A man I know said he routinely checks the wine merchandise at the Grocery Outlet on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, a good way for an everyday wine drinker to keep his budget in check.
When I stopped in, I was surprised to find that about one fifth of the store is devoted to wine.
The Santa Rosa Grocery Outlet is “among our top stores in variety of wines offered and also is one of the fastest growing in that regard, said Melissa Porter at the Emeryville headquarters.
“I have a passion for wine, so I ramped up our wine department,” said Dave Herout, who has owned the store since 2013. “We’re in Wine Country, after all.”
In recent years, Grocery Outlet has joined the ranks of other area grocers who take wine seriously, including G&G, Oliver’s, Pacific Market, Sonoma Market, and Big John’s in Healdsburg.
This chain of owner-operated grocery stores began in 1946 with a single market in San Francisco, buying discount factory seconds, closeouts and discontinued products and selling them at discounted prices. Private equity investor Berkshire Partners purchased a majority share of the company in 2009, and by the time investors Hellman & Friedman purchased the business in 2014, markets were located throughout California and Pennsylvania.
In the North Bay, Grocery Outlet has stores in Willits, Ukiah, Clearlake, Lakeville, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Novato.
Herout owned a Grocery Outlet in the Sacramento area but wanted to live in Wine Country, so he sold it when the Santa Rosa store opened up in November 2013.
“Some people in their 20s drink beer and Jack Daniels,” Herout said, “but I was accustomed to drinking wine.”
The store offers roughly 80 percent California labels, with 20 percent imports. Herout said the Grocery Outlet corporation has three wine buyers scouting for deals.
“While some wineries sell out quickly, others have excess wine from the last vintage when it’s time to release their new vintage,” said Cameron Wilson, the corporation’s director of wine, beer and spirits. “Those are the wines we seek out to buy at great prices, and then we pass those great savings on to our customers.”
The wine buyers have great access to California wines, Wilson said, and because California also imports a lot of wine, they get great deals from France, Italy, Spain, South America, Australia, and other wine producing countries.
At Herout’s store, you can see his passion for deals played out on the shelves. One example is the Cline, 2013 Sonoma County Syrah. It’s priced at $4.99, a $6 savings over non-discount store prices.
One word of advice: Be wary of older vintages when bargain hunting. For whites, I only trust wines that date back two vintages, and with reds, typically five. That said, there’s plenty to explore in discount stores like this one.
With great bargains one thing is certain. You’re unlikely to suffer from buyer’s remorse.
Press Democrat wine writer Peg Melnik blogs about local wines and hot topics in Wine Country at tastingroom.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.