Enjoying fine and rare wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures. As global demand for fine and rare wine grows and prices increase, so does the necessity of having a trusted source.
Founded in 1980 in San Francisco, Fine Wines International (FWI) ensures that our clients receive only the best fine and rare wine with known provenance.
We are a second generation, family owned and operated wine merchant with over 35 years of experience in sourcing, cellaring and shipping wines from the best vineyards in France, Italy and California. We have wines for special occasions, for gifts, for long-term aging, and for tonight’s table.
Rare wines are a constantly depleting resource, making reacquisition increasingly difficult. We enjoy the challenge, and our wines have impeccable provenance. Using our long-standing relationships in the international wine community, we work directly with producers or their agents both in Europe and in the United States. We purchase the wine whenever possible in original wood cases (OWC) and then inspect and verify every bottle, offering only those that meet our rigid criteria.
Our customers are fine wine lovers in California, and across the United States. We are also working with a growing selection of fine dining restaurants.
Our commitment is to properly cellar and mature the best wines, and we take great pride in maintaining the wines in temperature and humidity controlled containers at all times. We always try to keep on hand a nice selection of aged wines that are ready to drink in case you have a last minute need.
We make every effort to ship the same day, pending weather conditions. We can also hold your wines, and ship when the weather conditions improve in your part of the country.
The wines are inspected again prior to packing and are then shipped via express service to minimize transport time. We can add enclosure cards for gifts. We also offer free shipping on any order of $750 or more in the continental US, as well as delivery in San Francisco. You can have your wine delivered to your home, office, or to your travel destination.
We use Golden State Overnight for deliveries in California, Arizona and Nevada, and Fed Ex for the rest of the United States.
One of the great benefits and pleasures of our business is the opportunity to taste most of the wines we offer for sale, and we are delighted to share our experience. Working with us, you’ll receive personalized attention from professionals who are passionate about wine. If you have a favorite wine or wines that you especially enjoy, we can find you wines of a similar style. Many of our clients purchase wines for long-term investment and we are happy to pass along our knowledge in this area. We can assist you in the evaluation of your current cellar inventory and your current wine needs. By listening to you, we can procure the right bottles for all your occasions.
We hope that you will experience the same joy and excitement we do with the great wines of the world.
Meet Justin Grover
Q: What was your father’s inspiration for starting a wine company?
JG: It was a glass of Chateau Petrus in the early 1960s that started his obsession and changed his life. He immediately recognized the complexity of the wine and discovered so many layers, and as an engineer this really fascinated him. He became interested in the structure of the wines. While it started as just a hobby, over the years it evolved into a business. He continued to work on engineering projects in San Francisco and in Silicon Valley. Steven was also one of the first to build a website to sell wine online in the mid-to-late 1990s, and designed a proprietary database system whose structure we still use today to track inventory. His motto was to always stick to the best of the best, you will never go wrong.
Q: When did you know you wanted to work for the company?
JG: I always knew this was something I wanted to do. Wine was a big presence from a very early age.
My first wine experiences happened around the age of eight to ten. My brother and I would wake up on weekend mornings and taste left over wine glasses on the dining room table from the night before. We were drawn to this for two reasons: it was forbidden, and my father kept talking about how good they were!
Growing up, at the dinner table, I would enjoy a half cup of wine cut with water from an early age, maybe from 10 on up. My father and I had a ritual of talking about wine and looking at labels. I went to the French American School and I translated the labels. It was a great way to connect with him.
Interested in the multi-cultural aspect of import/export business, I studied international economics at UCLA and spent a year in Grenoble in the French Alps. As soon as I received my degree, I moved to Paris and lived there for 18 years. There I worked in the European Government Bond market. I also assisted my father with relationships with key producers as well as with import logistics. Steven fell ill and in 2008 I moved back to San Francisco to spend more time with him and began working here full-time. Steven passed away in 2010.
Q: It sounds like your involvement in wine was a family affair. What about your mother, is she a wine enthusiast?
