Cover Story: A Wizer Advisor
Story by Karl Klooster | Photos by Andrea Johnson
There’s nothing more reassuring in retail than quality, consistency and longevity. Customers buying wine at Wizer’s Market in Lake Oswego can count on all three and then some.
It doesn’t hurt that Wizer’s is located in the commercial core of Portland’s most affluent bedroom community. Nor how the company has been in business for 84 years.
Those facts aside, simply stepping into the wine section of this gourmet grocer is enough to convince almost any shopper — wine savvy or otherwise — they’ve come to a special place.
A minute or two of conversation with the keeper of this bottle-dominated domain is all the persuasion necessary to conclude that here is something well beyond your run-of-the-mill supermarket wine department.
Wine manager, buyer and client consultant Tom Reider has been with Wizer’s since 1989, and he personally curated every one of the 1,600-plus selections currently in the cellar collection.
Since this is Oregon, one would expect a good showing from a top wine shop. Not incidentally, that includes more than 230 Oregon Pinot Noirs, quite a number of whose vintages range from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.
Many names with a claim to fame are present: Archery Summit, Argyle, Bergström, Brick House, Cameron, Chehalem, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, Dusky Goose, Evening Land, Hamacher, Lange, Lemelson, McKinlay, Owen Roe, Panther Creek, Raptor Ridge, Shea, Soter, White Rose, WillaKenzie and more.
Hitting double digits for different vintages and vineyard selections at Wizer’s are Cristom with 20; Bethel Heights, 15; Beaux Frères, 12; St. Innocent, 12; Penner-Ash, 10; and Sineann, 11.
A lengthy restaurant résumé in Southern California, as well as a stint with a wine distributor in Santa Rosa, prepared Reider well for retail.
“I treat this wine department like my own dining room. Each person who comes in is a welcome guest just as they would be in my home,” he said.
“Most of the time I’m a one-man show here, so I have to be firing on all cylinders. One minute the place will be empty, the next thing you know a half dozen people are looking around.”
“I’ve handled as many as 15 customers at one time, and I believe I was able to make all of them feel they were receiving my attention and had their needs well served.”
Face-to-face contact, personal service, advice and recommendations are all part of Reider’s daily routine; but equally important is a thriving business conducted over the phone. “Our entire cellar is posted online and people call from all over the country to have wines sent to them,” he said. “It’s become a big part of my job.”
One look at the extensive list, which includes a large inventory of older vintages, will explain why.
Imports are available in abundance. From France there are Burgundy, Rhône and Bordeaux, with emphasis on Sauternes. Other French wine regions represented include Alsace, Languedoc, Loire, Monbazillac, Provence and Roussillon.
Burgundy offerings span the gamut of Côte-d’Or communes, but a rare emphasis makes this section of the cellar unmatched in America, There are 40 Chablis, almost all Grand Crus. With numerous older vintages, Wizer’s collection of Grand Crus allows the opportunity to experience the wine’s fresh, crisp flavors enhanced by the amazing aging capabilities of these mineral-laden Chardonnays.
Rhône wines are another well-represented category — Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintages and producers, in particular. A count of the category shows 126 different wines.
From Italy, there’s a huge emphasis on big Nebbiolo-based wines. Dozens of Barbarescos and Barolos from Piedmont underscore the connection. Brunello di Montalcino, the Tuscan favorite from the Sangiovese grape, runs a strong second.
Completing the world tour are Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Australia and South America. A couple of New Zealand and eastern European wines complete the course.
Back on home turf, in addition to Oregon, California and Washington are both very well represented. Not surprisingly, the California selections are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly from Napa Valley.
The equally deep Washington list consists primarily of Bordelaise varieties along with numerous proprietary blends emulating the classic Bordeaux tradition. Prominently represented are Andrew Will, Betz, Ch. Ste. Michelle, K Vintners, Leonetti, Mark Ryan and Woodward Canyon.
Reider is familiar with all the wines under his purview and imparts a down-to-earth, no-frills and fanfare approach when discussing them.
With direct shipments representing fully a third of Wizer’s annual wine sales, Reider mentioned how there are many more wine drinkers than ever seeking a serious experience.
“We have a lot of hard-to-find wines,” he said. “We’re particularly deep in Italy’s Piedmont district. Our next biggest sellers would be from Oregon, then Washington and the southern Rhône.”
And how would he describe his average customer? “It’s pretty logical here in Lake Oswego,” he said, referring to the affluent suburb where hundreds of fine homes front the lake and hundreds more have views on the hillsides above it. “Men from 40 to 60,” he said. “Guys who are successful at what they do and want to enjoy life. But women are getting into the act, too. I’d say it’s about 60/40 at this point.
“I know a lot of younger people in Portland are really getting into wine. Most of them live in the city, so we don’t see them here very often. But now and then, someone shows up looking for something special.”
Since he came to Wizer’s in May of 1989, he has had a front row seat to view almost a quarter century of wine action. “I’m only the third wine steward since Jim Wizer opened the doors in 1929,” he said.
First came the founder himself as soon as prohibition ended in 1934. His original store was in Southeast Portland’s Westmoreland District on Milwaukie Avenue near Bybee. Then came his son, Gene Wizer, who ran the wine show until Reider appeared. The big move to Lake Oswego was made in 1948. Expansion to the current, larger store took place in 1960.
The then-36-year-old Reider joined when California was overtaking the imports and Oregon was in the early developmental period that brought about its rise in prominence. He studied the market, making adjustments over the years, and kept Wizer’s not only competitive but one of the Portland area’s go-to retailers when it comes to wine.
“From my standpoint, it’s obviously about the wine. But wine and food are what it’s really about, and I talk that up all the time. I’m not a snob or a connoisseur, but I like to think I’m an avid appreciator.
“Wizer’s is one of only a few independent gourmet grocers left,” he continued. “They were sourcing meat and produce from local sources before the word ‘green’ was ever used to describe anything other than a color.
“I am proud of their quality reputation, and I like to think I played a part in helping to make it the well-regarded and successful place it has become.”
Cutline: Tom Reider, longtime wine manager at Wizer’s in downtown Lake Oswego, stands among the market’s international cellar located in the basement.
Cutline: Reider shows one of the oldest bottles in Wizer’s cellar, a 1920 Madeira.
Cutline: A hand-written chalkboard illustrates a few of Reider’s recommendations for customers.
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