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Saturday, December 5th, 2009:

‘Snow On The Vine’ Holiday Winery Tours – Harmony Hill Vineyards – 12:00 PM

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  • November 23rd, 2009

    Cincinnati Wine Shop Profile – The Wine Merchant

    Local wine shops are right at the heart of Cincinnati’s wine industry and culture.  The Wine Merchant in Oakley is one of those shops and has been serving the local community and Greater Cincinnati area for 36 years.


    Founded by John and Rosemary Vankirk in 1973, The Wine Merchant is now operated by the Vankirk’s daughter, Kathee Vankirk, along with managing partner Lisette Sehlhorst.  We were able to catch up with both on a recent Saturday following one of The Wine Merchant’s famous Friday Night Tastings to talk about the business.

    UC:  Taste Before You Buy™ is a trademark for The Wine Merchant.  Can you talk a bit about what that means and why it’s so important?

    TWM: That’s the scariest part about the process…actually going in and purchasing a bottle of wine. If you go to the grocery store and have $10 to spend, and you decide to buy a bottle of wine and get home and don’t really enjoy it, then it’s not a good experience. So we always have a selection of 10 or so bottles open during the week and 20 or so on the weekends. People that like the wine they taste at the bar can purchase the wine, and it helps us hone in on what people are describing when they’re wanting a dry wine, or a fruity wine.  The descriptions mean different things to different people. So if we can kind of pinpoint what they are describing that they want we can better make our customers comfortable in their decision.

    UC: My wife and I are still developing our palates and just want to taste as much as possible to see what we like. So I’m sure Taste Before You Buy™ is also a great way for people to just explore.wine-merchant4

    TWM: Part of our company philosophy is to not make wine buying such a mystique. Taste a few things and then decide what you like.  The Friday Night tastings help people do that. People get multiple wines to taste based on a region or a varietal. People like different things, and it’s important for people to realize they don’t have to like everything. That’s why they make more than two types of wines!

    Part of Taste Before You Buy™ is to encourage comfort for the customer and also stress that it’s really not complicated. When you go to the grocery store you maybe experiment with one bottle. But if you’ve had a chance to actually taste the wine before you might find out you really like something and maybe want six bottles for your home stash.

    UC: What do you think makes The Wine Merchant unique?

    TWM: Well, when our parents retired they began traveling and used to go to France five months out of the year. Because they spent so much time in France we have developed a lot of relationships with certain French wineries, so we have a fairly large selection. We hear from other people that it is the largest around. We have a lot of wines from the Bordeaux and Rhone regions in France.

    Now that they’re not going to France as much they’re spending a lot of time in California. Because of that we’ve been developing or investigating some of the smaller, less nationally distributed wineries, so hopefully you can find something that won’t be carried in every shop in town.

    UC:  What would you say is your specialty?

    TWM: People comment on the French selection, but we also have a fairly large Italian selection. We went to Argentina a couple of years ago to learn more about Argentine wines. All the distributors have 10 Malbecs now so it’s difficult to know what to choose for our customers. You always learn more if you actually go to the place of origin and talk to the people who make the wine. You have a better understanding of the geography and overall better knowledge.

    UC: Other than wine you guys seem to have some other fun little gadgets for the wine lover. Can you talk a little bit about some of that fun stuff?

    TWM: Well, I would say one of the gadgets we’ve done very well with and would really recommend is the Vinturi Aerator. That has been receiving a lot of national recognition and we brought it in last fall and were sold out by the beginning of December. It’s something we really believe in.

    We also are big proponents of the Screwpull brand of corkscrews. They make a Lever model that costs about $100, which seems like a lot to people, but it does have a 10 year guarantee. If anything goes wrong with the corkscrew you send it back to the factory and they’ll either fix it or replace it. With some of the less expensive brands you don’t get that, and it’s not going to last.

    UC: For a person looking to explore wine and learn about it a bit more how can the Wine merchant help?

    TWM: The tasting bar is great. Our Friday Night tastings are great because they have a theme to them focused on a region, like Italy, or a varietal like Syrah. The Friday Night tastings are not too formal and they’re go-at-your-own pace. We have information so people can learn as much or as little as they want. If they just want to come and have some wine then that’s great, too! Tasting wine is really the best way to learn about wine and what you like. If you come in with a question there will always be someone in the shop to help. We strive to have a very relaxed atmosphere so people aren’t intimidated to ask questions.

    UC: Are you watching any certain regions around the world that seem to be hot right now?

    TWM: Spain has been big for 8 years or so because they have been producing a broad variety of good value wines. They certainly make good $50 wines, too, but in comparison to some of the other European regions they’ve done a better job of producing a lot more value oriented things. Some of the varietals they produce are very interesting like Grenache or Mourvedre, for the Reds.

    The Wine Merchant

    3927 Edwards Road

    10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

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