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Wine Spectator: Facing Irate Consumers And Possible Bankruptcy, California Wine Store Closes Its Doors

January 5, 2016

After years of customer griping over late wine orders, California wine retailer Premier Cru’s troubles reached its front door in mid-December when it abruptly closed its sleek retail shop in Berkeley. Customers hoping to pick up wine orders that Saturday were stopped by guards. Callers to Premier Cru currently hear a recorded announcement that the firm is “transitioning to online sales only” and is keeping limited hours for wine pickups by appointment.

At least 11 disgruntled Premier Cru customers are suing the long-established firm in state and federal courts. All the plaintiffs allege that Premier Cru failed to deliver wines the customers had paid for long after they were promised. Collectively, the plaintiffs are suing for more than $3 million in damages. On January 16, a hearing will be held in a Berkeley court to determine if the eight lawsuits filed in state court should be consolidated.

In two lawsuits, Premier Cru has failed to respond in a timely fashion and is facing court-ordered default. According to Alameda County tax records, the firm owes $130,000 in overdue property tax and has put its shop and an adjacent property up for sale for $6.8 million.

Premier Cru made its reputation by selling top-tier wines at lower prices than competitors, but often selling them as “pre-arrivals.” Premier Cru’s website currently offers just 146 in-stock wines, most priced under $25, but it offers 1,367 “pre-arrival” wines. Looking for a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 2012? Premier Cru has 16 “pre-arrival” bottles for sale at $11,999 each. For years, the store’s regular customers accepted the wait. Sometimes they gave up and applied their payments to in-stock wines. But the wait times appear to have worsened in recent years and many customers have lost patience.

Co-proprietor John Fox did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Others in the retail business speculate that several years of poor Bordeaux futures campaigns have sapped Premier Cru’s cash flow, leaving it unable to fulfill orders. In a previous interview, Fox seemed to put the blame on an influx of Asian customers, many apparently buying wines speculatively and unfamiliar with Premier Cru’s slow ways. Wine Spectator has the full story.

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