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Everybody Loves a Little Muckraking

Those fascinated with wine and the wine industry have much family fodder to regularly consider.  If it’s not the Mondavi’s it’s the Firestone’s.  Every turn of the calendar year leads to speculation anew about some family foible or fable coming to a close.

General Hospital has nothing on the wine industry.

And, wineries aren’t alone in these “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives” moments.

It turns out wine retailers have them, as well.

I read Inc. magazine as a subscriber so it took me by some surprise when I leafed through the magazine this past summer and saw a lengthy article on iconic Chicagoland wine retailer, Sam’s Wine & Spirits.

I thought then that it might make for an interesting blog post, but without a counterpoint to bounce it off of it ended up in the blog post graveyard—a bit of news without anything else to add to it. 

It wasn’t a happy story, either, not when the elasticity of family relations had crossed over from tenuous to potential temerity. 

It seems that ideological differences on growth and how to best go about it were getting in the way between the two sons of Fred, himself the 2nd generation to run the former bar that was now a significant fine wine retailer.

Darryl Rosen, (the eldest son of Fred) and younger brother Brian, it seems, were at odds over some ownership language and voting rights in the nuts and bolts of the business.

Likely in a fit of pique, Darryl told Brian, according to Inc. magazine, that he could buy him out.

And, Brian did.  Darryl has exited the business, Brian retains 20% ownership and a private equity firm owns the other 80%

It seems that Darryl has taken the lessons learned from running Sam’s and re-christened himself as a customer service guru—author/speaker/consultant complete with book that can be found at his site, found here.

Darryl interviewed with Megan Haverkorn from Wine & Spirits Daily last week in an interesting, if somewhat obtuse interview.  There’s even a couple of references to online wine sales that will leave you scratching your head.  As referenced above, this is the counterpoint I was looking for. 

The interview with Darryl was interesting for its relative lack of interest, frankly.  Consider that the news around the guy is that he sold his business to his brother in what some would consider an acrimonious circumstance, yet not a single question was lobbed about the buyout of one of America’s largest wine stores.  Secondarily, the guy, Darryl, just wrote a book on customer service called, ‘Surviving the Middle Miles’ and there’s not even an attempt at a decent plug, just an end of story sign-off mention.  I mean the title itself, a reference to long distance running, would begat a question, or a glancing reference, you would think. 

Peculiar.

Read the Inc. magazine article (found here) and then go to the W & Spirits Daily interviews here and here and do your own deductions but, I would be surprised if Sam’s Wine and Spirits wasn’t an equally rich story of intrigue, money, family jealousy and desire for progress versus status quo as the Mondavi’s, without the romance of Napa Valley to cast it as a fable and a book to chronicle it all.

Postscript:  Wine Spectator’s trade magazine, Market Watch, reports in a story that is not online that Brian Rosen, now CEO and President of Sam’s, has just opened a 16,000 square foot store with plans for up to five more stores in 2008, bringing the total number of stores up from three to nine. 



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