These days, most wine shops and wineries have a club program. You know, those clever marketing gimmicks that you inevitably sign up for after one too many glasses of Chablis in the tasting room. The idea for the clubs, according to Paul Kalemkiarian, Jr., was drunk up right in our backyard.
Kalemkiarian is the second generation owner of The Original Wine of the Month Club in Arcadia. Since 1972, the family-run company has offered a wine of the month club through their wine shop by the same name in Monrovia. Today, The Original Wine of the Month Club has 15,000 members. SquidInk recently chatted with Kalemkiarian about the evolving wine club business.
How did your family get into the wine business?
My dad started out in the pharmacy business. Then he bought a liquor store and realized that the people coming in the pharmacy were sick and ailing, and the people coming into the liquor shop were happy and talkative. He liked that, so eventually he evolved the liquor store into a local wine shop.
And the idea of a wine of the month club?
Customers were coming in regularly with $5 and saying my husband’s boss is coming to dinner and what should I serve? They started coming in so often wanting the same thing that he started choosing wines at the beginning of the month and setting them aside for people to buy. Later, he would deliver them to their door. You can go on our website and see what wines my dad chose in 1972 through today.
What was the business like back then?
We were really a cottage industry, even up until the late 1980s when I took over. There was no Internet. We still did everything the old fashioned way, calling in orders and delivering, later shipping by mail. As soon as I got my driver’s license, my first job was packing up wine and delivering it to local customers. Now everything is through the Internet.
There are a lot of Internet wine clubs these days.
Yes, it has created a lot of competition. But many of them aren’t run like ours. It still means something to me that my members can call me if I send them a wine they didn’t like. I relish their phone call and will send them something else. We try to stay small in that way.
Do you have a wine region you specialize in?
We try to focus on things that are popular, one red and one white wine per month. Like right now we’ve seen a lot of good wines from Argentina, and we want to bring things that are current to our members. It’s always changing. The movie Sideways really squashed merlot, but even that is starting to come back now.
The Original Wine of the Month Club: 907 Magnolia Ave., Monrovia, (800) 949-9463. The wine club is accessible online; the retail wine shop is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
NOTE: This article was first published on the LA Weekly website, but has since come down.