Is Garagiste sui generis? The NYT profile of Jon Rimmerman

The NYT magazine has an extensive profile (and terrific photo) of Jon Rimmerman, owner of Garagiste, a wine retailer that operates exclusively by email. The article says that he has over 136,000 subscribers to his emails and that he does “on average” $30 million of sales each year out of his office in Seattle. Even though his “florid, self-mythologizing” emails go out daily, he only ships twice a year in the cooler months. Since he doesn’t have a traditional storefront and is able to source the wines directly and often pre-sell the wines months before delivery, he has some efficiencies that can either increase his margins or decrease the price to consumers, sometimes both.

I don’t subscribe to his emails but I’m glad that he has been able to make a successful business connecting consumers with wines from the far-flung corners of the wine world (in this 2009 video, he said he has 3 million air miles). His style is akin to the erstwhile J. Peterman catalogue. But just as you might have gotten caught up in prose of J. Peterman and end up with a sun hat you might not ever wear, so too have people bought wines they aren’t wild about once they arrive: a commenter on my Facebook page said there are “WTF Did I Buy From Garagiste? tasting parties” in various cities after the semi-annual shipments go out; also, Garagiste offerings have been the subject of a never-ending thread over at wineberserkers.

As heartwarming as it is to hear more about an iconoclastic and successful person in the wine business, I was left wondering about the article’s larger point. Rimmerman’s email-only sales style seems a legacy business model and not one that a newcomer would select today. Similarly, setting up a business selling wine via a virtual storefront when 39 states don’t legally allow wine shipments from retailers would seem a dicey proposition. And Jon’s swami-style (not a retailer but rather a “conduit of culture” or “The Wine Whisperer”), anti-Parker persona seems to replicate Parker’s style of vino-omniscience right down to the claim that he is a super-taster and that he can remember every wine he’s ever tasted. Um, blind tasting, anyone?

So Garagiste is interesting, even if there appears to be some tall tales in the emails, but largely sui generis. While wine scores wane in their importance as consumers learn more, I’m not sure that rambling prose with no images is a replicable sales strategy. Gary Vaynerchuk seemed to be headed in a direction that was more notable for its changes in the wine industry, before he headed on to the greener pastures of social media marketing. The article also had some oddities, such as the line “pesticides have been found in bottled wines at every price point including world famous Bordeaux.” Or Alice Feiring saying that Rimmerman has found wines through her blog posts (she later tweeted that she was misquoted).

What’s your take on Garagiste if you’re a subscriber? Or on the article, currently the #8 most emailed at

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17 Responses to “Is Garagiste sui generis? The NYT profile of Jon Rimmerman”

  1. This enterprise sure rings warning bells to me.

  2. No reason for warning bells. The wines are largely small production, funky examples. If this is not your thing then simply dont partake (there will be “misses” from time to time). Its worth it to be on the mailing list for the deals on well known wines alone. Patience is neccesary but in my experience they have always delivered in reasonable time frame. There online tracking tool is terrific as well.

  3. For the past two years I have found Garagiste to be a fantastic way to buy wine. I’d rather buy from the experiences Jon describes than go to my local store and listen to a sales guy tell me how many points a wine just received or sell me on his built up inventory. His wines tend to fit the style that I prefer… old world finesse with lower alcohol and little or no oak. The prices are good and Jon will even tell you other stores that may also be selling that same wine in case you prefer to buy from them. Garagiste is also able to source older vintages, large formats, and tough to get wines. I will grant that this style is not for everybody… if you prefer big California cabs or oaky chardonnays and are not interested in trying new varietals or regions than you should pass. As far as his business model is concerned or how he is perceived in the wine business, I could care less. As long as the wines live up, and they have so far, I will continue to buy from Garagiste.

  4. Jon’s prose is often hyperbolic on steroids but he has been at this for a while so he must be doing something right. The fact that he champions so many small guy, who often struggle to make it in a wine world (the U.S.) that’s increasingly dominated by soul-less, corporate wholesalers who sell generally boring, corporate wines that are made by the numbers, make him a real gem. If more people had the stones of Jon there’d be better and more intriguing wines everywhere. Regardless of what people might think of his personality they should be grateful for the light he shines on the good guys in the industry.

  5. I have been a subscriber for years, and have good success, and a few misses. I personally don’t care for Jons’ rambling essays, but it seems to work for him…All in all my experiences have been good. Not a model thats works for everyone, but it does work for me from time to time….

  6. I subscribed to his emails and bought some wine, but this is a high hassle endeavor. For a supposedly large $$ business, he operates some fairly primitive systems, especially is the shipping/ordering/accounting side of his biz. I gave up, not worth it.

  7. I used to buy a few wines here and there but much better sights have come along and I am a big fan of WTSO. While I delete 95% of their offers they have had some wonderful wines at great prices. A few others I would recommend are far superior but the wines are gone in a flash so no need to mention them to others.