JG: My mother, Alexandra, is British and attended the Lycee Francais in London. Her first memories of wine were of Entre Deux Mers whites during Sunday family lunches growing up in the town of Wimbledon in the 1950s. Her grandfather particularly enjoyed Chateaux Yquem. Alexandra lived in Paris for a year when she was 20 and traveled with a girlfriend to San Francisco where she met Steven. She still loves white Burgundy from Meursault and favors Domaine Albert Grivault.
Q: You taste wine for a living, what do you like to drink when you’re at home?
JG: Recently, lots of Champagne, from 2008 Le Noble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Ruinart Brut Rose, to Krug Grande Cuvee. White Burgundy is also a staple in the household, our favorites are Paul Pillot, Pierre Yves Colin Morey, and Bonneau de Martray, and Ramonet, Coche Dury, Madame Leroy or a DRC Montrachet on a very good day. I like to serve 1er Cru red Burgundies with at least 10 years of age, and once in a while a top Grand Cru. On the Bordeaux side, Pichon Lalande, and Lynch Bages have become very close friends of mine over time, and my favorite is Haut Brion. I am also a big fan of Calon Segur, Rauzan Segla, and Grand Puy Lacoste. Recently, we have enjoyed some of the aged Barolos, and California wine we have recently brought in. Whenever possible we like to finish a meal with Chateau Yquem with or as dessert.
Q: How has collecting wine changed over the years?
JG: Depends on how you define collecting. My father would always say ‘Buy the best, it will always appreciate’. As the global demand for fine and rare wine grows and prices increase, this strategy continues to pay dividends.
Those who collect wines often buy the same wine from the same producer each year, or identify a few wines that they have particularly enjoyed, and start buying more of those. Other collectors like to buy one bottle each of an assortment of wines before making a decision as to which wines to select.
Other fine and rare wine consumers might prefer not to cellar wine, but instead call us to plug and play and order for delivery a survivor pack of wines they have enjoyed previously, or something new that we think they may enjoy. Fine Wines International can be your virtual cellar, we carry the inventory and you can order what you like, when you like.
Many of our clients purchase wines for long-term investment and we are happy to pass along our experience in this area. For those cellars, we assist in the evaluation of their current inventory and with their current wine needs.
Q: What advice do you have for a new collector in terms of getting started?
JG: When you're tasting these wines, think about a taste profile of wines that you like, then start to narrow it down with respect to that. Take it from there.
I'll give you an example. Recently, we organized a corporate wine tasting for a wealth management company. We blind tasted France versus U.S. wines in four different grape varietals and each had very different taste profiles. It's interesting, even though Chardonnay is produced both in France and on our shores, they can taste quite different. One reason is that there are more hours of actual sunlight in California than there are in France between when the bud breaks and the harvest, which is around 100 days. There are more hours of sunshine in California so the wines here are richer and bigger wines. While the wines in France are more minerally, they can be rich as well, of course. It's just a different taste profile. In fact, in France you can run the gamut of the taste profiles. There are different vineyards within white Burgundy which produce wines with different degrees of unctuousness and minerality.
For the new collector, think about what you like and try to educate yourself around those wines, and then narrowing the focus.
Q: So, what happened in the France vs. U.S. wine tasting? Was there any consensus?
JG: It was interesting, about half the people in the room preferred the French and about half preferred the American wines. It would just be a matter of people saying “This is my style of wine.” You hear that a lot. The rich one is really well-made but I prefer the minerally one or I prefer this. So, there are various degrees within that. There is no right or wrong answer.
About half the participants preferred the boldness of Phelps Insignia, and half preferred the old world taste of the Lynch Bages. Those who favored Bordeaux blends tended to gravitate to the richness of the Kistler Chardonnay rather than the Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Mouchere, which while a richer, and delicious wine from Puligny, it came across much more minerally than the Kistler.
I have noticed that many red Bordeaux lovers tend to like a richer white, like a Batard Montrachet, while red Burgundy aficionados are attracted to more minerally, laser beam whites. That said, there are many exceptions and no steadfast rules.
Q: Is technology transforming the way you do business or how the industry is doing business? Are there things you're doing today that you weren't doing 5-10 years ago?
