Village Wine of Brentwood: BEST online wine merchant you never heard of

The name is Ruxin, James Ruxin. Jim has been selling the most collectible wines to a select clientele for decades. Getting on his customer list was once a bit like getting the unlisted phone number for Ma Maison. Except, what Ruxin has to offer is much different than what you got at the old A-list venue. Today it is easier to see what he has to sell. Just email him – jumruxin@yahoo.com – and asked to be put on his Village Wine of Brentwood mail list.

You will receive an email twice a month listing current holdings in Bordeaux, California collectibles from current Parker-rated wines, Burgundies, Alsatian (a fetish), and even German Rieslings. His specialty is older vintages but you may have to wait until he scores a major cellar from a client that goes back 30 years – vintage and otherwise.

Jim’s longevity in the business means he also has perspective one only gets from having been there a long time. tBoW picked his brain about the current market and its predecessor in terms of big ticket trophy wines.

tBoW: In 100 words or less what was more important for the growth of the wine business: (1) the Napa win at the 1976 tasting [ed. Bottle Shock] or the breakout 1982 Bordeaux vintage?

JR: The 1982 vintage. The 1976 may have shaken the French world, but the California market didn’t gain steam until the 1984-1987 vintages, although since 1976 interest had been increasing up to that trio of vintages. 1982 Bordeaux tasted great out of the bottle, unlike a lot of Bordeaux vintages then, and was relatively low cost, even for Americans. Lafite released around $25, if I recall. Perhaps that was a tank of gas at the time; an interesting standard of comparison. Drinking well young attracted a lot of new buyers. It was also a plentiful vintage so there was a lot to go around and more likely reached California in that year than earlier. 1982 Bordeaux also favored the American palate, impatience and middle class prosperity. The price was within reach to many more then, whereas today’s releases are clearly luxury purchases. You must keep in mind that the global population has grown dramatically since the mid-1980s, and the number of millionaires, especially in China, has dramatically risen in the last 10 years. Having a fine wine cellar up until the 1989 vintage release was much easier to accomplish if you started early enough. I remember buying my first case of Bordeaux, 1982 Beau Site, actually close to Lafite. It tasted great and cost about $6 a bottle in 1988 at auction.

tBoW: How long have you been selling wine?

JR: I started consigning wine to stores and brokers in the late 1990s and found they did a poor job of marketing, selling and accounting for sales. Stores grossed more from other sources preferred to sell cases. They also took 25% and paid every two months if you were lucky. Wine often went unsold for months. Auctions were more regular and reliable, but you had to submit a list, haggle over reserves, ship it at your own expense, hope for a good placement in the catalog, wait at least 30 days after the sale to be paid. Auction houses also preferred full cases. If you wanted to move a quantity of mixed wines from off years and off makers, you would often have to bundle 12-24 bottles into a single lot. That depressed the average bottle price, when bidders were vying for only one or two specific bottles. The internet sites have made single bottle sales a possibility once again, but there other problems associated with those sites, from a seller’s perspective.

tBoW: You pretty much focus on private cellars. How did this come to pass?

JR: This is an underserved market. Smaller collectors are not served well by auction houses, who will take a higher commission for smaller consignments. That’s not unfair, and there is a lot of labor to handle just one lot. The bricks and mortar houses would prefer to put their efforts into moving large collections valued at $15,000 or more before you can arouse their interest, unless it is for a few prestigious bottles. The auction houses are basically ethical, and you have to use them for the right bottlings. A jereboam of 1990 DRC needs global exposure if you are determined to get the maximum return for it.

The new Chinese collectors are today’s big players in the big ticket wine market. How big is this market compared to other boom times such as the dot-com boom? I was less active selling wine in the run up that was the dot-com boom. I actually was a buyer during the 1990s and bought 1980s Bordeaux and California wine whenever they seemed reasonably priced. I drank the Rhone I bought and most of the older zin. It was a time when you could more afford to indulge your curiosity in the established regions and sub-regions.

