The Progressive Wine Retailer and the Texas Market

Someone asked me recently how I envisioned the name for my new consulting company, “Chisholm Trail Wine Co.” I answered by attempting to verbally paint them a picture. “The only thing more painstaking”, I began, “than trying to drive a herd of Texas Longhorn cattle from the southern mouth of the Red River in Texas to Kansas City, Kansas in the 19th century, has got to be attempting to convince Texas retailers of wine that the antiquated post-prohibition, three-tiered distribution system by which they’ve been selling wine in this state is equally as out-dated – and unnecessary – as that trail that my consulting business is nicknamed for.”

And it’s as true as the Texas landscape is vast. A progressive, forward-thinking – now retired – stalwart in the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission (TABC), after years of growing frustrated with the language of the wine laws in the state, rewrote a particular chapter of the TABC code pertaining to wine regulations. Prior to his undertaking, wine shops were saddled with the burden of purchasing their inventory strictly from wholesalers in the state; resulting in higher prices to the consumer, limited selections and an inability to compete both with retailers in states outside Texas not burdened with a 3-tiered configuration as well as the giant retailers better positioned to “deal” on volume. Subsequent to the new language, boutique retailers now have an edge.

If only the boutiques knew the language existed!

And that’s where Chisholm Trail Wine Co. | Consultants to the TX Wine Trade comes in.

Through more than 25 years experience – including 10 years in sole proprietorship battling the antiquated system in much the same manner as our clients-to-be are currently – we offer an unmatched opportunity for the small to mid-sized wine-only retail owner to:

• maximize brand awareness,
• exponentially increase sales,
• substantially multiply a client-base,
• thoroughly boost profit margins and
• expand a business’ virtual reach –

…all at practically no out of pocket costs…

All that’s required is that inaugural step: rounding up the cattle and hitting the trail – that’s synonymous for: picking up the phone and calling us!

Whether you want to sell imports, domestics, Texas wines, a combination of all the aforementioned or something even more vinously specialized, we know the ropes and how to build your product selections. Perhaps it’s time to expand those horizons…

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Tomorrow’s 1st Tasting at the “New Winery”

tastingwine

Afternoon,

Well it’s certainly been interesting out here for the past few weeks, that’s for sure!  I’ve witnessed countless hours of research, paperwork and travel, all aimed at the final goal of launching a new winery permit.  For the folks following the blog, you’ve come to understand the heartaches, the headaches and the occasional triumphs I’ve endured through this process.  I thank you all for following, and now I have an announcement – and an invitation.

Through my work to form this new winery, I have met a kindred soul.  You that have read the blog and bought some of the wines have undoubtedly recognized the similarities in taste between the offers emanating from Mr. Smith’s collection and the wines once so proudly displayed on the tables at my former establishment.  But what makes these offers from Mr. Smith even more appealing, and what has brought he and I together for our new found union, is the manner in which Mr. Smith brings these wonderful vinous specimens to the State.

I am pleased to announce that I have a limited number of seats to offer to the first 20 couples to respond to this letter – no later than tomorrow, the 22nd of April at 5PM.

Mr. Smith, owner of French Country Wines and I will be hosting our first private wine tasting together at his winery-licensed facility here in the heart of Houston TX.

This tasting of some of the finest, naturally-bottled, artisanal, (some 100% bio-dynamic) wines takes place tomorrow night, Wednesday the 22nd, from 6-7:30 PM at French Country Wines (2433 Bartlett, Houston 77098).

During this tasting, Mr. Smith and I will discuss the wines and the concept behind our mutual work together, explaining in greater detail the work being done to eliminate the antiquated 3-tier system that sets to punish the consumers of the State.

The wines will be offered for sale – AT DIRECT FROM THE WINERY PRICES – and you’d better be certain that these are wines that yours truly is already deeply in love with and currently stocking at home.

I have seating available on my ticket (read: free) for 20 couples – MAX.

To attend as my guest, respond via email, including your phone number so that I may call to confirm and establish your new account with the winery.

And do it now, seating at these events is always limited and the winery is always PACKED!

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
Houston Wine Idealist
chambertin@sbcglobal.net

Groundhog Day

 after-a-long-day-groundhog

With aching muscles and a tired mind I return to the keyboard again, a glass of wine and a worn out telephone beside me.  The last two days and a total of 20 working hours saw me organizing a former client’s home wine cellar.  The wines being stocked were nearly all from my old wine shop, so the back breaking labor of lifting case after case, time after time, hour upon hour was blessed with a sort of happy reminiscing; stocking this man’s nearly 300 cases of the world’s most beautiful wines took my mind back to those giddy days of 2007 when it seemed nothing would ever go wrong.

