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Wine Spectator: Straight Talk With Wally’s President Christian Navarro

July 31, 2020

Market Watch Leader Christian Navarro is president and principal of Los Angeles retail institution Wally’s Wine & Spirits. Wally’s has two locations, one in Santa Monica and the other in Beverly Hills, and both now operate as restaurant/retail hybrids. Wine Spectator executive editor Tom Matthews recently caught up with Navarro to discuss how Wally’s is navigating through Covid-19, retail trends, its growing auction business, and other pressing issues on Instagram Live series Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, sponsored by Wine Access.

Born in Mexico before moving to Los Angeles to become an artist, Navarro started at Wally’s as a janitor, rising up to eventually become partner and, finally, in 2013, when the store’s founder Steve Wallace retired, co-owner with Paul and Maurice Marciano of Guess. Since taking charge, he has added the Santa Monica location and closed Wally’s original Westwood store.

Navarro says Wally’s has seen its share of challenges from the pandemic, including restrictions on the restaurant side and changes in sales in the retail stores. He’s seeing more movement at lower prices than he typically would. “It’s obviously been down. It’s been a rough time for us here,” he said. “What I’m seeing is a sway back to some long-term brands that you’ve known and trusted for all these years. Everyone’s trying to keep a buck in their pocket.”

Despite the conditions, Navarro is still seeing interest in Bordeaux futures. While the pandemic has not sapped interest in Bordeaux, tariffs on European wines have created some buying uncertainty among even the most luxury-focused consumers. “There’s talk of tariffs going up to 100%, but there’s also talk that they’re going to argue it down,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns, but with a great vintage, people are buying.”

Navarro points to one clear area of upside for Wally’s: auctions. Wally’s partnership with Christie’s has been very fruitful for the company, he explains, and auctions offer buyers the chance to skirt the tariff situation while still collecting fine and rare wines. “The people understand that they’re actually saving money—25% off where the market would be,” he said.

Through August, Wine Spectator’s Straight Talk series will highlight Black voices in the industry, showcasing leaders from wineries, restaurants, distributors, and more. On August 4, Matthews will speak with Heitz Cellar CEO Carlton McCoy, a master sommelier and former wine director at Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant the Little Nell in Colorado. On Aug. 6, Matthews will interview Mac McDonald, owner and winemaker of Vision Cellars. Known for complex California Pinot Noir, McDonald is also the founder and chairman of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), a voice for Black-owned wineries and winemakers.—Shane English

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