JG: With technology, the world seems a lot smaller than it used to be, and at the same time we are reaching such a larger, and growing market of consumers from millennials to collectors with decades of experience. The fine and rare wine market is growing, and technology is helping us reach more and more consumers.
Q: Is there anything your father would be surprised about in your business today?
JG: I think he would be happy to know that what he started has continued and have grown, and pleased that we live by his motto to offer ‘the best of the best.’
A longstanding client dropped by recently and dropped off a catalog that he had received from my father in 1993. It had many of the same wines!
We just built a new online catalog and it's the same thing really, but it's digital. One could argue that there's also a “Back to the Future” strategy because we have also produced a beautiful print catalog that has been successful too.
People used to say to my father “You work too hard!” and he would reply “It's not work, it's my passion.” I feel exactly the same way. Every day is an opportunity to build on this and to assist more wine lovers to drink the best wines of the world!
Meet Tom Zimmerman
An Interview with Tom Zimmerman, Operations Director, Fine Wines International
Q: What do you like most of all about your role at Fine Wines International?
TZ: If I had to choose one thing, I think I’d have to say it’s the sense of history you get with fine wines. Just today I was dealing with a 1976 Napa Cabernet and I thought “What was going on in 1976?” Well, that was the bicentennial. Half an hour later, I was working with a 2008 Champagne and reflecting on how 2008 was the year we elected Barack Obama as president, a historic event. A little bit after that, I was discussing a ‘67 Burgundy and that, of course, was the year of the summer of love. You get a sense of history when you’re dealing with many of these wines, or at least I do, which is something that I love. Every day is a history lesson.
Q: How often are your customers buying wine because of a sense of history or because they have a particular affinity with the date?
TZ: You do get a fair amount of customers who will say “I have a child born in a particular year, what do you have?” or “My wife and I got married in a certain year.” I won’t say it happens every day but I get 4-5 calls a week from people looking for a particular vintage of wine. They might say “My girlfriend or boyfriend just turned 40” or “My parents are having their 50th wedding anniversary.” We do get that quite a bit and we’re happy to make recommendations.
Q: How long have you been with FWI?
TZ: I started in early 2000 with FWI, so 16 years. I worked with Justin’s father for 7 or 8 years and then with Justin the rest of the time. It’s been really nice to see a business transition from one generation to the next. That’s rare these days.
Q: Have you noticed changes in the business from when you first started?
TZ: Yes, just before I started with FWI I had been managing a brick & mortar wine shop where we had walk-in customers who came in several times a year. And when I started with FWI, they had just starting with this new thing called the internet. You know, it all blossomed from there. To me, it’s night and day how the wine business has changed.
I see mom and pop wine shops and, frankly, I don’t know they make it anymore due to all the overhead. We’re a small company but we’re doing really well because of our approach to the business. I think that’s a big difference. It’s just completely different in terms of how you can use the internet now.
Q: What were the key differences in the business?
TZ: I think what drew me to FWI, is really dealing with the old fine wines. Even today, when you go into a brick & mortar store you’re often seeing the current release or wines that are 2-3 years old. Maybe you’ll find one that’s seven or eight years old. They might have one or two that are ten years old. Whereas when I look at our selection, we’ve got wines, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years old and that’s more our norm. We actually cover more of those than current releases.
So, I like to say I get to play with wines on a daily basis that I would have sold only once or twice a year in a traditional bricks & mortar wine shop. Here I manage these special, aged wines on a daily basis, multiple times a day, so that is the fun part for me.
Q: How did you come to love fine wine?
TZ: For me, I came out of a cheffing background and wine is just an extension of food. Good wine complements good food and vice versa. I’d been working as a chef out in Phoenix in Scottsdale. Phoenix and Scottsdale are union towns and I’d hit the top of the payscale, and I thought “Well, if I can’t move up, I’m going to move on.”
This left me 4 choices as I saw it: NYC, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco. New York and Chicago have winters, so that narrowed it down to either San Francisco or New Orleans. San Francisco has wine too so I came here. I worked as a chef but became more and more interested in wine bit by bit and soon I made the jump over to wine. Wine is an extension of my love for food.
