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Local retailers see unusual uptick in magnum wine sales

For the better part of a year, the pandemic kept us sheltered in place, socially distanced shut-ins with our celebrations frozen in time. Big summer holiday parties were canceled and couples were forced to postpone their weddings.

But today, one sign that wine consumers, at least, are easing past the shelter-in-place mindset, and perhaps trying to make up for lost time, is the recent local growth in sales of magnums, known for their party appeal.

Three Santa Rosa retailers — Barry Herbst of Bottle Barn, Keith Fletcher of Willibee’s Wine & Spirits and Justin Bush of BevMo — said they’ve noticed a remarkable uptick in magnum sales, leading up to and coinciding with California’s June 15 reopening and lessening of pandemic restrictions.

The price of a magnum ranges widely, from $15 to $500, with producers like Woodbridge, Barefoot and Sutter at the lower end of the scale and pricey champagnes like Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon on the upper end.

A magnum, a big-bottle format popular for celebrations, contains 1.5 liters or a total of 10 glasses of wine, double the amount in a standard 750-ml bottle of wine. It’s perfect for a crowd of revelers. High-end magnums, featured in auction lots, often spiral in price among competitive bidders, with some packages snagging six digits.

Is this a celebration of post-pandemic euphoria? Here’s what these retailers are witnessing:

Bottle Barn

“During the past month, it’s the most I’ve ever sold of magnums,” said Barry Herbst, wine director of Bottle Barn. “We’ve quadrupled our magnum sales.”

The wine director said, on average, he sold three to five magnums per week during the pre-pandemic summer of 2019. Now he’s selling 12 to 15 magnums a week, which even surpasses holiday magnum sales in prior years.

The reason, Herbst said, is that weddings and large group gatherings (industry events and family reunions) that were canceled in 2020 are being rescheduled and compressed into the second half of 2021. The magnums flying off the shelves include a wider range of offerings: Champagnes, sparkling wine, rosé, Rhone wines and Burgundies, among others. In the past, he said, most magnums sold were mainstream varietals of cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay.

Wholesalers have been running out of some Champagnes, like Veuve Clicquot and those from smaller growers like Pierre Peters, Herbst said, but there hasn’t been a noticeable markup in price. Most magnums, he said, continue to hold to a standard pricing of double the cost of a 750-ml bottle, plus 10%.

“Groups of people are finally getting to see each other,” Herbst said. “Fifty to 60% of people are wearing masks in the store, but they’re still sensing that the end is upon us and they’re comfortable getting together with groups of people who are vaccinated.”

BevMo

“The last couple of months, sales have been up with magnums of sauvignon blancs, whites, zin and merlot for all kinds of gatherings, including weddings,” said Justin Bush, assistant manager of BevMo in Santa Rosa. “Our wedding business is skyrocketing because of canceled weddings last year. It’s our biggest uptick, 200% from 2019.”

Bush said he sold roughly 12 to 15 magnums per week during the pre-pandemic summer of 2019.

There’s less online shopping, Bush said, and more walk-in sales as people plan their summer parties.

“I just got back from vacation,” Bush said. “I hadn’t traveled since September of 2019, but I felt comfortable going to Oregon. It feels good. It feels like we’re all getting closer to normal.”

Willibee’s Wine & Spirits

“I used to go through one case of magnums a week, and now I’m doing two and a half to three times as much,” said Keith Fletcher, general manger of Willibee’s Wine & Spirits in Santa Rosa.

A case of magnums typically holds six 1.5-liter bottles or, as at Willibee’s, three 1.5-liter bottles when they’re priced at $200 and up.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s more of a festive atmosphere, like holiday time, reconnecting with friends. It’s almost normal or getting back to what feels normal.”

Fletcher said he witnessed the highs and the lows of the pandemic. He recalled the time when everyone avoided each other for months on end.

“Now there’s a different feel in the air,” he said. “Nothing says ‘festive’ like a magnum of Champagne or wine.”

Tasty magnums to try:

Roederer Estate, NV Brut, Anderson Valley, $59

Gloria Ferrer, NV Sonoma Brut, Sonoma County, $60

Schramsberg, 2018 North Coast Blanc de Blancs, $82

Ramey, 2016 Hyde Vineyard, Napa Valley Chardonnay, $155

Patz & Hall, 2014 Chenoweth Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, $165

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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