Oh, the confusing world of wine. We all want great value, but big box stores offer the same bottles of mediocre chardonnay and merlot. We’re apprehensive to veer too far off the path, because at $15-30 bucks a pop, discovering new wines isn’t a cheap hobby. Not to mention, once you find something you love, it will inevitably go away.
Oenophiles in the know have been beating a path to Bright Wines in North Saint Paul. Plopped next to a Domino’s Pizza and marked only by a simple sign, Dave Kuennen’s loyal followers adore this hidden gem of a wine shop, if you can even call it that.
"The space is a warehouse," says Kuennen. "It was designed as that… I keep it cool [year-round], air-conditioning to 65 all summer. In the winter, I take advantage of natural air conditioning." There are no windows or fancy merchandising. In fact, most of the wine is boxed up on palates. "The customers who keep coming back really appreciate the low overhead, and they don’t mind digging through the boxes," says Kuennen. "In fact, they kind of think it’s fun. They love the discovery."
Fifteen years ago, while working at a larger wine shop, Kuennen started a weekly wine newsletter, highlighting the lesser-known bottles with full commentary. People drank it up, so much so that Kuennen decided he had enough clientele to open his own shop. He’s still sending out his weekly email blast to folks wanting the knowledgeable, inside scoop on the wine business. "I like to tell people Bright Wines is like a wine club, but you’re not obligated to buy anything."
People do buy, and often bottles of stuff they’ve never heard of. "I’m not looking for the big giant brand names," says Keunnen. "Why would you come here when you could get the same thing at the liquor store down the street? I’m looking for things that are in [an affordable] price range, but you’re going to get a better eight-dollar bottle of wine and absolutely better $10 or 20 bottle wine. I like to say quality first and foremost, and prices second and foremost."
Kuennen likes working with small distributors representing lesser-known vineyards. "Because I do a lot of value wines, I’ve always liked Chile and Argentina," he says. "I personally have a strong preference for Washington and Oregon over California, but with the advent of the smaller, more off the beaten path California wines like Paso Robles… I’ve really gotten back into California. In fact, my next trip is to California."
So, what’s Kuennen going to find on this next trip to California? Who knows. Guess we’ll have to sign up for his newsletter to find out.