Q&A with Wine Expert at Giant Eagle
Oliver Kielwasser isn’t just in charge of wine for Pittsburg based Giant Eagle, an $8.6 billion annual sales grocery store with more than 125 locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio. It’s a long-time passion and he’s become quite the fan of local wines in the process. He’s someone heavily involved in Ohio wines and responsible for selecting which ones to carry, as well as educating its consumers and staff.
Giant Eagle, which was founded in 1931 and is award winning for its support of local food and eco-friendly movements, will also be the official sponsor of the 2011 Vintage Ohio Wine Festival on Aug. 5 and 6 in Kirkland, Ohio. Here, Kielwasser discusses his passion for wine, how he thinks local wine can excel in Ohio and what’s on his radar today.
1. What can regional and local wineries do to support sales in your stores?
List those retail outlets where their wines are available on the winery’s website. Ensure wines are available for sale at the stores closest to the winery. If possible, sell wines through a statewide distributor that is well established in supermarkets instead of relying on a self-distribution model.
I understand this is not always an option especially for those wineries with limited production, but it does provide with increased efficiencies for everyone and is the foundation of future production growth.
2. What local wines sell the best? Why do you think that is?
Mostly riesling and sweet wines for three reasons. First, these are the wines that Ohio is known for and famous for; second, stylistically these are the wines that appeal the most to customers in the Midwest who tend to prefer sweeter wines; third, these are local wines that that many local consumers not only know best, but also feel the most comfortable purchasing.
3. How did your fascination and appreciation of wine start? Growing up in Alsace, France, I helped my grandfathers tend their small vineyards and make wine, mostly riesling, sylvaner and gewurztraminer. They were making wine for personal consumption.
4. What is the best plate of food you’ve ever had and what were you drinking? I enjoy cooking–there are so many neat recipes. My best food and wine pairing ever was a beef tenderloin with fingerling potatoes and Chateau Cantemerle Haut-Medoc from Bordeaux. It was fascinating and a revelation.
5. What is your favorite Ohio winery to visit? Ferrante Winery. The folks there are very nice and welcoming. They make excellent wines and have a great restaurant where you can savor both food and wine.
6. Top 5 Ohio wines worth sampling? What Ohio wines do you carry? The cabernet and the viognier from Kinkead Ridge; the fruit wines from Breitenbach; Ferrante’s Rieslings; Wolf Creek’s Redemption Red and White Lies.
At Giant Eagle we carry wines from many Ohio wineries as we strive for diversity, and we offer the widest assortment of Ohio wines in the state. Chain-wide, we carry Breitenbach, Debonne, Ferrante, Lonz, Mon Ami, Maize Valley, Meiers and Raven’s Glenn. Many stores also carry two or more of the following based on consumer demand: Biscotti, Dover, Firelands, Kirkwood, Laurello, Mantey, Mastropietro, Paper Moon, Quarry Hill, Silver Moon, Valley Vineyards, Virant and Wolf Creek. While assortment varies by store, most wines are available on a special order basis.
7. What makes Ohio so ideal for producing wine? [It’s] the climate, mostly. The climate in Northeast Ohio is ideal for producing whites, while down south some very nice reds are made.
8. If Cleveland were a wine, which one would it be? A Riesling–it’s Cleveland’s sweet spot.
9. Favorite wine pairing? Riesling with pork dishes and sauerkraut.
10. Favorite sites to learn more about wine? Robert Parker is the preeminent wine critic in the world. What he says often determines the wine market. Jancis Robinson’s Saturday column in The Herald Tribune is an industry must-read. Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are also great resources. To get out in the world and start sampling, visit Local Wine Events, which provide information on local, and often free, wine tastings in your area.
11. What are three wines everyone should sample in their lifetime? What wine do you always keep on-hand at home? These would be the wines that are best-of-class in their appellation and/or varietal designation, based on the wines you like. For instance, I love pauillac, sauternes and riesling. So for pauillac I would want to sample Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. For sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem. For riesling, Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru Rangen de Thann. Now while these wines are exceptional, when it comes to selling wine, for me, it’s all about giving the customer great quality at a particular price point. We never wanted to be snobby about wine because I don’t think more money guarantees a better bottle. We realized it really turns people off when picking wines becomes too difficult and expensive, and happy wine drinkers are frequent wine drinkers. So at home, I keep Ohio wines of course, as well as California cabernets, pinot noirs from the Northwest, reds from the Rhone Valley and Italian pinot grigios.
12. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? L’Albatros
13. Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Cleveland? What’s your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I grew up in Alsace, France, and moved to the U.S. in my twenties. After working in Illinois and Texas, I joined Giant Eagle seven years ago and moved to Cleveland. This is the best decision I ever made. I love the people here; they are very friendly and welcoming.
14. Bottle Shock or Sideways? These are both good movies. This is what I know about one, and hear about the other. I watched Sideways when it was released and loved it; I have yet to watch Bottle Shock.
This Q&A originally appeared on Clevelandfoodie.com on July 27, 2010, and was written by Michelle Vernosky. It was modified and adapted for Midwest Wine Press.