Specialty Wine Store Takes Root in Berkeley

Photo: Premier Cru has taken the offerings of its previous warehouse-like shop to a more customer-friendly location in West Berkeley.
Jeffrey Joh/Staff
Premier Cru has taken the offerings of its previous warehouse-like shop to a more customer-friendly location in West Berkeley.

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Correction Appended

Wine store Premier Cru has a new home in West Berkeley following a move into the city from Emeryville, which the shop's owners hope will help the company draw customers to the location and establish a relationship with the community.

After a five-year search for another Bay Area location, owners John Fox and Hector Ortega decided to move their business from a warehouse-like shop near the freeway in Emeryville to a more residential and customer-friendly spot at University and San Pablo avenues, General Manager Paul Costigan said.

"We wanted to re-establish our retail presence," he said. "Berkeley is a healthy, wine-loving community, and the company has been dedicated to the East Bay for 30 years."

According to Michael Glasby, the store's senior sales representative who has been with the company since the store opened in Oakland in 1996, the business was sustained for many years by its online sales to wine collectors. The shop is now looking to transition back to face-to-face customer service and wine education, Ortega said.

The new store is located in the landmarked Mobilized Women of Berkeley structure, a three-building lot that served as a community center and thrift store in the 1930s. While the building's exterior has been preserved, renovations to the inside include chocolate walls with accents of green, hardwood floors and a showroom where a glass, temperature-controlled, floor-to-ceiling specialty wine room holds a $17,999 jug of 2003 Ausone across from a shelf with an $11.99 bottle of 2007 Chateau Rigaud Faugeres.

By balancing high-end tastes with accessibility, Costigan said the shop will offer customers the chance to learn about wine regions, taste and color and how grapes are processed - details that provide a personalized experience for each customer.

"It is the beginning of a conversation," he said. "If someone were walking down the street and came in and had $20 in their pocket, they could get good advice and a good bottle of wine."

David Russell, the store's retail buyer, said each bottle in the store's large inventory has been sampled and documented. He said they use this information to offer customers wines that are popular or to introduce them to unique brands.

Though Fox and Ortega have not discussed the possibility of a collaboration, they said they hope to establish a working relationship with the Bauman College, which occupies another building in the lot and will open this week.

With the shop's move to Berkeley and the business's shift away from a warehouse environment, Ortega said he and his co-owner have achieved their original goal of establishing a fine wine specialty shop.

"Now, in a way I think I am coming back to some of the roots of the business," Glasby said. "You know, shop fronts where people walk in and meet people and talk about wines and buy bottles."


Correction: Wednesday, March 2, 2011
A previous version of this article misidentified Bauman College as the Baumont Culinary School. The previous version also incorrectly stated that Michael Glasby has worked at Premier Cru since 1980. In fact, he has worked there since 1996. The previous version may have also implied that the 2003 Ausone is a 750-milliliter bottle. In fact, it is a 6-liter jug.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Theresa Adams at [email protected]

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