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Interview: D.C. Retailer Calvert Woodley Sees Sales Hitting $20 Million This Year

December 2, 2011

Washington, D.C.-based retailer Calvert Woodley is renowned for its Bordeaux selection and has been selling Bordeaux futures since 1966. With a mere 5,000 square feet of floor space, the store’s revenues are projected to top $20 million this year—ranking it among the country’s highest-grossing beverage alcohol retailers per square foot. The business was launched in 1982 when Calvert Liquors merged with Woodley Wine & Liquor, and it’s still owned and operated by original owners Aaron Bernstein and Ed Sands. Sales have increased modestly in recent years, with wine comprising 55% of revenues, spirits 35%, beer 5% and cheese and deli 5%. Shanken News Daily recently spoke to Ed Sands about the outstanding 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux vintages and trends in his market.

SND: How is your Bordeaux futures business faring, given the difficult economy and the price escalation of the most sought-after châteaux?

Sands: There’s no question that the 2010 Bordeaux vintage didn’t live up to sales expectations due to the high prices, but 2009 was a good year.

SND: Did you invest heavily in the 2010 futures?

Sands: We bought cautiously, and I’m glad we did.

SND: Much has been written about ’09 and ’10 as the greatest back-to-back vintages in a very long time. Do you agree with that assessment?

Sands: Although they’re very different, I do agree in terms of back-to-back vintages, yes.

SND: You have an impressive selection of very affordable petits châteaux. How drinkable are the 2009s, and how are they selling?

Sands: We’ve been featuring petits châteaux for quite a number of years. We buy wines that we can follow from vintage to vintage. We have some petits châteaux that we’ve been stocking since the ’82 vintage. I buy the vintages that I think are good in terms of being drinkable when people buy them. People aren’t going to buy a $10-$15 bottle of wine and lay it away for five years.

SND: How drinkable is the 2009 vintage now?

Sands: Every 2009 we’ve purchased is drinkable now. It’s a very fruitful vintage and probably the best vintage we’ve come across for the petits châteaux. We bought very heavily, and people are responding well because if they want an affordable, drinkable Bordeaux, that’s the only place to go.

SND: How is your Burgundy business?

Sands: It’s different from Bordeaux. In great vintages like 2009, we do well. The Burgundy drinker will buy when it’s first offered. We don’t sell a lot of Burgundy off the shelf on an everyday basis. Of course, we sell Burgundy all year long, but not in any real volume. Bordeaux is an ongoing business from week to week.

SND: Is your typical Washington, D.C. customer more interested in Old World wines than New World wines?

Sands: We have such a history of selling French wines, and that business is still good. But it’s decreasing as older customers die off. The younger shoppers don’t have the same allegiances. They just want a good bottle of wine at a reasonable price. Wine consumers today have so many choices, and there are so many good wines from all over the world now. Bordeaux producers have competition that they’ve never had before. I think they’ve made tremendous mistakes in terms of pricing for new wine drinkers and younger people who simply can’t afford to buy Bordeaux. It’s been my view for a number of years that the future of Bordeaux is really going to be in the petits châteaux and cru bourgeois because of the pricing of the classified growths.

SND: How are Champagne sales?

Sands: So far this year, Champagne sales have been flat. I find that interesting, because I thought they’d be down. But right now, they’re essentially flat, which is encouraging with all the price increases in Champagne.

SND: Do you do much business in vintage Port?

Sands: Vintage Port has faced difficulty in recent years due to a dramatic increase in prices. You used to be able to get a really good vintage for $40-$50, and now it’s $80-$100. In general, I think people have gotten away from drinking sweet wines. We’ve always been very big proponents of Sauternes. We’ve been featuring Sauternes for 25 years, but it’s a struggle. The wines are delicious but most people don’t care. Port is becoming like that. It used to be that we’d sell a lot in great vintages. We still do fairly well, but nothing like we used to do.

SND: How are spirits sales, and which categories are doing best?

Sands: Spirits sales are very strong. The more moderately priced products are doing well. But single malt Scotch is doing extremely well, as is high-end Tequila. Cognacs are still doing well. Our spirits business is pretty healthy. Vodka and Scotch are the two leading categories of spirits for us.

SND: Is there any price resistance to the super-premium brands?

Sands: Our customers are still drinking them.

SND: Has the economy in the D.C. area stayed relatively strong during the economic downturn of the last few years?

Sands: We’re fortunate here in that we have the stable pace of government employment, and that’s made a big difference. Our biggest problem is competition from all the surrounding area supermarkets like Whole Foods and Harris Teeter and chains like Costco.


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