But the warm ear piece of the phone that now offers tonight’s glass of wine its company is a reminder that these days are repeating themselves.  My first two days of this week were like a vacation in some ways; allowing for my escape from the daily reminders of a career now ended.  These days, partially interrupted by the cellar stocking in my old friend’s new multi-million dollar River Oaks mansion, are indeed reminding me of that Murray film from so many years ago.  Only this set of Groundhog Days aren’t ending so comically.

Daily I work this old phone, followed by the visits with folks most inclined to becoming excited, or at least interested in, my new plan of action.  As folks across the Country talk of The People, as retailers and politicians alike gather themselves up with a pledge to protect consumers and their futures, this new plan I’ve forged surely should be attracting followers.  But even as our dollar becomes stronger just as our economy continues to weaken, it seems my theory for a purely consumer oriented and dedicated wine business has been born into a world of truly frightened buyers.

My daily discussions include talks with men who once thought nothing of parting with $3,500 for a case of wine.  Also in my call list are retired bankers, CEOs, Presidents of oil companies and many others who once buoyed a successful wine shop.  The words of praise and encouragement are many, yet the final sentence, in true Groundhog Day fashion, remains the same. 

I once penned an article dedicated to Roses & Tangerines, remember that one?  In that story I discussed the over abundance of happy-go-lucky tales flowing around in the blog-o-sphere.  Authors of these blogs, otherwise successfully employed OUTSIDE of the wine world, irresponsibly publish article upon article reflecting a “glass completely full” look at the world of wine.  I’d like to invite those same folks to participate in my daily routines.  If you can convince one of these potential investors that the situation truly is all Roses & Tangerines, I’ll offer you a 49% stake in my new venture.

Another dose of reality these days has been the advice and words of wisdom offered from business owners and top wine people I’ve encountered.  Local food writers, ever eager to keep you and I on the cutting edge, have taken to delving into certain eateries that require 60 minute drives or an incredible penchant for culinary exploration.  Having plenty of free time on my hands allows for visits to every new restaurant to make the pages, and I hit the road on an almost daily basis.

The stories remain identical.  Blips on the radar, attributed to recent upticks in press reviews, are recognized by some of the restaurants I’ve visited.  But the weeks of struggle that preceded those reviews, and for some restaurants the massive employee trimming that resulted, are feared as what will be the norm when the reviews subside and folks resume their cost cutting routines.

The fine wine world is indeed in a state of crisis.  Direct messaging and private conversations between the not-so-lucky confirm these sentiments.  Day upon day of Chefs moving out of places you once thought they’d be forever is another small sign that the local scene is suffering as well. 

But I have an answer for this crisis.

All it takes is a few serious listeners.

In the end, Phil and Rita, after what seems like an eternity of failures, finally have their happy ending, winding up together as nature seemingly intended.  Now if only that Phil & Rita scenario will play itself out for the wine folk of Texas….

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
Houston Wine Idealist

Houston Wine Idealist – First Week on the Job

Well, you certainly didn’t expect me to don the cap of Houston Wine ADVOCATE now did you?

In response to the numerous e*mails received after the announcement of my plans to begin assisting the good folks of Houston with their wine buying needs, I took to the streets as a consumer over these past few days.  It has been more than a decade since I traversed the aisles and perused the racks of this city’s liquor stores and (cough) recently born wine bars in search of bottles of the vinous sort.  Sure, I’ve shopped Richard’s weekly for my required Margarita preparing staples and other desired liquors and liqueurs, but wine?  Not since before opening my first shop in town have I looked to my now former competitors for a bottle of vino.

In case you’re just joining us, my new found necessity for seeking out bottles of wine stems from the fact that my old wine shop is now closed.  And if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands, dare I say millions, in Houston who missed – or avoided – the venomous word festival that ensued, let’s sum things up by saying that the folks in the papers had a field day over my demise.  Considering me overtly idealistic, to put it very kindly, the local food writers and their readers pretty much bit me adieu.

But there were still a few thousand folks in my loving e*base, a few thousand folks who DID “get” what I was up to, a few thousand folks who responded to the unavoidable shuttering of the doors with a chorus of: “Well, what do we do now?” And I decided to offer these folks, and anyone else who cares to listen – including the foodies, their readers, and anyone else – a service I once searched for.  I decided to offer a service, a FREE SERVICE MIND YOU, aimed at helping folks locate the types of wines that my little flock and I have come to love over these past many years together.  A service designed to locate great wines, at the best prices, that we may all enjoy together or in the privacy of our own homes with great friends or family, knowing that what we’re drinking are the wines we’ve all come to cherish for purity, uniqueness and an ideality based on the concepts of terroir and nature.

