Our Finest Library: An Interview with Molly Zucker
‘Tis the season to splurge! If there is one time of the year that we break out our best, it’s December. The china gets pulled out, the silver is polished and those bottles that have been stashed away for special occasion finally get opened. All this decadence got me thinking about our library wines at K&L. This small, often overlooked, category of wines has a rather inconspicuous link on our homepage that if you weren’t looking for it, you might miss it. However, it is perhaps one of the more exciting categories of wines that we sell. These are cult classics, old wines and rare bottlings. These are the really exciting wines that always seem so unattainable, but it turns out, with a little money to spend, they’re pretty easy to get.
To find out more, I visited Molly Zucker, our Library Wine Department Director. The physical location of the department fits perfectly with its presence on our homepage. It is tucked away in a small corner of our warehouse and it appears simple and unassuming until you look closely. There are a few pop-up offices, a receiving/staging dock, a photo studio and then racks and racks of amazing bottles and cases. As you get closer, the names and vintages of the bottles come into focus and, I have to admit, I was a little in awe. As we started talking, Molly pulled out a magnum of 1974 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon as an example.
MG: Can you tell me a little about how the library wine department is set up?
MZ: The library department has two avenues for selling and buying wine. One is our Auction, which allows customers to bid on a variety of case or bottle lots. And the other is our Old & Rare section, which is a more traditional retail route. In both sections, these are harder-to-find wines that come to us from third-party sellers.
MG: So, what is the difference between the ‘Auction’ wines and the ‘Old & Rare’ wines?
MZ: When wine collectors come to us with a list of their wines, we work with them to find the best, most lucrative way for their wine to sell, either through the auction or online. Usually, if the wine is in high demand, short supply and high scoring, it will go into the auctions. These are wines people are likely to bid on and drive the price higher. The Old and Rare bottles are equally as exciting and range all price points. These are a deep breadth of wines from well-known and esoteric producers from all over the world, and they’re available online without bidding.
MG: How do you evaluate the bottles from outside sellers to know they’re still good?
MZ: First, we evaluate the seller, asking questions about their purchase resources, how the wine was stored, and when it was bought. We ask them to send photos of the wine and/or their cellar, in particular when they are not local to our stores. A lot of the sellers are our current K&L customers or referrals of customers, so we have some relationships already in place.
After they send us their wines, we do a thorough inspection of the bottles. We have a team of fifteen people who are highly trained in evaluating what to look for in a particular bottle. We look to see if the condition is appropriate based on the age of the wine, looking at fill level, signs of seepage, cork condition, label scuffs, stains and any other abnormalities that might suggest provenance concerns. These bottles have travelled through time, so there are many markers that we can use. There is a certain bit of risk in buying these bottles, but our staff is really in tune with what’s in the market and what to look for.
MG: I saw that we received several dozen cases of Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate recently. What is the story on those?
MZ: One reason people sell to us is that they are collectors are on highly allocated wine lists, receiving annual shipments from some of California’s cult producers like Harlan, Abreu, Screaming Eagle, Bryant, Colgin, Hundred Acre, etc. But they only have so much cellar space, and when their cellar starts to overflow, they need to make room. This particular California cellar was overflowing with these gems and space became an issue. There’s a great opportunity to make a profit since many of them have 5+ years since release.
MG: How many wines move through our Library Department?
MZ: We have thousands of bottles cycling through our department each week. Currently, we have about 800 auction lots live - some are single bottles, others are verticals and mixed lots and several original wood cases in pristine condition. Five new lots go up and five roll off every half hour from 9:30am to 8pm PST each day. Every lot is live for seven days. We have thousands of Old & Rare wines in inventory, both newer release items and rare gems. There is a nice breadth of wines up in the auction and in our Old & Rare that appeals to all budgets, spanning a variety of price points.
MG: Can anyone participate in the auctions?
MZ: Yes, as long as you have a K&L customer profile set up with a current credit card and an address in a state we can ship to, you can bid. If you’re looking for a certain wine, the auction page can be narrowed down by region, site, scores, etc. If you’re on the hunt for a particular wine, you can get on a waitlist and we’ll email you if/when it comes in stock, or give us a call and we can help source the item or let you know if something is on the horizon. When you begin bidding and tracking, you’ll get regular emails to keep you up to date on new lots and you’ll receive reminder emails for any active lots you’re tracking. There is something for everyone up on the site, from amazing deals to lots where a bidding war is taking place and people are fighting over a coveted item that might only come up for sale once in a blue moon. The way this is set up, you could be new to the world of wine and within a few months have a collection like someone who has been buying for years.
MG: What are some fun lots that we currently have?
MZ: It’s hard to talk about any one wine or particular lot since they are constantly changing, but we have recently received a large variety of high-end Burgundy from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Armand Rousseau, Comte Liger Belair, Dujac, and Mommessin and many perfect OWC (original wood cases) California cult wines that should be up between now and January. We have a ton of Harlan Estate, both in 750s and magnums. We have three-packs and six-packs of Screaming Eagle and their second label, Second Flight. So there are a lot of good pickings right now!
MG: What are some good ones that we’ve had in the past?
MZ: Recently, we had a six bottle lot of 2006 Domaine du Comte Liger Belair La Romanee Grand Cru in its original wood that sold for over $17,000. We also had a beautiful bottle of 1911 Calon Segur, St-Estèphe, which is a really interesting Bordeaux property with a great story. We sourced that bottle from a local, Marin collector and it was in incredible shape for its age - it sold for around $750. Our staff got really excited about a few bottles of 1978 Diamond Creek "Lake Vineyard" Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. One bottle sold for a little over $3,000. But, these are just some of our most special bottlings - there is a lot of wine in between at much more reasonable prices for everyday collectors.