Profiles in wine: Barry Herbst, Wine Buyer, Bottle Barn
Barry Herbst is a busy man.
As the wine buyer for Bottle Barn, Sonoma County’s beloved retail mecca for wine, beer and spirits, he oversees the store’s massive collection of 6,000 wines — a number he figured out during the pandemic.
“When we closed the store for two and a half months due to COVID, we spent the time cataloging every item in the store and entering the information into a digital database, something that had never been done before,” Herbst said. “It took our team of about four to five people working eight hours a day to log all 10,000 items. The digital transformation has changed my life!”
Born in Southern California, Herbst began his wine industry career at age 16, when he worked as delivery driver for a liquor shop in the San Fernando Valley. Once the store managers began teaching him about wine, he was hooked, especially when he figured out wine was a good way to meet girls, he joked.
Over the next few decades, Herbst owned a wine shop and held numerous sommelier and retail positions before he landed at Rare Wine Co., a Sonoma-based importer and retailer of premium wines, where he spent the next 12 years. He was three months into his newest venture at Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Spirits in Napa when he heard Bottle Barn was looking for a new wine buyer.
“It was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up,” Herbst said. “Out of all the places I’ve worked, Bottle Barn has the most diverse range of customers, from hipsters to box wine drinkers to high-end collectors to people who work in the industry. It really gives me an opportunity to see how both consumers and the wine industry are experimenting with wine.”
Managing Wine Country’s favorite cellar
Founded in 1990 by Bruce and Loretta Emmons and now owned by Sajive and Tina Jain, Bottle Barn is a 15,000-square-foot retail shop in northwest Santa Rosa that sells an extraordinarily diverse collection of wine, beer and spirits at a wide range of prices. There are rare, older vintages and obscure varietals as well as “Wine Spectator” top 100 wines and Sonoma County Harvest Fair wine winners.
As the store’s wine buyer for the last six years, Herbst said he enjoys the constant mental stimulation of his job, which he compares to detective work.
“I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s hot right now, what’s available, what is or isn’t selling or how can I help a customer find the wine they drank at a restaurant in Italy,” Herbst said. “It’s as if I have a set of puzzles to solve, and that makes the job really fun.”
Herbst also manages the constant stream of wine samples that arrive from winemakers who want Bottle Barn to carry their wine. The in-house tasting team reviews every sample. If they’re on board with the wine, Herbst said, he’ll carry it. For some smaller wine producers, Bottle Barn is their only retail outlet.
Keeping track of trends
One of Herbst’s most important duties is keeping track of wine trends, which he monitors through requests from people in the wine industry. Lately, that’s meant stocking wines from Sicily and Beaujolais, given the skyrocketing prices of Burgundian wines.
“I’ve also been getting a lot of requests for wines from Slovenia, Ukraine and Russian Georgia,” Herbst said. “I’m always researching something obscure. It’s amazing when you discover what’s out there.”
Herbst said sparkling wine continues to be extremely popular, as well as natural wines, which have “improved dramatically,” in quality, he said.
“Many natural wines can be found in what we call ‘the hipster section,’ which gets a lot of attention,” Herbst said. “It’s a shopping cart filled with wines that have cool, hipster labels and fun names. They’re made by creative, interesting people and really take the snobbery out of wine.”
One of the best wine shops in America
This August, “Wine Enthusiast” named Bottle Barn one of the best wine shops in the United States after a survey of wine, drink and food industry professionals.
“Ben Pearson, Bottle Barn’s former wine buyer, did such a great job before I arrived in this role. I’m just expanding on what he created,” Herbst said. “At the end of the day, it’s our wine community that really carries the store.”
Three questions for Barry Herbst, wine buyer at Bottle Barn, Santa Rosa
Question: What are you drinking this holiday season?
Answer: We’ll definitely be drinking a sparkling wine, as that is my wife’s favorite. Then we’ll likely go for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a Burgundy.
Q: Are there any small wine producers you’ve brought in recently that you recommend?
A: So many! I recommend Raft Wines, which is made by Jennifer Reichardt. Her family owns Liberty Duck farms in Petaluma. Also Jolie-Laide, Naidu Wines (the first Indian-owned winery in the area), Birdhorse Wines, Et Al Wines, Morét-Brealynn Wines and Unturned Stone Spider Chase Wines.
Q: How have online wine sales been?
A: We’ve been selling more high-end wine than ever. Also, we send out three emails per week with limited wine specials, and they are incredibly popular. Sometimes we only have a single case to sell, so if there is something you want, it’s best to purchase it quickly!
Q: Tell me a little-known fact about you.
A: My uncle wrote a couple well-known books with his wife, Sharon Tyler-Herbst, including the “Food Lover’s Companion” and the “Wine Lover’s Companion.” My aunt passed, but my uncle still lives here in Sonoma County.
Bottle Barn is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. 3331-A Industrial Drive, Santa Rosa; 707-528-1161; bottlebarn.com
You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or firstname.lastname@example.org.