No longer owning a wine shop meant that to locate these wines, however, I would need to find a store – any store – that stocked such goodies.  The first source I turned to for a list of merchants to visit, having been out of the game for so long, was an article written in one local paper.  This article covered the closing of my wine shop and the readers and folks responding to same seemed to consider the author, at least on some levels, somewhat well versed in the subject of local wine and liquor merchants.  That this author had never interviewed MOI in ten years as a merchant (nor to my knowledge ever stepped foot in one of my stores) is not a point here.  I was turning to the author’s article as a reference for wine shops and (cough) wine bars to visit.  I needed to bone up on my knowledge of the local scene’s players so as to better serve my e*base, after all.  With that author’s list of players in hand, I spent a few afternoons and early evenings visiting these shops and bars. 

This is part I of what promises to be a VERY long series. 

The introduction herein has been lengthy enough, and I’ve been informed that many of my writings tend to the wordy side, so I’ll only brush the surface of my findings.  First, let’s discuss, as consumers, for that’s what I am now, a consumer, the APPALLING prices at retail here in Houston!  Did someone forget to inform the other “wine shops” in town of the existence of a well known FREE service called winesearcher.com?  Seriously folks, do you have any idea how much you’re being ripped off?  In my next installment, and in every other installment that follows, I will directly compare prices, naming names and calling people out – AS A CONSUMER.

Next, let’s talk about these (hack) wine bars.  Eight years ago, there was a place in the Village on Times Blvd, recall the place?  Never mind, it’s gone now, but the joint had a 5 piece live jazz band, hired a caterer called The French Fig who turned out these fabulous hand made appetizers to-order and the place had 4 dozen wines by the glass – and they did this every Friday and Saturday night.  The place was packed!  They sold these wines by the glass, organic, hand made wines by folks like Rosenthal, Wasserman and such: for RETAIL!  Check that out: they would take the retail price of the wines, divide by 4 (the number of glasses in a bottle) and that’s what you paid for the glass!  I remember a glass of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc would cost $4!  And if you wanted to buy a case?  You got the $16 bottle of wine for 10% on your case of 12!  Unbelievable, ingenious, right?  Too bad the place went under.  Guess they should have followed the practices of these (hack) wine bars of today.

I visited no less than 6 of the wine bars – I’ll visit the so called better ones over the coming weeks – from the author-mentioned-above’s list.  The prices?  OBNOXIOUS!  The selections?  Don’t even get me started.  Folks, if that’s what has been shoved down the throats of this town, passed off as good wine, for the past few years, someone needs to be called out!  What’s happening here, and I’m going to return, take down specific names of wines and report again, is dangerously close to the antics that went down a few years back at a place up in Big D that had that individual very nearly run out of town.  The wines I saw, at the prices being charged and the methods employed to sell same were so dastardly that I – as a consumer, as an idealist and a purist – very nearly wept.  Call me what you will, but what I witnessed would make the people I converse with on the web absolutely scream!

As I said last week when I launched this free service: until the completion of my winery license (and perhaps I’m rethinking that with what I’ve encountered), I will answer your e*mails for wine related assistance every Thursday.

Tell me: How may I assist?

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
chambertin@sbcglobal.net

Letting Go – Servicing a Community in Need

My wife and I have spent these past several days attempting to construct a new life for our family.  Daily we have visited Early Childhood Program Schools, desperately attempting to find placement for our precious three year old daughter, as we simply will no longer be able to afford our family Nanny with the closing of my wine shop.  With every tour of these accredited facilities, we are encouraged to fill out paper work for the multi-month wait lists by smiling tour guides, their intentions pure, and our hopes once again are dashed – we need care now. 

Since the shuttering of the doors to my wine shop, an act brought about by scenarios ranging from hurricanes to lost customers – with every imaginable facet adding to the demise one could imagine, indeed that many folk who have never met me have speculated to – my wife and I have spent many an hour contemplating many particular points of interest for us. 

My wife is my absolute opposite; level headed, centered, the patience of Job (reference the Bible), religious, spiritual, employed….  But one thing we share is our bond.  This is her first marriage, for me, my third.  She has never felt more protected, and I share that sentiment; in 42 years of life, I have never felt so safe, so secure, so bound by love.

As we drove from place to place yesterday afternoon, or it could have been Tuesday, these days are running together recently, my wife looked to me and commented as to a certain betrayal leveled my way by a person both my wife and I once considered a friend.  This recent betrayal, not to be overly rehashed, for the point of this letter is one of service, not remorse, perplexed my wife, and Big M (as I’ve nick-named my wife on Twitter) truly wanted resolution, if only between the two of us.  What could have caused this public scrutiny, this betrayal, from someone we had once broken bread with?  Big M was honestly searching for an answer.

