A matter of taste

Rochester / vendors

Wine clubs growing in popularity

By Holly Ebel

Wine has become a big and popular part of our social, cultural and culinary landscape, and it’s not Mogen David we are drinking.


Today there are literally hundreds of vineyards producing thousands of bottles all over the world, making it a challenge for many to know what to buy. With the holidays coming up and menus being planned, hosts want to make good wine matches.

Local wine clubs sponsored by liquor stores could be the answer for anyone wanting to become more knowledgeable, or even adventuresome.

Hy-Vee Wine and Liquor and Apollo Liquor have very active groups. The newest is at Hy-Vee in Barlow Plaza. The store was remodeled on the old MGM Liquor site and added a glassed-in, wine-tasting room where the group gathers every Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

It’s not a formal affair, but rather a "drop in when you can" situation. Ben Dudley, store manager and certified wine specialist, is in charge. "This club grew out of a ladies wine-tasting I started a few years ago on Wednesday evenings. It was such a success we went to this," Dudley says.

There are more than 300 members who are informed by e-mail on Mondays of the next Saturday’s offerings. They also receive discounts on purchases ranging from 15 percent off a case to 8 percent off a single bottle. Specials are also offered.

"There is no fee, all you have to do is call in with your e-mail or come in and sign up. Walk-ins are also welcome," he says.

Though the vendors offer selections and provide the wine, Dudley chooses what will be tasted. "I typically open 5-6 bottles and make sure there are a wide range of prices, from $5.99 up to $49.99," he says. "We are there to answer questions, offer advice and help with wine and food pairings. With the holidays coming up, that is getting a lot of attention right now."

Dudley prides himself on the wine selection there. "We have over 3,000 wines from which to choose with about 1,000 bottles priced at $10 or below," he says. "Good wines do not have to be expensive."


Hy-Vee started an online wine academy with Gallo Winery for its employees. A three-level progressive program, it leads to a certified wine specialist designation.

Apollo Liquor, with five stores around Rochester, has close to 1,000 members in their wine club. "We charge $25 a year to be a member," says Ari Kolas, owner and general manager.

What do members get for that? Healthy discounts on purchases that range from 20 percent off on cases down to 10 percent off a single bottle. Members also receive a discount on liquor purchases.

"We also have in-store tastings Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons which are open to everyone and where we answer any questions people have," Kolas says. "There are also certain store events we hold that are open just to members. To join, all anyone has to do is come in, sign up and pay the fee."

The newest Apollo store just opened in Rochester Produce and has an interesting selection of organic wines, a new trend, as well as beers.

One of the busiest liquor stores in town is Andy’s Liquor, but they do not have a wine club. "We just stick to the wine-tastings we have every Saturday afternoon where we get hundreds of people dropping by," says Dough Ocheltree, Andy’s resident wine expert. "We typically taste 5-7 wines and we also offer discounts of 15 percent."

Holly Ebel is a Rochester freelance writer.

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