Review of OC Wine Mart
Self-Pouring Wine Tasting (Dr. Skinner would be proud)
Nestled in a strip mall in middle of the business district of Irvine, is one of Orange County’s best kept secrets and a rarity in the wine tasting industry, the OC Wine Mart. I work in the area, just off Michelson and Jamboree, and never noticed this venue. From the outside it looks like any other high-end strip mall liquor store.
So you may be asking me, what the hell are you describing and how did you find it? Very simple, this is the story about finding a hidden gem of a wine boutique that features a unique wine tasting system… but let me tell you the story.
My wife has developed an unhealthy obsession with social purchasing sites such as GroupOn, LivingSocial, Screaming Daily Deals, Dealster ect ect. In fact she has become a member of over 20 different sites, resulting in a flood of emails every morning at about 6am. Every day I get home from work, she tells me about a new social buying deal. At this point I have come to accept it, and now understanding that I am just along for the ride .
The O.C. Wine Mart is part liquor store, part wine store, and part wine tasting bar. When you walk in, you see the standard high-end liquor behind the counter, refrigerators along the back with drinks and snacks. Then the rest of the store contains a large selection of wines, I counted about 50 + different wines on stock. But here is where the comparison to a high-end liquor store ends, in the front of the store is a round 20+ spigot Enomatic wine dispenser with red wines and an eight spigot white wine enomatic dispenser.
You may be asking yourself what is an enomatic wine dispenser and how does the whole self-pouring concept work? The enomatic device has an airtight suction device over the mouth of the bottle. There are two tubes that go into the bottle, one for injecting nitrogen gas to preserve the wine and the other a tube that sucks out portioned doses of wine on demand. . The Customer enters their pre-paid chip card (similar to a hotel room card) and presses a button above the selected wine. Almost magically, when you press the button the wine is poured out of the spigot and into your awaiting wine glass and card is debited for the cost of the 3 oz pour. Each wine has a separate price, depending on the cost of the bottle, the $300 Opus One for example was $10 a pour.
For those of you who were Psychology Majors or took Psych 101, you may remember the experiments of Dr. Skinner on Operant conditioning of rats to perform selected tasks, like pressing a lever to receive food pallets. The pleasure centers of our brain are not very much different from those of the rats, we will perform behaviors if it yields pleasurable results.
I love wine (pleasure) and the machine requires me to place my “wine credits card” into the card reader and then press the button of the most expensive wine (desired behavior)resulting in me depleting the credits on my card and making the store owner happy (desired results). Ladies and Gentlemen, what you see here is an example of Tom being trained to spend his money on tasting wine. After I complete this blog I will go around the house looking for the lever that dispenses Lobster.
But back to wine tasting at the OC Wine Mart. The wine dispensers had a nice variety or high-end wines and more value priced wines. On the high-end side was some Opus one at $10 per pour and a fantastic value wine (under valued at $1.75 a pour. Some of the wines we tried were
San Simeon – Chardonnay, 2008
MacMurray Ranch – Chardonnay, 2008
Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve – Pinot Gris, 2007
Opus One – Nappa Valley Red Wine, 2005
Justin Vineyards – “Justification” Red Blend of 65% Cab Franc and 35% Merlot
Beaucanon Estate – Trifecta, 2004
Les Fargon – Vigneron- Cotes Du Rhone blend , 2007
Our favorite wine was actually one of the value-wines at $1.75 a pour, the Beaucanon Estate Trifecta. Fortunately the wine maker was actually making an appearance at the wine mart that night. We had a chance to talk about his wines, Nappa valley and wine oaking techniques. The Beaucanon Estate Trifecta was a blend with Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc, with the flavor profile leaning heavily to the French Oak and Cab Franc side. It was full-bodied, yet had a graceful balance brought by the smoke of the oak and the stabilizing power of the Cab Franc. (see the wine maker in the picture to the below-right)
We managed to blow through our $40 in wine credits on the enomatic machine, like caffeine crazed Retirees in Reno, blowing our retirement away on the slots….this is an indication we had fun. I would recommend the wine tasting experience at the OC Wine Mart, as it is a unique experience. I personally liked sampling well-known and high-end wines without paying the $300 bottle. My favorite part was discovering new wines that I would not purchased if I was just strolling down the aisles of my favorite wine shop. When I go wine shopping for a new and unfamiliar bottle of wine, the best I can do is read the labels, Signage, ask the wine clerk, or look it up on my smart phone App. These methods of learning about new wines are pure advisory notes, which can help steer you in the right direction. The ability to sample their featured wines, actually affords you the luxury of selecting a bottle with the confidence of enjoyment.
I will return to this wine shop, and I will probably bring some coworkers for happy-hour after work. On my Scale of 1-5, I would give the shop a 4, meaning I would tell my friends about the Wine Shop, but the store has some opportunities for improvement that could be holding it back. Some examples of opportunities include: early closing time of 9:00pm, more Enomatic wine stations would elevate the tasting reputation, a larger food selection would attract foodies. I met the owner (Julie Lim) and she is fully vested into growing her business, despite the challenges of liquor laws and the City of Irvine’s tough regulations. She has a spark in her attitude that will help her innovate and succeed, I see a bright future for the OC Wine Mart. I predict it will become a major destination for Wine Enthusiasts.