Yesterday, I received more correspondences from clients in my e*base than ever before.  They were not answering one of my weekly newsletters in hopes of securing a few bottles or a case of the wine of the week.  No, they were asking for advice.  Advice on where to turn for wine until my new winery project comes to fruition.

So with that thought in mind, with thoughts of servicing a community in need at the fore, I’ve settled into my keyboard once again.  I remain mystified, as is my wife, that a certain local food critic harbors ill feelings over a phone call made 6 years ago by a totally stressed out shop owner under the thumb of a previous wife, a banker with a ruthless attitude, a landlord who refused to secure a failing ceiling, etc, etc, etc (yes, I can always go on as to the causes of stress in my life, perhaps I need a prescription, right?)….  But today, from this moment on, I come to a community in need, to launch, until the winery opens, a service this community so desperately desires- if you will forgive any apparent elitism, as absolutely none is intended.

Every Thursday, I will answer your requests for assistance with wine. Tell me: what are you looking for?

Are you searching for the wines in the Houston Chronicle’s Wednesday “Wine Section” – PLEASE, before you blindly walk into Spec’s and pay too much, ask me, I’ll help you find the wines for less money.  If indeed you wish to buy these wines, just ask me, I’ll help you FREE OF CHARGE!

Are you looking for the perfect wine with Arctic Char? 

Perhaps you wish to build a collection of organic Loire Reds? 

Email me and I’ll help you, FREE OF CHARGE!

I’ve decided that the first way to build a community, the kind of community that will grow, expand and flourish from within, is to recognize the issues that have effected the community I’ve lost myself to from the beginning. 

I’m taking my family to the Hill Country this week-end.  We’re going to see the stars, the ones up in the sky, and I’m going to explain to my daughter that her Daddy is going to be a better person than the man who her Daddy called Dad; a better person than the man these past 10 years gave the world.  A man my daughter will be so happy to call “Daddy.”  We’re going to find a ranch on which to build the “winery”, and we’re going to chase fireflies, and I’m going to smile – like I haven’t done for a long, long time….

And then I’m going to come back and start servicing a community until the winery is built; and hope that I have another “family” who will follow me to the next phase of life….

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
832-465-4342
chambertin@sbcglobal.net

Tomorrow Begins Upon Waking

So, with that being said, with feelings of weightlessness now gradually replacing the overwhelming textures I’ve carried for so many years, I now find myself with nothing to write about.  Drinking a bottle of wine is a singular experience for the first time in my entire life.  I have no one to market to, no one to extoll the vinous virtues to, no one will return an email in praise of prose only to thank me for an offer they will “think about ’till their cellars are less full”.  Well, perhaps just a bit of the old textures remain…

So what does a 42 year old man do now that all he has to look forward to are the inevitable calls and letters from the collectors?  Ending a business in no way means a man is free, it actually infers quite the opposite.  I once woke at 4 in the morning contemplating how my day would progress, how I would endure if yet another email program went unanswered.  Now, as with this day’s particular pre-dawn awakening, I stir and wonder how I will handle the mountain, the avalanche of bills and taxes that are due – and that are to continue to amass. 

My first goal – long before the idea of a virtual winery comes to pass – is to find suitable employment.  Dusting off the resume, adding the attributes acquired over this past decade, was quite a chore in itself.  And watching the television late at night, as CEOs find work as pizza delivery boys only adds to the indescribable layers of tension that promise to build as the months pass.

Yet I can’t escape a sense of peace through all of this.  There are wine-makers in France waiting for me to return.  There is a cottage somewhere between here and the High Plains, or perhaps the other direction, towards the East Texas Piney Woods, replete with peaceful pastures, guest quarters, facilities for my next project, all the trappings required for that next phase.  It’s there, I just need the time and energy to hunt it all down.

Something tells me that Texas will remain home for awhile.  Big M still dreams of the perfect B&B.  I remain in love with thoughts of a limestone cellar, dug deep into a dusty, rolling hill.  Perhaps wearing my fedora this week-end past resolved my adoration for the Texas countryside, perhaps it was the open-pit, grilled meats we consumed. 

But when this next phase is launched, after the inevitable settling of these difficult issues before me, one thing is certain; I will need a lot of open air and crisp cool nights surrounding me.  The wine will be French, from Burgundy, the Rhone and points further South exclusively, and my home and my winery will be my castle and my, well, home.  Visitors will be family, guests will be friends, and clients will be both; family and friends.

For now, it’s time for a hair cut, a good shave, perhaps I’ll dry-clean a couple of suits, and let’s see if this ol’ boy can find a job….

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier