90+ Cellars, the subject of a feature story in The Boston Globe this week, has been garnering attention for its unique business model. Unlike most negociants, who buy surplus grapes from winemakers and blend their own proprietary wines, Kevin Mehra purchases already bottled-wines without labels. The anonymity allows accomplished wine producers (the company's name refers to the high scores bestowed by Wine Spectator and other industry publications) to unload inventory without embarrassment. Mehra's method works much like Hotwire for wine -- minus the big post-purchase reveal.
Since the winemaker can't be identified, 90+ Cellars wines are sold by varietal, region, vintage and lot number. Sigel's sale, which starts Thursday, includes a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand for $8.99 and a 2009 Russian River Chardonnay for $9.99. Wines are typically priced from $9-$14, or about half the price they might fetch if sold with a pedigreed label.
Sigel's is privy to information about the winemakers, and its staff sometimes helps Mehra make buying decisions. Sigel's director of wine marketing Jasper Russo confirms the store often stocks the same wine with its vineyard's label and as a 90+ Cellars selection -- albeit at a much cheaper price.
"These are some of the best values we've found," Russo says. "The quality is just spectacular."
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Sigel's is the only local wine retailer carrying 90+ Cellars wines. Russo says they've been an enormous hit with customers since their introduction in late 2009.
"It's gangbusters," he says. "The concept is right on."
Russo's only regret is that it's impossible for Mehra to replicate the deals he makes: "He might buy 1,000 cases and that's it," Russo says, lamenting a $25 Barolo that's no longer available. And he worries that when the economy improves, wine makers won't have to count on Mehra to keep their cash flows healthy.
"I wonder how long he will be able to keep this business model if wineries become reluctant to sell off their cuvees," Russo says.