“I came to this as a consumer and as a frustrated wine lover,” said Mark Censits, the proprietor at CoolVines in Westfield (and Princeton), New Jersey. “I used to think, ‘I’m a smart guy, why can’t I figure this out? How can I walk into a [wine] store and make a decision?'” It was this feeling that drove his desire to manufacture a different approach, when setting up his store, one that would encourage people to see the act of buying wine as an “exploration, a journey of one’s own personal taste in wines”, while “not feeling bound to drink wine of a certain place, type or score.”
Before opening his first store in 2007, Mark created a Think Tank to help develop a concept that would encourage a partnership between retailer and consumer. Through a posting on Craig’s List in 2006, Mark sought “innovative thinkers to help develop new ideas/concepts in the wine industry”; and much to his surprise he wound up with two sommeliers, one writer from Wine Spectator and an importer, all of whom had responded to the listing.
Considering an anthropomorphic approach that would group wines together based on their personalities, Censits said that the Think Tank met at his house, and “As the wine kept flowing we got excited about something different!”
Bypassing the idea to develop a web portal what would achieve this grouping concept for other retailers, Mark came to the realization that most stores sold wines based on “crude one-line descriptors”. This coupled with the learned fact that millennials are rejecting points and scores led Censits to the current layout of his two stores.
Originally shelving wines not by region or country, Mark arranged the store into six different key sections: light, medium and full-bodied reds and whites; an approach, Mark said, that most consumers found liberating. However, when his more wine-savy consumers came looking for wines by region, they were unable to navigate the selections, and so, Mark created a fourth section named ‘Cru’, which is built as a “homage to terroir”. Shelving these wines by region, such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany and Piemonte, Mark uses not single line descriptors or scores, but stories, so that consumers remain free to develop their own tasting notes.
With a strong web presence, CoolVines offers a journal feature on their website that then makes recommendations, much like Pandora or Netflix. And while this tool is mostly employed by their online buyers, CoolVines is in the process of developing an iPad app to accompany the staff that’s been trained to ask their customers what they thought of their last purchase, forever ensuring that customers are not told what to drink, but are always “active participants in the journey.”