retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Inland Empire Magazine in California has a story entitled “The Lost Winery of the Inland Empire,” in which it chronicles the life of Brookside Winery, a company that was founded in the 19th century, and during the mid-20th century evolved to the point where it “produced a river of wine,” before it “evaporated into history.”

Before being relegated to the pages of history, Brookside has tasting rooms and retail stores throughout Southern California, making wines that were “sweet and easy to drink,” and at one point was the largest wine company in Southern California, and was the largest direct-to-consumer winery operation in the country. At one point, Inland Empire writes, Brookside “had 150 labels, which included brandies, dessert, sparkling and distilled wines and spirits.”

While, as the story notes, Brookside’s legacy lives on in other labels that can be traced back to its lineage, most people today don’t remember or even know anything about Brookside. That’s one pretty good business lesson - there’s no such thing as an unassailable business model.

While I’m not sure that anyone would argue that Brookside’s wines were anywhere near as good as much of what comes out of California, Washington and Oregon these days, it is worth remembering that the company was early to the idea that people might want to develop their tastes in wine, and that Brookside, though its network of tasting rooms, could play a role in that evolution.

Alas, I’m not a regular reader of Inland Empire, so I was glad my friend Tony Stanton sent me a copy of the article … because I know a little something about this…

I worked in a Brookside tasting room and retail store in Marina del Rey, California, during my senior year at Loyola Marymount University in 1977. (The men’s clothing store that I has worked in for three years, the British Stock Exchange, had gone out of business. One of our customers managed the Brookside location, and he offered me the job.)

I was only there for four or five months, but I learned a lot about wine during that time. The idea was simple - people would stop by on their way home after work, or on their way to a party, and could choose a wine that matched their tastes or whatever they would be eating that evening. In retrospect, it wasn’t great wine, but it was a great education … not just about wine, but also about customer service and store management.

It always was an Eye-Opener. But now, lost to history and fading in memory.
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