Building a Wine Business

While finewine.com may sound like one of those web sites targeted at international wine snobs, it’s actually the name of Cecile Giannangeli’s two-store, brick-and-mortar retail operation, with outlets in McLean, VA, and Gaithersburg, MD, both specializing in selling wine. Oh, and a powerhouse web site of the same name is also part of the business. 0510fwn

Cecile Giannangeli, owner (along with her husband Al Giannangeli) of finewine.com, a two-store chain that caters to the Washington, DC region.

Before she had her own stores, Giannangeli was part owner of the Virginia-based wine shop Arrowine. She opened her own store in 1989, three blocks away, and called it Cecile’s Wine Cellar. The store took off and, after 10 years, she branched out. At that point, she wasn’t able to legally sell wine from Virginia to her neighbors in Washington, DC and Maryland, so she decided to set up shop in Gaithersburg, MD and went into partnership with her husband, Al Giannangeli. The second store, christened finewine.com, coincided with the launch of an e-commerce site. She also renamed her original emporium in Virginia Cecile’s finewine.com. She acknowledges her partner, and husband, for taking the business to another level. Cecile affirmed, “Al had the strategic vision as well as being the one who developed the entire finewine.com web site. He continues to be a driving force of our marketing and promotional content.”

Neither store sells spirits or beer, only wine. Cecile wants to bring good wine to everyday folk, and tries to offer wines within every price category, from $4.99 on up. “We recognize that this is a beverage and not an art form; we always try and keep that in perspective. The bottom line is that you either like the wine or you don’t.” C22_finewine_108

Both the Gaithersburg, MD store (seen here) and the McLean, VA store are thriving, even though finewine.com does not sell spirits because of the control jurisdictions in which the two-store chain is located.

In servicing the metro Washington, DC area from her two stores, Giannangeli has to navigate the rules and regulations of a control state, Virginia, which sells distilled spirits products through state stores, and the laws of Montgomery County, MD (each county in the state of Maryland has its own regulations), which essentially functions as a control jurisdiction. She explained why they moved into Maryland despite the arduous legal structure that exists there. “It is impossible to be a regional force in this market without being able to legally sell to our neighbors in Maryland. I would have been breaking the law with only a Virginia license selling to DC and Maryland. This way we have a legal model.”

Targeting Female Consumers and Singles

From the beginning, Giannangeli has aimed to create a space that was comfortable for women to browse and shop. She feels that, for the most part, wine stores can be intimidating to women. “I noticed that a lot of women liked anonymous shopping and preferred to pick up wine at places like Costo.” Aiming to change all that, she started the Women’s Wine Tasting Club. “We started the club so that intelligent, college-educated women could read a wine list in a restaurant with confidence. The meetings are fun and educational.” Once a month at both wine stores, about 50 wine-curious females show up to taste and discuss wine. Topics run the gamut from wines of specific regions to choosing wines to suit spicy, ethnic cuisine.

Taking wine into all arenas of life, Cecile also started up a singles night at the Gaithersburg store. She explained, “A lot of singles come in at the Maryland store, so we decided to do a singles night so they could meet each other.” Both stores also offer wine flights at the end of the workweek — when shoppers most appreciate the break. They usually have a guest speaker discussing a series of themed wines in an informal and friendly manner. A recent Friday night had a supplier come in to talk about and offer a taste of wines from Piedmont, while customers came and went as they pleased. “It’s a great way to start the weekend,” Giannangeli said.

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