Adventures in Business
Paul-Thierry de la Blotier of the Shelburne Falls Wine Merchant.
Western Massachusetts has a long, deep tradition of entrepreneurial spirit, and there is ample evidence that it is alive and well today. Across the region, people are mixing imaginative ideas with old-fashioned hard work and some support from area small business development agencies to get new ventures off the ground. In this issue, we profile some of these enterprises, with a special focus on the people who have the courage and determination to go into business for themselves.
Paul-Thierry de la Blotier says that, if he cant do something impeccably, hed rather not do it at all. Thats the driving force behind his burgeoning business, the Shelburne Falls Wine Merchant, on State Street in Shelburne Falls, just a stones throw from the historic Bridge of Flowers.
If youre going to specialize in something, you need to do it right, he said, and you need to offer exemplary service. Its what people deserve.
de la Blotier and his business partner, Karen Datres, opened the Shelburne Falls Wine Merchant on July 1, 2004. The shop sells a wide selection of fine wines, a smattering of local brews such as Berkshire Brewing Co. offerings and Peoples Pint beers, and a selection of local specialty products; a fine-wine investment service is also offered, assisting clients with identifying, sourcing, and cellaring bottles.
The venture, said de la Blotier, is predicated on the English model of service in small, specialty stores. French and Welsh by descent, he said the Shelburne Falls Wine Merchant is his way of coming full circle, in both his professional and personal lives.
I have a Ph.D., but I didnt know much about running a business, he said, noting that the Mass. Small Business Assistance Center was integral in helping him open the shops doors. I think my business plan may have been more like a dissertation. But Im learning, and I think I always will be.
One thing he knows a great deal about, though, is wine. He holds a degree in Viticulture and Enology a horticulture concentration that focuses on the growing of grapes and the production of wines in addition to degrees in Japanese and Political Geography. Hes also worked in the wine trade in various positions for more than 30 years.
de la Blotiers shop includes scores of French, Italian, and California wines, many of which are produced at small, family-owned vineyards. He said he doesnt sell a lot of branded wines those that are produced in larger quantities and bolstered by recognizable marketing campaigns, such as Kendall Jackson and Yellow Tail.
We try to find wines in limited production, he said, noting that as a rule, he and his staff also avoid wine rating systems, such as the Wine Advocate Rating System, until after theyve tasted and decided upon new wines to stock.
That, said de la Blotier, adds to his and his staffs knowledge base, and thus helps in providing the top-notch customer service he strives for.
When someone comes in, we first ask what their budget is, and then proceed to a series of other questions. What are they looking for? What are they having for dinner? Are they partial to a light, medium, or full-bodied wine? These are the same questions well ask if theyre coming in for a $2.99 bottle of wine, or a very expensive one. This kind of service is personal, not rushed, and customer-centered, de la Blotier added.
Were here to defuse the mystique of wine purchasing, he said. And it should be a social thing, because wine is social. A beer or a vodka? You might enjoy one of those by yourself. But a glass of wine is always shared with friends.
Wine is a part of gracious living, he added, and this store is now a part of that world. Coming in here is not an escape from reality its more like a parallel universe. Its the way it should be. Jaclyn Stevenson