Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bin Ends: A Worthy Endeavor

I love the adventure of entering a wine store for the first time. There is so much anticipation. Which wines will I find there? Will they be the usual suspects, the ubiquitous mass market plonk? Or will I find a dazzling variety, including wines that I have never seen before? How will the prices be? Will I find any bargains? Is it a clean store or is there dust everywhere? Will the owners and employees be friendly, courteous and knowledgeable? Will I want to return there?

Earlier today, I stopped by Bin Ends, a new wine store in Braintree that only opened this past Wednesday. I previously posted about this store which is supposed to be an ", specialty fine-wine retailer devoting two-thirds of its 400 selections to bind ends ---overstock, inventory-reduction and closeout bottles offered at discount prices." The concept certainly intrigued me and I was very curious to see what it was like.

The store is easily located not far off Rt.93 in a commerical/industrial area. Its location obviously helps to reduce their overhead rather than if they were in the heart of the retail district. There is also ample parking available.
The store occupies 4000 square feet and nearly all of that space is dedicated to their showroom. They have only a small back room area, mainly for deliveries. Storage is basically in the showroom. You can see in the above picture that many of the cases are kept elevated for storage.

I met both of the owners, John Hafferty and Craig Drollett, and spent some time chatting with John about the store. I quickly realized the passion within John for wine and that pleased me. He was also very amiable and knowledgeable. Craig also seemed very nice though I only spoke to him briefly.

John told me that they envisioned a browsing store, a place where customers could wander around and easily see all of the wines. The wines are roughly separated by country. The store can hold about 400 wines though they presently only have about 240 wines in stock. They will soon increase the amount of wines in stock. About 60% of the wines are bin ends and the other 40% are new wines. That ratio may change a bit in time as well.

All of the new wines are generally discounted by 20%. I knew the usual prices of some of their wines and they were accurate. The store did not artificially inflate the "usual" price. Their prices are thus good values. As an example, they have the 2006 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, from South Africa. This is one of my favorite Pinots and Bin Ends states its retail price is $35, which is what is usually costs in most wine stores. They sell it though for $28, which is 20% off, making it a very good value. Plus, the discounts start with your first bottle. You do not need to buy an entire case to get a discount.

For their bin end selections, the usual discount is 25%. After a wine has been in stock for three weeks, the discount is raised to 35%. After another three weeks, the discount is raised to 45%, where it will remain until the wine is sold.

In the near future, all of the wines will have extensive information sheets which may include a bit about the wine's history, food & wine pairing suggestions and more. The sheets will also differentiate between the new wines and the bin ends, as well as have color codes indicating the current discount on the wine.

I was very impressed with the available selection of wines. There were only a handful of big name, mass produced wines. The rest of their selection included many diverse wines, including a fair number I had not seen before elsewhere. Some of the wines that I did know were excellent wines. They seem to seek quality wines and are willing to provide them at a value to the consumer. Any wine lover should be sure to find a bunch of wines that would interest them. In the end, I bought a case of assorted wines and was very happy with what I had found.

Against the left wall, they have hard liquors and a large variety of beers, ales, lambics and more. The hard liquors are not really discounted though the beers and such are. They are trying to keep a small selection of more artisan liquors. I don't see the need for most of the hard liquors though, especially if they are not discounted. There is nothing wrong with keeping some of the less common, artisan liquors but there seems little need to waste space on liquors that can be found in any basic liquor store. They might benefit more by using the space for more wines.

As the store has lofty ceilings, there was the potential problem of varying temperatures from the floor to the ceiling. but as you can see in the above picture, they have a large, special fan to help maintain the temperature. With that fan, the temperature from floor to ceiling should not vary by more than one degree. That will help keep their stored wines, high on those racks, from getting over heated.

Within a couple months or so, Bin Ends will have a couple Enomatic machines, wine tasting dispensers. The Enomatics will have a rotating selection of eight red and eight white wines. the Wine Gallery in Brookline has Enomatics and I think it is a great idea. At any time, you can get a sample of wine, to taste before you buy.

Currently, they are opening different wines for people to taste. So I got to taste a number of interesting wines today. This included a 1981 Chateau Haut Brion, Graves, white wine which showed quite well despite its age. There was an intriguing 2005 Oltrepo Pavese Pinot Nero, which was a white wine in which there was no skin contact with the red grapes. So, in essence, you have a white Pinot Noir. There was also a 2006 Printemps Rose from Mendocino County which was more of a French style Rose and had plenty of flavor.

Look at the mishmash of wines above. This is their special bin of wines of which they have a case or less. They all sell for 50% of their retail price. But you never know what you will find there and the selection is likely to change every 7-10 days. So, you roll up your sleeves and sort through them, hunting for intriguing finds. I had fun searching through the bottles, though worrying a bit about breaking something. I did find a couple of wines here, including a Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon and a William Selyem Pinot Noir. At 50% off, these were very good finds.

Overall, I was very impressed with Bin Ends. Excellent prices with a very diverse selection. I think this is the type of wine store that will appeal to many cost-conscious consumers, especially as the Euro/Dollar exchange rate makes European wines more costly. It will definitely appeal to wine lovers who will find treasured favorites as well as intriguing new wines to try.

In the future, the owners would like to open a couple more stores, including one on the North Shore. I think that would be an excellent idea. Until then, I will continue to make the drive down to Braintree to check out what they have. It will be even easier when their website is fully operational and you can see what they stock online.

I highly recommend that you check out Bin Ends!


Anonymous said...

This store makes me curious. Don't get me wrong - seems like great value for consumers. But distributors often get touchy about selling certain wines to a retailer if they know that a store will be discounting them, so I only wonder whether this is sustainable in terms of sourcing great product. I'll be interested to hear about future visits.

BTW, the Printemps is a rosé from Copain, so it's a terrific producer. I can figure out how they got an 06 since the new vintage is coming out, but I can't for the life of me figure out where they sourced the Williams Selyem from, as that's highly controlled and goes almost exclusively to mailing list customers. I'm guessing it's a loss leader from a personal cellar!

Richard Auffrey said...

Jill, though I definitely will be returning there, you can also keep an eye on their inventory by checking their website when it goes online. They will list nearly everything they have for sale on their website. The only exception will be their 50% bin.

The Selyem, and all the other wines from the 50% bin, are supposed to be from the distributors who had a case or less of particular wines. Maybe there was one spare bottle of the Selyem kicking around that could not be sold for one reason or another. It was the only one in the bins.