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This past year, Coloradans voted on Proposition 125 to allow wine to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. The bill narrowly passed (just 50.6 percent voted in favor) and on March 1, it officially went into effect. So now, you can peruse the aisles of big-box stores like King Soopers for pinot noir while you shop for the rest of your groceries. Sure, that provides convenience. But independent retailers have a little more to offer.
Colorado is home to roughly 1,600 independent liquor stores, many of which offer carefully curated wines on their shelves. Many of these small retailers publicly opposed the ballot measure when it was introduced, including North Boulder Liquor, which Tweeted back in October that the new law would be “devastating for small, independent liquor stores, especially the 700 stores directly adjacent to grocery stores.”
We know this isn’t great news for indie retailers and the smaller producers they support, but what does this mean for customers? It’s no secret that Coloradans love craft beverages, and wine is no different. Higher-quality wines, whatever the price point, tend to maintain more nuance and complexity, and are truer to the region in which they are grown. They’re also not often mass produced. So when large retailers like Kroger sell wine, part of the reason the selection is often both limited and uninspiring is because many craft winemakers can’t and don’t produce enough to be picked up by big retailers. This is not to say that it’s impossible to find good wine at a grocery store, but you’ll likely have to sift through many mediocre bottles to find it, and without much help.
“When grocery stores can sell wine, they’ll sell grocery-store wine,” said Nathan Gordon, buyer and general manager of Cherry Creek’s Vineyard Wine Shop. “As a shop that’s focused on sharing the stories and wines of small producers rather than selling all the big brands, that’s never been our game. People have been coming to the Vineyard for 52 years because we show them things they don’t find everywhere else, or can’t, and those sorts of wines are not what you’ll see on the shelf at your local supermarket.”
Vote No ❌ Prop 125
This is devastating for small, independent liquor stores, especially the 700 stores directly adjacent to grocery stores. #prop125 #keepingcoloradolocal #Colorado pic.twitter.com/tYtW9a5fpm
— North Boulder Liquor (@NBLiquor) October 24, 2022
Step into a local bottle shop, and you’re likely to encounter someone who can guide you through all the labels to find something you’ll love—someone who holds deep knowledge of the complex world of vino and is there to make it approachable. Retail buyers in these shops often aim for unique and interesting selections of wine, and that tends to favor smaller producers. Big-box stores usually buy based on the bottom line. The little guys rely on their appreciation of and support for craft makers, and they’ve often got someone tasting every single wine that you’ll spy on the racks.
At the Vineyard, Gordon and his team taste just about every bottle they sell, with the exception of a few known reliables. Gordon is a Master of Wine student, and many of the shop’s employees are working toward WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust, a globally recognized organization, similar to the Court of Master Sommeliers) certifications. “But all of that training doesn’t mean much if you’re not listening to the customer,” Gordon says. “Our customers appreciate that honest, personal service, and it’s how we make sure we’re helping wine do what it’s supposed to: bring people together around a table and make the world a smaller place.”
Up the hill in Breckenridge, where I live, City Market (the only full-size grocery store in town) now has shelves lined with Yellow Tail and Kendall-Jackson. But one of the town’s hidden gems, Ridge Street Wine, stocks a curated selection from small producers. Sommelier Anne Dowling has owned the shop for decades and tastes every bottle she sells with a discerning palette. She can also buy from any importer in the state, so if there’s a wine you want, she can get it for you. It’s the only dedicated wine shop in Breckenridge, tucked away in an alley off Main Street. Customers battle limited in-town parking to buy wine there, but now they have the option for a one-stop-shop at City Market, a convenience that’s likely to put a dent in Ridge Street Wine’s business. The shop will surely maintain its base of loyal customers and visitors on the hunt for a great bottle. But small businesses need every sale they can get to stay afloat, and these businesses offer a lot of value to wine lovers and winemakers.
3 of the Best Wine Shops in the Denver Metro Area
If you’re a wine lover, or even just wine curious, supporting small retailers is a win for both shop owners and customers. Here are some great places in the Denver area to get you started.
At Marczyk in downtown, you’ll find craft whisky, local beer, and even some fine foods, but the star of the show is the wine selection. Find bottles imported from Chile to Georgia, but none too highbrow. Search for everyday drinkers with out-of-the-box labels, and definitely ask questions. The employees know their wine and are happy to help you make a selection. On top of their delightful retail selection, the shop also offers wine tastings on the first Friday of each month along with a smattering of other events and services. 770 E. 17th Ave.
This bottle shop tucked away in Cherry Creek is stacked with both good bottles and knowledgeable employees. You’ll find a wide range of wines at Vineyard, all carefully selected and often hard to find elsewhere. Pop in for a unique bottle to take home, and keep your eyes peeled on their website for events like tastings and winemaker dinners. 261 Fillmore St.
A staple of the greater Boulder area, this independent, family-owned liquor store boasts an impressive wine selection and staff members that ooze knowledge of grapes and terroir. You’ll find great values at North Boulder Liquor, but if you’re looking for a special occasion bottle, they’ve got that, too. Want to dive even deeper? Schedule a tasting or wine consultation with a shop employee to know you’re landing on the perfect bottle. 3990 Broadway St., Boulder