The Chinese demand is solely for Lafite, very high end and rare Burgundy like DRC and some champagne. There are more millionaires on the books in China now than in the US, and while acquiring the car, the apartment, the watch and perhaps the girlfriend, wine is added to the lifestyle quite early. Business entertaining is a very serious aspect to doing business there. It is a way of honoring the other person, showing how much you value them. This is why single bottles of Lafite are in demand, but not magnums, because these dinners tend to be smaller and reserved for the decision makers. In the words of one Australian distributor, “The Chinese always want the very best, but they don’t want to pay for it.” Yet they do. Almost all of the Lafite available at any time for sale now goes to China, and perhaps 60% of the dollar volume of brick and mortar and internet auctions in California are for export.

The reason all of the auction houses have opened Hong Kong sales is because the market is there, and still growing despite the slow down of their own economy.

Jim sells the highest end wines for the highest prices bid. When he is drinking wine his tastes run towards the more curious with an emphasis on good value. We shared an evening with him recently where he picked the bottles.

2007 Domaine Pichot Vouvray Domaine Le Peu de la Mariette $12: What a value. We have tasted this in earlier vintages and it was just as impressive and pleasurable. Fruity, good weight. bottom fruit. Village level Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Solid U20 wine. 12%

2000 Domaine du Pegua Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Reservée $90: There are 13 varietals in Chateauneuf du Pape including whites of course. These wines are generally Grenache based as opposed to northern Rhones which favor Syrah. This is middle weight, showing nice rusty red mature color. Some pepper. Softened over time? Lovely. 13.5%

2007 Lucia Syrah Susan’s Hill Santa Lucia Highland $40: New world fruit and style…with some restraint. Not over the top blowsy. Nimble, not heavy footed. Got a big Parker score. 14.7%

1996 Chateau De l’ Echardie Quarts de Chaume Clos Paradis $45: tBoW provided the dessert. The Field Mouse introduced teh tBoW Tasting Team to Chenin Blanc dessert wines last year. We promptly traded out our trio 1983 Sauternes stragglers [link] for a gaggle of Quarts de Chaumes. This is the first opened from that group. Good decision. Honeyed, ripe, bees wax. Slightly bitter finish keeps it all alive in the mouth and down the gullet. Marzipa crosses the border to the Mosel. Unusual seeing a single vineyard – Clos Paradis – on the label. Spectacular. What a great way to finish an evening of wine says Mr. Ruxin. Sweetness and warmth. 14%

2 Comments

  1. I believe the wine California wine renaissance may have begun much earlier than the ’84-’87 vintages. Early Heitz, particularly the ’68 Martha’s Vineyard, and Andre’ Tchelistcheff’s contribution of the ’68, ’70 and ’74 BV Reserves served to put California on the map. Of course the ’73 Montelena Chardonnay win in France was important, however recall also that Rick Forman’s ’72 Sterling Merlot won hands down in a similarly blind French tasting against the best of the 1970 Pomerol “Vintage of the Century;” Chateau Petrus and Chateau Trotanoy. Early vineyard designated giants can count Al Brounstein of Diamond Creek, Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap and of coarse Robert Mondovi among the true early innovators with Diamond Creek winning more international awards than I can even remember. California also found its place on the map outside of Napa Valley. Consider the domination of Zinfandel by Ridge Vineyard founders, David Bennion and Paul Draper. Both the 1970 Montebello Estate Zinfandel and Chardonnay were blockbusters then, and both were still drinking well only a few years back. California winemakers have so much to be proud of, and considering the ‘youth’ of this industry, it regularly and consistently competes with the century(s) old French first growth appellations.

    • Wavatar
      Bacchus says:

      Thanks for this comment I just found in July 2015. You may not be aware I have stopped posting. I see you are a fellow Toejam. However, my reply to your comments go like this> No no no no. You should simply list book titles with all this info like Napa. Also Underground Wine Letter covers Brounstein, blah blah blah blah. I count four waves – starting with the longer 70s-80s-60s you have described of increasingly more boring and repetitive wine making in Napa. Isn’t it interesting that Chardonnay was pulled up in Napa once Parker blessed Cabernet as the path to vinous enlightenment? For a really great read on Mondavi I recommend the book I reviewed when I started tBoW in 2008 ( think). In any case, Trojans return to dominance over Broons in 2015!

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