Small Business Spotlight: The Wine Merchant

Partners in Wine: Justin Gregg, left, and Kurt Saylor are the proud owners of The Wine Merchant.

Wine experts Kurt Saylor and Justin Gregg are the owners of The Wine Merchant — a family business opened in Raleigh by Saylor’s parents in 1981. In 1998, the family decided that the business needed a presence in Cary, and The Wine Merchant arrived in Preston Corners. Ten years later, Gregg joined the team, and the rest is history.

This specialty wine shop boasts over 1,000 wines from all over the world, with prices ranging from $6.99 to $699.99. If you’re thirsty, they’ve got you covered — offering four wines by the glass and six beers on tap.

“Come by and have a drink in either the beer bar or the wine lounge,” said Saylor. “You will often see many of our regulars sitting outside on a nice day enjoying great conversation and sharing a bottle of wine.”

We recently caught up with Saylor to learn more about the origins of The Wine Merchant and what makes it so unique (and we may have asked him about his favorite drink, too).

How did The Wine Merchant come to be?

My father was a professor at NC State, and his genetic research of pine trees took him to California in 1971. This is where the idea of The Wine Merchant started forming. His interest went beyond what you could get in your local grocery store. Upon his discovery of wonderful California wines, he was encouraged by his wine-drinking buddies to open a wine shop. He felt the wine selections back in the ’70s lacked good domestic and European wines, and he wanted to bring that to North Carolina. To quote my mother, “This was a hobby that got slightly out of control.”

What made you want to work for yourself?

I had the pleasure of working with my parents for over 15 years. Once my parents retired, I took over the business. Working for yourself is not as easy as some would think. You are always at work, even when you are not. With the partnership that Justin and I have established, we have the freedom to enjoy time away from the retail world. We both have families, and we both have activities that being your own boss allows us to take time for.

How did you get started in the wine business?

When I made the decision to join the wine business in 1995, it was not without an education into the business. I took a job at DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma County, California. Over the year I spent at the vineyard, I did everything from cleaning barrels, working the bottling line, to helping the winemakers taste wine. The year I spent in Sonoma was only the beginning. Once I returned home, I started learning the retail side of the business.

What makes The Wine Merchant unique?

At The Wine Merchant, we build relationships with our customers. We do this by offering the best customer service possible, and we are fortunate to have customers who have been supporting us for over 20 years. As a local business, this is key to our success. We concentrate on providing quality and value to every wine we sell. One area that we stand out in is our special orders. If we don’t have a particular wine that you want, we will exhaust all our resources to locate and order that one bottle of wine for you. This is only one example of how we provide a great customer experience through customer service.

Take a seat in The Wine Merchant’s lounge and be transported to the Tuscan wine country — hey, it’s wine o’clock somewhere!

What has been the best, or most surprising, aspect of owning a business?

The best aspect of owning a local business is building and maintaining customer relationships. As I mentioned earlier, we have customers who have been with us over 20 years. They are like family. We often get the opportunity to just “put a case together” for our customers. They trust us and know that we will stand behind any wine we sell. We are always asked what wine goes with what food, and that makes this job fun. We help educate our customers on wine and food pairings. Another aspect of owning a wine business is that we get to taste 10 to 30 wines a week — a tough job! Of those wines, we may only buy two to five. We are very particular with the wines we bring into the shop.

What is your favorite wine?

We love all wine! That is one of the reasons we are in the wine business. Right now, my favorite wine is the wine my wife Cecelia loves — made by Daou Vineyards from Paso Robles, California. It’s a tasty red blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Tannat. I am also very partial to White Burgundy.

What do you love about Cary?

The Town of Cary is continuing to grow, but it has not lost its small-town appeal. We have seen a lot of changes over the past 20 years. One thing that has not changed is the support for local business. The community pulls together to support local, and it is a wonderful thing to see. It has sustained our business in the community for over 20 years. Thank you!

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