A little bit of history, and a little bit of love for Lo-Fi wines:
Campus Fine Wines had been around for nearly 40 years before being purchased in 2012 by Andrea Sloan, Vincent Scorziello, Howard Mahady, and Natalie Butler.
Howard and Andrea were both wine sales reps and friendly competitors with similar philosophies on wine prior to buying the shop (their spouses, Natalie and Vin, came along for the ride; Vin is now the Campus beer guy). They spent a lot of time trying to sell (and get people to consider) organic, low-intervention, small-production wines. Little did they know that they’d end up owning a shop together, and would be able to line their shelves with exactly the kinds of wines that they care about.
Everyone at Campus cares about these lo-fi wines beyond the hype: When retailers choose these wines, and then when the customer chooses these wines, they’re both supporting the small producer and his or her family, and each is doing a part (however small) to support winemaking traditions that could be lost in a world of industrialized production, Amazon-style shipping, and mass-consumption. Some of these wines are extremely limited, and their place in the market can be fragile. If they’re treated just as a commodity–or worse–as an accessory, that only harms the small importer who went off the beaten path to bring this wine to us. And then it hurts the producer, who often toils for pennies. So it’s really important that these wines are understood and thoughtfully represented. The portfolios Campus supports are ones that embody this movement toward real wine, made by real people, without pretense, and with regard for the environment. Also, the wines are DELICIOUS.
Here is our mini-manifesto on Farmer-Fizz, from the fall of 2012. It sums up why we focus on small-producers with hard-to-beat price to quality ratios, so we thought we’d share it here:
For years, Campus Fine Wines had been the go-to store for Veuve-Clicquot and other big-name Champagnes (as well as lots of very cool wine and exceptional service!). For quite a while, this made sense. There was a time when the yellow label fizzy flew off the shelves faster than it could be stocked.
There was a time when people didn’t ask questions about the provenance of their beverages á la Antiques Roadshow. There was a time when brand recognition held more sway than character and distinction.
Times have changed. We’ve gone full-on Farmer-Fizz at Campus, and here’s why:
Major House Champagne Annual Case Production:
Moet & Chandon: 2 million cases
Veuve Clicquot: 1 million cases
Mumm: 625,000 cases
Grower Champagne Annual Case Production:
Arnaud Margaine: 4600
Varnier-Fanniére: 2500 cases
Jean Lallement: 1700 cases
We live in a state that Travel + Leisure magazine named a top culinary destination in the US. We didn’t get that recognition by expanding our fast food franchises and factory farms. We got here because we care about the farmer, the fisherman, the artisan baker. We care about our natural resources, about the sustainability of said resources, and about the ways in which the things we eat are grown and raised. At the end of the day, we recognize that small, hands-on food production is preferable to the big, industrialized model. So why is it so different for Champagne? Why do we accept an industrialized, factory-made beverage to celebrate the most special days and occasions in our lives? Why, indeed?
We’ve tasted through hundreds (oh the sacrifice!) of grower-Champagnes so that today our Champagne shelf reflects our philosophy and values. We now have the largest selection of FARMER FIZZ in RI. The good news is that these wines don’t cost more than the big luxury brands. In most cases, they cost less. But they’re better in every way. Here, we defer to Terry Theise:
You should drink grower-Champagne because, like all hand-crafted estate-bottled wines, it is not a mere Thing but is indeed a BEING, expressive of where it grew and who raised it. In drinking it you help protect DIVERSITY, and diversity leads to VITALITY. And if you’d rather eat a local field-ripened summer tomato rapturous with sweetness instead of some January tomato you buy at the supermarket hard as a stone and tasting of nothing, then you should be drinking farmer-fizz!
And here's a little ode to the salesman (and woman) Andrea (who also does the newsletter and social media for Campus) wrote while still a rep, for a now defunct RI food & drink website called Rhode Palate (small state/big plate!).
Schlep of a Salesman
There’s an Arthur Miller quote that goes “Glamour, that trans-human aura or power to attract imitation, is a kind of vessel into which dreams are poured, and some vessels are simply worthier than others.” To the wine and spirits rep, that vessel is often a 750ml bottle; many have been wooed by the idealized history of the liquid within, the romance and allure that is fine wine and craft spirits. Oh, the glamour of it all! So we find ourselves hawking our sexy wares, dreaming of esoteric case-stacks & the day when Merlot is no longer a dirty word – Cheval Blanc IS Merlot, dammit.
We dip our toes into the shallow end of high society and slake the indiscriminate thirst of the hapless. When a nation lifts its empty glass to swill, we swirl.
When we emerge from the vapors of dreamy notions, we find that the job is more Willy Loman than Marilyn Monroe – or perhaps some strange mash-up of the two. But we can’t resist the charm of a good story in a bottle, so we end here with another Arthur Miller quote:
“Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.”
It’s the eclectic little no-name wines and spirits that keep a lot of us in this game; if we can make a buck or two at it, fantastic. In the meantime, we’ll keep on swirling.