Wine of the Month Club – An interview with Paul Kalemkiarian
I was given the opportunity to interview Mr. Paul Kalemkiarian, owner of www.wineofthemonthclub.com. He also sent me 4 different bottles of white wine from his collection to try. I told him that I liked sweet white wine. He sent me Ferrante Pinot Grigio from Italy, Mezzacorona Moscato from Italy, Bianchi Sauvignon Blanc from Monterey and Losen-Bockstanz Riesling Kabinett from Germany. Over the course of 2 weeks I tried all of them and they were all really very good. My favorite was the Riesling and the Moscato. It was perfectly sweet just like I like it!
It came perfectly packaged so that none of the bottles would break. It also came with a postcard thanking me for the interview with a poem about wine on the front.
The following is the interview I conducted with Paul:
You do a wine of the month club?
I am the original wine of the month club. We started the idea in 1972 out of a small wine shop in Palos Verdes Estates. My father owned a pharmacy and he also owned a wine/liquor shop and he got tired of walking back between the 2 stores so he just started choosing wine at the beginning of each month from his wine shop to take to his pharmacy and then as people got used to that and they would move out of town we would start shipping the wine to them. So my first job with my father, when I was young, was to deliver the wines of the month for the local customers and then ship the wines to the out of state customers.
If someone wanted to sign up for the wine of the month we do that online?
Yes you do that at www.wineofthemonthclub.com. Make sure you put the club part on the end or you will get to one of our competitors. We have lots of gift giving ideas and membership ideas online. The club is really unique in that it serves the wine drinking public for people that want to experience all different kinds of wine that they would normally wouldn’t buy in the shop if they were there and give a gift, frankly that’s cliché, that keeps on giving.
Do you choose the wine for them or do they choose their own wine?
The parameters you have available to you are red wines only, white wines only or a mixture of both. So the purpose of the club is to try wines that you normally wouldn’t or haven’t tried before. So for instance we have a Romanian Red Wine from a small unknown grape called Feteasca. Gorgeous wine! In fact every wine blogger I have shown this too has just freaked over this because it’s so great; but would you buy a Romanian wine if you just walked into a wine shop….probably not. So you get a chance to experiment and that’s the risk of it I guess if you were to sign up. But then it’s riskless in that you never pay for wine you don’t like at the wine of the month club. Anytime I send something that doesn’t suit your palate we will replace it with something that does. Every Tuesday I taste a minimum of 65-75 wines. We do off site tasting, we do trade tastings, we travel quite a bit and wine gets shipped to us because of out popularity with the wineries. So I average about 300 wines a month that I taste. Tuesdays are a good day!
You got started in the wine business by your dad. He handed the company down to you?
Well to a certain extent, I had my personal career (I worked for a fortune 500 company for many years) but I started a company from zero. We had nothing except for a 2 line phone and then at some point my father was tired and he said “I’m doing a lot of work here I’ve got this business I know you hung around me when you were younger at the store. Would you want to buy it?” And I said “Well let’s take a look.” So I worked for him for 3 months doing all aspects of it and decided I would take that risk of doing it on my own. He’s a very sure negotiator. Here’s the term and here’s the price…either take it or leave it. And I took it and that was 1989!
I’m in a MOMs club and if I wanted to get a gift for someone in the club how would I know what was the appropriate gift of wine to give them?
That’s a pretty good question. Especially for the mommy group! We do cater to a lot of moms and wine seems to be the mom’s outlet. Of course I have 3 kids as well and dad’s outlet is Gin! You have the commitment from us that we are going to send the great examples of what they are. In other words if I send you a White Riesling then this is what a White Riesling should taste like. Almost all wine is dry anyway. And even if the wine tastes sweet or there is an impression of sweetness it probably has very little sugar in it. You are getting impressions of the fruit. So to give a gift to a friend it’s riskless because if she doesn’t like what we send then she can call up and say “Hey I don’t like this wine.” We will send them something else. They can taste it or they can drink the whole bottle and still say they don’t like it. It doesn’t matter to us. We want to make sure our customer service level is the highest in the business…in fact it is the highest in the business. We absolutely will make sure they are satisfied with our products.
Do they have to send you the bottle back?
Nope but try to do that at Ralphs and see how that goes!
How much does your wine club cost per month?
My entry level club which is the classic series which is the club that started this whole business is $21.95 a month for 2 bottles and depending on where you are at it’s about $9.00 for shipping. If you live out of state that’s a little more shipping but you don’t pay tax. I also have a club at $31.00 and a club at $41.00 and then we have a 6 bottle club every other month and a 12 bottle club every 3rd month.
That’s very affordable for wine!
The wines we sell for $10.95 are generally at least $15-$19 shelf price and often taste like $20-$25 wine.
Writing for eatdrinkoc.com I have been going out to dinner a lot and I have noticed that the restaurants aren’t suggesting wines like they used to. For example they used to say red wine goes with red meat and white wine goes with chicken or fish. I have been getting wine suggestions that go against this “rule”. Has there been a shift in the wine industry?
There is a shift in the culinary part of the wine business. And I think what’s happened is people have, with the advent of culinary expertise and some of the eclectic food and some of the melding of flavors that are happening out in the food world the wine people have started to wake up and see that we aren’t just talking about the flavors that are in the wine. We also need to talk about the viscosity of the wine. Is the wine heavy on your tongue? Will that go with a cream dish? What is the acid balance of the wine? So you’re not only looking at weight, acid and your also looking at whether or not the food compliments the food based on those aspects and whether it actually opposes the food. To understand how important wine pairing with food is, get a bottle of some red wine and pour a glass and have a couple of sips to get the flavors. The bite a cucumber with the skin and then take a sip of the wine again. You will see how dramatically different that wine tastes because now you have the chemical compounds
and whatever else is in that cucumber that influenced the way your tongue perceived the flavors. It’s a very dramatic experiment that will show you how much impact wine can have on a meal.
So tell me about the sulfites and tannins in wine. I have a friend who can’t drink wine anymore because the sulfites and tannins give her headaches.
Sulfites are 3 parts per billion and at some point wines have to be labeled when their sulfite content goes over the national standard. There are so many foods that you eat everyday that have sulfites naturally or added to that compound and people don’t get headaches. So it’s typically not the sulfites. Typically it’s the histamine because red wine particularly when you ferment it on the skin, there is actual histamine. Like Benadryl is an antihistamine wine is histamine. Wine will aggravate people who have sensitivities to allergens and those kinds of things. And sometimes people who are allergic don’t react because they are not particularly sensitive to the histamines in grapes. Most head issues or sinus issues from wine are not from the sulfites it’s probably from the histamines. But if the headache is sulfite based champagne typically has the least and that’s because the carbonation in the wine acts a preservative in itself. And you can find some Champagnes that don’t have sulfites added. Tannins are the acids that are prevalent in red wines that come from the seeds, the stems and the skin. Tannic acid sometimes makes your mouth feel like a terry cloth after you drink it. Some wines have a lot of it and some wines don’t. I would suggest, oddly enough, a less expensive red wine from California because a less expensive red wine might have less tannin because it has more sugar in it and a little more fruit flavors and a little less acid but then you run into a situation now where they add a little more sulfites to get it to work. If she stayed away from red wines she would deal with a lot less tannic acid because the wine is not fermented in contact with the skin like red wine is.
We also have a website called www.wineofthemonthclub.tv and we have about 800 wine videos up there so you can kind of see how we do things.
Disclaimer: I was graciously given several bottles of wine to try from the wine of the month club to go along with the interview. All thoughts and opinions are my own.