Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Berlin – Highland Wine and Spirits is a BIG store. But make no mistake–what you will find here is not the impersonal, warehouse-style atmosphere found in some large outlet liquor stores.
Despite its size, Highland Wine and Spirits has worked hard to maintain a neighborhood liquor store feel and a concierge level of service for its customers.
Customer service with old-school courtesy
“We are a big store,” acknowledged General Manager Bob Donohue. “But we’re a family run store [as well]. We want to carry your case to the car, engage you when you come in. There’s a lot of relationship building.”
This “old-school courtesy” is what brings Highland’s customers in, he noted.
While Highland will match the price of an identical product found elsewhere for less money, Donohue further emphasized that the draw of his store does not just come from charging deeply discounted prices, as some outlet stores do.
“We’re not going to worry about the competition,” said Donohue. “What differentiates us is a sincere, articulate, and well-trained level of service. If you don’t like what you bought, we’ll replace it, no problem.”
Highland stocks 1400 Wines
With 1400 wines lining the shelves at Highland Wine and Spirits, customers will find, Donohue asserted, the deepest, most well-thought-out curated wine selection.
Having such a stock gives Highland the ability to present a more interesting collection of wines.
“People love variety,” noted Donohue. “They love to see things that are curated.”
He pointed out that the store has at least fifty wines from Washington state and Oregon, whose quality and taste rival California wines, but at a lower price.
From the “Average Joe” to the wine connoisseur, to the 21-year-old trying a red wine for the first time, Donohue reiterated, “the balance is there.”
“There’s something for everyone here,” he said.
Highland offers organic wine
Further within that selection, Highland offers the deepest collection of reasonably priced organic wines anywhere in the state, according to Donohue.
Indeed, he said, price is a crucial consideration.
“The organic wine customer doesn’t want to spend more than $14 for a bottle,” he observed. “They are smart, educated, but frugal.”
In addition to the 1400 wines, the store offers artisan spirits produced by locals, as well as “too many beers to count,” from commercial and craft brewers.
Brands like Josh and Meiomi continue to be red wine customer favorites. But another brand that has been gaining popularity recently is the Boston-based 90+ Cellars, which Donohue referred to as a “Saturday night wine with a Tuesday night price.”
For white wines, Donohue looks for “cool stuff.” The Austrian Grüner Veltliner fit the bill.
“It has become what the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc had become,” he explained.
All these white wine sensibilities have been influenced by cooks like Julia Child, who once cautioned, when pairing wine with food, “Worry about what you are cooking.”
Donohue elaborated with his perspective.
“With a white wine, you’ll want almost a neutral taste, something that accents the food but doesn’t get in the way of its taste,” he said.
Pandemic commands focus on customer safety
The current pandemic has changed how Highland Wine and Spirits does business, with customer safety being the top priority, especially now.
Gone are the days of customer browsing. Today’s customer, noted Donohue, wants to be “in and out.”
So, his staff has grouped best-selling products together for convenience. Customers and staff alike observe rigorously maintained social distancing requirements, as the store itself provides masks to anyone who arrives without one. Hand sanitizer is everywhere.
For those who prefer not to enter the store, curbside pick-up is an option.
“We take [safety] very seriously,” Donohue asserted. “We follow every guideline we get.”
Highland Wine and Spirits is located at 22 Highland Common East, Berlin. Phone: 978-567-9700.