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New Orleans Grocer Acquistapace’s Offers World Class Wine And Spirits Program

August 31, 2018

“We’re grocers with a world-class wine program, so we see the beverage alcohol industry through grocer’s eyes,” says Steve Acquistapace, owner of Covington, Louisiana-based Acquistapace’s Covington Supermarket. The store was founded in 1963, but didn’t start selling beverage alcohol until 1999. Today its beverage alcohol department spans 6,000 of the grocery store’s 21,000 square feet, and it’s growing at double digit rates. Total beverage alcohol sales at Acquisitapace’s last year topped $17 million.

The town of Covington is located on the northern shore of Lake Ponchartrain, and its surrounding area comprises a booming suburban New Orleans market called Northshore. In December 2016, the Acquistapace family launched a second store, Acquistapace’s Mandeville Wine & Cheese, in nearby Mandeville. That location is focused on beverage alcohol, cheese, and cigars. It totals 8,000 square feet, and has an eye-catching cheese counter and a 75-square-foot walk-in humidor. Steve’s sons Adam and Erik, who are co-owners, built the humidor themselves, and it’s stocked with 210 cigar SKUs. Cigar sales at Acquistapace’s are robust, despite competition from online and out-of-state stores with lower taxes. Strong brands include the Arturo Fuente Short Story ($6) and the Ashton ESG 20th Anniversary Churchill ($20).

Wine dominates at both Acquistapace’s venues, with 6,300 wine SKUs in all—mostly in the $11-$16 range. Top-sellers include the 2016 Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay ($11) and the 2016 Meiomi Pinot Noir ($17). Imports such as the 2017 Château Petit Roubié Picpoul de Pinet ($10), the 2016 Bodegas Atalaya Laya ($10), and the 2015 J. Palacios Pétalos ($21) also perform well. European rosés, including the 2017 Domaine de la Sanglière Côtes de Provence ($11) and the 2017 Bertani Bertaose Chiaretto Veneto ($13), are on the rise. So are European sparklers, such s L’Conti Blanquette de Limoux ($12) and Ruffino Prosecco ($10).

Adam has been boosting his focus on allocated wines and building relationships with producers and collectors. Sought-after labels include the 2012 Screaming Eagle Second Flight Napa Valley ($650), the 2012 Scarecrow Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($240), and the 2012 Penfolds Grange South Australia Shiraz ($770). He travels to France often, procuring such allocated prizes as the 2008 Château Pétrus ($2,400), the 2015 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche ($1,991), and the 2010 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie La Turque ($554).

Prices are low, but both Acquistapace’s locations have an upmarket look, knowledgeable staff, and a high level of service. The pricing philosophy also extends to high-end wines. “Our margins are low, even on prestige products, and I’m not going to charge a regular customer an extra hundred dollars just because it’s a rare bottle,” he says.

Acquistapace’s stocks 2,200 spirits SKUs, and brown spirits dominate—led by Bourbon and other American whiskies. Adam frequently travels to Bourbon country to taste barrels for exclusive bottlings. The store carries up to 25 exclusive-barrel spirits at a time, focused on Bourbon. Exclusives from Blanton’s ($52), Russell’s Reserve ($50), and Elijah Craig ($28) are popular.

Single malt Scotch whisky is a growing category at Acquistapace’s, with Highland Park 12-year-old ($51) and Aberlour 12-year-old ($45) among the top sellers. Rum is also rising, with robust interest in such offerings as El Dorado 12-year-old ($34), and an exclusive barrel from Papa’s Pilar ($37). Adam takes the same tack with high-end spirits as wine, maintaining low margins. The Pappy Van Winkle range is in high demand, of course, but pricing is kept close to the suggested producer levels, with the 23-year-old at $308, the 20-year-old at $192, and the 15-year-old at $102. To avoid having prized bottles end up in the secondary market, Adam keeps them off the shelf. “I call our best customers and let them know that a product is here,” he says. “They don’t even ask me what it costs, because they know our prices are always fair. They just say yes, and then come in to pick it up.”

Further expansion is in the works for Acquistapace’s. “By the end of 2019, I’d like to open another wine and spirits destination, but larger—at least 15,000 square feet,” says Steve. Thus far, the family has identified strategic locations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.—Angel Antin

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