SOUTHBURY — When Stephen Segretario recently assumed ownership of Southbury Package Store, 22 Oak Tree Rd., he did so with the idea of filling a gap in the customer experience. “I see this as an opportunity to do more than just sell product,” he told Voices. “I believe you need to treat wine as an experience, not just a beverage.” The store stocks a full range of wine, beer and liquor.
Mr. Segretario has a sensory memory of the liquor store his grandfather owned long ago. “My grandfather died when I was young. I didn’t get to know him, but I do remember the distinct smell of his store. It’s interesting that I found my way back to this business.”
He appreciates going down his own path, working as a teacher for a number of years before spending nights and weekends helping his father run the family liquor store in Monroe.
At about that time, “The wine bug hit me. I was into craft beers before there was a craft beer movement but then shifted. I really enjoyed wine and wanted to learn more.”
He recognizes that people can be intimidated by the topic of wine. “Customers would ask me questions and here I was, a novice wine drinker. I’m not the type of person to make up an answer; I don’t fudge things.”
Without the benefit of an internet, he read books and talked with sales reps and others who could expand his world.
When the family sold its store, Mr. Segretario went to work in the wholesale arena, spending years with Hartley and Parker Limited. “I found time to take courses and read more. I passed my courses with flying colors and now I’m working to become a certified wine expert.”
He compared his thirst for learning to his wife’s efforts to keep up in her field. “She’s a dentist and what I do is no different than any other profession. You need to keep fresh and current.”
Both student and teacher, he offers classes where he advises, “I say, ‘Relax, wine is just a beverage,’ but I also know there is more to it than that. There is a story behind each bottle, a story about the people who make it, the land where it comes from, the weather that season, and so much more.”
He explained, “There are basically two types of wine, commercial and non-commercial. A commercial wine promises a consistent experience and that’s good. If you know what you like and want to have that particular experience, then you’re good. But, I want to offer the chance to learn that there is so much more to experience.”
He doesn’t claim to know it all.
He has studied facts such as the amounts of sugar in dessert wines or aging requirements for a barolo, but he considers that to be just a fraction of what he wants to know and share.
He finds excitement in a new bottle and points out that there is a whole world to explore. “And it doesn’t even have to be expensive. You can’t go to New Zealand for the price of a case of wine, but you can taste a great wine from there for less than $20. There’s a lot of good stuff that’s under-represented and I want to help my customers find those bottles.”
For those who prefer hops or rye to grapes, Mr. Segretario recognizes the staggering variety of craft beers and distilleries available today.
“It used to be that beer drinkers were very loyal. You couldn’t move them off their favorite brew. Now, they and spirit drinkers want to taste it all. These people are open to trying new and different things and that’s great for business.”
He pointed out that people make decisions based on taste all the time. “We don’t think about the process. We have a favorite coffee shop or will read the highway signs and hold out for the fast food restaurant we like better. I’m hoping to get people to think about their wines, beers and spirits in a legitimate and serious way.”
He knows that knowledge can lead to confidence. “Disappointment is hard to avoid in life, but it’s okay in things like wine. I want my customers to know enough and be comfortable enough to turn to a server and say the wine has gone off or to pick something they’ve never tried before. You can only get that confidence by tasting and exploring.”
Mr. Segretario commented, “Bottom line, I want my customers to enjoy what they’re drinking. If every beverage was supposed to taste the same, my job would be boring.”
The Southbury Package Store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The store may be reached by calling 203-405-6593 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information, including educational tips and answers to questions, are available on Facebook by liking Southbury Package Store and a newsletter is available by visiting southbury packagestore.com.