  8. I subscribe to Garagiste, and like it. Once you calibrate his taste (after a few one-bottle experiments and some minor disappointments), it’s usually been spot on. For instance, his taste in Burgundy (both white and red), Brunello and Nebbiolo-based Italians are a close match to my palate. But his taste in sparkling is different from mine. His prices are almost always dramatically lower than elsewhere, and I enjoy the prose and his writing style. Applause to him for being one of the very few wine geeks who actually seems to be making a great business out of his wine passion, without SEO/SEM, fancy marketing or web presence or tricks.

  9. I have purchased wine from the Garagiste for maybe 5-6 years now and am very happy to have spent a lot getting a great wine education. There have been no mis-steps with his organization whatsoever. Before I discovered garagiste- I had become disenchanted with what the major wine publications, personalities and their point systems deemed “great wine”. I learned that there are great values and careful/committed producer/growers that (for me) offer a more authentic product. Ultimately, the best wine buying experience is all about finding the pervayor that matches your personal taste. Rimmerman gets the edge for offering up stuff that I might never have tasted otherwise.

  10. I also am a Garagiste customer and would say that you just need to get to know them. Sometimes I think Jon’s idea of a perfect red wine is one that tastes like tart cherry and smells like an outhouse, but once you learn to get through the code, you can avoid the more extreme wines if you don’t like them. I do wish they would put the alcohol levels on all of their offerings, though. They have some good Washington offerings, but I have ended up with a couple of 15% alcohol bombs I really don’t want to drink even if they’re good quality. I now make it a point to look up that information elsewhere before ordering. On the whole, though, I’ve been satisfied.

  11. I like the fact that he sells wines from small producers. One of the sad things about going to France is that so many things I fall in love with aren’t available outside the country (I am speaking only about wine, of course.)

    I only buy relatively inexpensive wines that I can’t get elsewhere. In a way he reminds me of an early-day Kermit Lynch.

    One thing to note: many of the bargains aren’t so great, once you tack on the $3/bottle shipping charges.

  12. I first profiled Jon and Garagiste in the Seattle Times back in March of 2005. He was then, and remains today, an iconoclastic, trailblazer with an ego fit for peers such as Terry Thiese and Kermit Lynch. As a writer, Rimmerman is as good as anyone, highly entertaining, with a strong geek factor. His palate has the peculiarities of any one individual, most noticeably a penchant for (or disregard of) brett. But I would argue that the email only model is far from dead, and at least one local imitator – Full Pull – is doing a fine, Rimmerman-like job with a focus on Northwest wines.

  13. I have bought a few cases from Garagiste, & am very satisfied with the experience– though I sometimes reflect on the craziness of ordering wine shipped from europe via Seattle to where I live in NY State. Whatever.

    The wines have been more hits than misses for me. I justify the shipping charges because often the wines are interesting and inexpensive- a big difference between this model & ordering from a high end Cali producer direct list where I often have to share the allocation with friends because I just can’t afford it all.

    I really like his writing as well (though I understand the comments about hyperbole), & I have to admit that I get sucked in by the offers. He does a great job of conveying passion & excitement, and I understand why this model is such a great fit for some.

    A minor quibble–For an outfit that drew me because I understood it to eschew ratings, it seems that a great many of the offers include someone’s score.

  14. […] not to subscribe, simply to avoid temptation. To my surprise, a few days ago I came across an article by Dr. Vino about Jon Rimmerman, the man behind Garagiste, and all the controversial coverage which ensued from the article in New […]

  15. Thanks, all, for these comments and reactions.

    Lisa – interesting. But he uses points sometimes, no? I think I read that somewhere subsequent to the article.

    Christine – Mmm…outhouse! And, yes, I was wondering how he reconciled his anti-Parker sensibilities with apparently quite a few of the local Washington offerings.

    Frank – Yes, it seems like he might be a J. Peterman meets Kermit Lynch. Btw, wasn’t that odd to include a quote from Lynch in the story that he’d never heard of Rimmerman?

    PaulG – good to hear about Full Pull. While I do think there are some distinct advantages to an e-commerce business model, somehow email seems quaintly outdated in this era of insta-tweets etc. But many, many (traditional) retailers use email to push out orders….

    AC – I can see how $3 shipping could cool your enthusiasm for some lower-priced wines.

  16. I think people are totally missing the Garagiste email model. In a world where I have to remember 30+ passwords and user id’s, I order more wine from Garagiste than any other retailer for the ease of ordering (and hard to find mags/library vintages at really good prices). My order status and history are always a link away at the bottom of every offer and if I like something I simply reply “6 please”.

    I think it is revolutionary in its simplicity. No log-in, no entering cc info, billing and shipping address, just let Nikki know what you want and she takes care of it. They provide a level of service that I have not found from any other wine e-retailer.

  17. You are right on with that Peterman reference – that’s exactly what I was thinking as I read the article in the Times. But you also had me thinking about things I hadn’t considered on first read: yes, certainly the email list seems a legacy approach. But it is also a successful one for many wine clubs, no?


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