents (the company behind the Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, and several other music venues). Josh worked his way up with the company, eventually running ticketing operations.

While in New York, Josh started developing a passion for good food and great wine. Even though Josh grew up surrounded by wine – his dad always opened a bottle of something special with dinner – it wasn’t until Josh lived on his own that he really started appreciating it. So when he met a wine importer in New York with an open position, Josh decided it was time for year another change.

So he jumped in head first, taking classes at the International Wine Center, meeting distributors, traveling to wineries in Spain and Portugal, and learning everything he could about the importing business. He loved his job – and realized how much he wanted wine to be a part of his career.

Just a couple of years later, a position opened up at Schneider’s and his father and uncle invited him back to DC. Josh was a bit hesitant – when you come back home to work in your family’s business, there’s no going back – but he went for it. And he’s thrilled with the decision.

For starters, his quality of life has improved dramatically. Rather than New York City rush hour traffic, he can walk to work. And he loves his job.

Since moving to DC in August, Josh has tried just about every position at Schneider’s. The morning we met for breakfast (atTed’s Bulletin, in case you’re wondering), he planned on spending most of the day at the Schneider’s warehouse, as there was wine to unload and sort.

He thinks it’ll take at least a year to understand every position – and that’s his goal; to know what every employee does at Schneider’s. So you’ll see him in the shop pricing bottles. You’ll find him in the office, corresponding with overseas wineries (Schneider’s is also an importer), talking with U.S. distributors, and placing and fulfilling orders. And most nights, you’ll see him on the floor talking to customers.

In 2011, Josh’s top priority is modernizing Schneider’s Internet profile. Even though Schneider’s is internationally renowned for its selection, its website looks like it was built in the 1990s. Josh would like Schneider’s to have a website that’s as powerful as California wine merchant K&L Wines. And he’d like a social media presence.

The goal of a more pronounced web presence, though, is to drive people to the shop.

“We’re very much a neighborhood store,” Josh explained. “That’s why I need to know the customers. Good customer service is rare these days, but people really appreciate it.”

This is especially true with something as confusing as wine.

If you’re wondering about Josh’s own palate, his wine region is Burgundy, and his grape is Pinot Noir. Want purchasing advice? One of Josh’s favorite producers in Burgundy is an American – Blair Pethel – who moved to France from Washington in 2003 to launch “Domaine Dublere” and pursue his passion for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Josh loves the wine from Domaine Dublere because it has a sense of place. “Wine is an agricultural drink,” he explained, “It’s just grapes grown in a vineyard.” And that’s what Josh is looking for in a bottle.

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  • Todd

    They have a good selection. But their store needs to be bigger. I realize they like to sell their brand as as “mom and pop” – to some extent- but it can get frustrating when they’re busy.

    Also, a few of their clerks are overbearing and generally annoying. Not all, just a few.

    And some tend to roll their eyes and act dismissive if you order cheaper liquor. Alcohol’s a toxin and not all of us feel it is necessary to pay top dollar for a toxin.

  • Kate

    Mmm, wine, a tasty, tasty toxin that actually can be good for you.

    I know this sounds silly, but is Josh single? He sounds like a great fit for a friend of mine.

  • Bobby

    Some of the sales staff, particularly those who work in the spirits aisles, are too pushy. Literally. I was once browsing for bourbon when a salesman (who was barking orders at the other salesmen — which he did every time I was in that store) crashed into me. The salesman glared at me as if to ask, “Why are you standing in my department?” He offered no apology, either. Just walked away. I understand it is a small store, but if you don’t want people to walk the aisles, rope them off. I no longer buy spirits there, and although I love the wine selection, I usually buy my wine elsewhere, too.

  • http://yahoo.com fan

    Wow, I’ve been going to Schneiders for almost a decade and a half and have never had a bad experience. They don’t try to upsell you.. often the will recommend a lesser known and better brand for less (spirits and wine) and will special order beers if they can get them. Yep, it’s a small footprint to work with, but they work it well. In Alexandria you have Total Beverage and 5000 sq ft McMansions. On Capitol Hill you have Schneiders and our little row houses that necessitate most residents disemboweling their boxsprings to get them upstairs. I prefer here.

  • Fan, too!

    I’ve only had great experiences at Schneiders! Whether I wanted a couple of bottles of wine or a case–I have always been immediately helped and given expert attention. Always shown great wine for the price I quoted or below. Also, I buy a single malt scotch each year for my boss–the guys at Schneider’s have always recommended something truly great. This year my boss said the scotch I gave him was one of the best he’s ever tasted out of 150 or so scotches! The guys at Schneider’s talked me into this particular bottle and it was cheaper than another I was considering within the store. So, thank you Schneider’s!!

  • Fay

    I too have been going to Schneider’s for well over a decade and have never had a bad experience. The last time I was there, I had a blast. ( believe I may have met Fan, too.) I participated in some wine tasting with Jon and Rick, ran into some old friends, and made some new friends. I met Josh for the first time, who knews his beers as well as the wines. Josh directed us to some great mimosa champagne. I left Schneider’s with a nice wine buzz, a case of great wine, and several bottles of special occasion wines. I am looking forward to my next visit to Schneider’s!

  • MakersBookersWillett

    The only time anyone has ever been even remotely pushy toward me in the store was to offer a better and cheaper alternative to whatever I was considering.

    They also hold and special order harder-to-get beer for me, have advised me on wine for countless occasions, and, save one less than stellar batch of Elmer T. Lee (which was obviously a fluke given how great the latest is), have never steered me wrong or backed off when I expressed my preferences. And, I’m in there a lot.

    I < heart > Schneiders. Total Wine is great, too, but they can’t hold a candle to the general level of awesome that exists in Schneiders each and every day.

  • Fred

    Kinda reminds me of Frager’s with booze…man that would be an awesome combination.

  • Rukasu

    Sad that they cut down their special request Hopslam orders to just a 2 6-pack limit this year

  • Dimas M. Chavez

    Before entering Schneider’s, you must first cleanse your mental palate (attitude) because if you allow the tight aisles, or bumping into other interested customers and help, your trip will be tainted from the beginning. Take a deep breath, and enjoy the ride. Rick, and Josh (Father and Son) is a team of spirit and joy to all who wish to indulge. Half the fun in taking this spirit trip is the ride itself, which can include a few bumps here and there. I have had the plesure of knowing Josh as a young lad, and have gotten to know his father Rick. The personnel they have put in place for your pleasure is first class. Remember, leave your attitude at the door step, walk inside and enjoy as I have, and I promise you that you will return many times more. Cheers,

    Dimas
    1/1/11