I get clients asking me all the time “What’s your favorite wine?” and I often think “Well, it depends. I could make something at home that could pair well with this.” An hour later I’ll be talking to a client who might ask “What do you think of this Cabernet?” And I’ll think “Hmm...That could pair even better than the Riesling I was talking about earlier.” Or maybe “That Burgundy also sounds really good.” So in answer to the question, “What’s your favorite wine?” I think it depends what time of day it is. It depends what food is paired with it. They’re all my favorite. I think what’s in my glass is the favorite at the time.
Q: Are there any pairing rules you tend to follow?
TZ: There are some traditional pairing rules that people tend to follow. But as a general rule, I say drink what you like and build your meal around it.
I guess I do have one rule in my house, that is: Champagne once a week. I don’t care if it’s Sunday brunch or it’s Tuesday night sushi, I like to have Champagne once a week. One of my favorites has always been Agrapart. They’re a small producer. I love everything though from Dom Perignon to Drappier to Lenoble. I just love Champagne. It doesn’t need to be a special occasion for me.
Q: How do you stay abreast of what’s happening in the wine industry?
TZ: There are three or four things: I read publications, network and talk with winemakers, and really the most reliable way to learn about a particular vintage of wine is to try it. So, lots of tastings.
Q: And you get to taste some of the world’s finest wines for a living!
TZ: I am fortunate enough to have tasted and to continue to taste fine wines. Yes, it’s a great thing.
Q: How do you determine a client’s taste profile?
TZ: I ask them what they drink often, or what have they have had in the past that they enjoyed. That gives me a sense of a broad palette of what they like and then I get specifics from there. If they like specific Cabernets, I can recommend similar ones they might enjoy or if they’re looking for a particular profile, maybe a bright, fruity wine, I can recommend a Syrah that would work as well as a Cabernet, just as an example. But a lot of it comes down to my knowing what a lot of these wines taste like and my being able to know what their particular favorites are because I’ve had them. I can think about what I’ve tried that’s similar and make recommendations as to what they might enjoy.
Q: Do you keep notes on wines or what’s your process?
TZ: I used to keep a lot more notes in the past. Now, I rely more on my tasting I suppose. You also tend to learn more about what a house produces. There may be some variation from vintage to vintage, but you know that this particular producer makes a wine in a certain style. It’s usually somewhat similar year to year on that style because that’s what they have earned a reputation for. You get certain years that are a little riper maybe, because it was warmer but usually the profiles are pretty consistent from year to year. The wineries like consistency as much as I do, and that really helps. I used to take volumes of notes and had binders and notebooks, but I’ve just found that it’s easier now for me to go with what I know, unless I’m trying to look up a specific vintage from a particular house.
Q: What can a client expect in terms of service from FWI?
TZ: This business is all about service—how we take care of a client and what we can do. What’s unique about this business is we have a lot of these wines in stock. Many times when you go on the web, you’ll see businesses that will say “Yes, we can get that wine for you, it will be 6-8 weeks.” However, when you come to our website, you’ll see what we’ve got in stock. It’s right on the website. I can ship that out same day and you can have it as quickly as tomorrow. This is a huge benefit for many of our clients. That’s one of the things I love about being here. We turn it around quickly and that can mean a lot to folks. Even sometimes in the afternoon, I can get it out the same day.
I like as much lead time as possible, of course, but if I have an order by noon, I can get it out the same day. If I receive an order in the morning, it’s generally out the same day.
Q: Are there any trends you see in wine buying right now?
TZ: We’re seeing renewed interest in Burgundy right now. We’re seeing growth in the sale of Burgundy and also in Italian wines. You know there’s always interest in the traditional Bordeaux and the California Cabernets that we have, and I love those. Though we’re seeing more growth right now in the others.
Q: Are there are any good tips or great values out there now?
TZ: I recommend drinking what you love. I always ask how are you going to use the wine, are you having it for dinner, will you drink it beforehand. I love some of the IGTs or the Super Tuscans that are a blend of traditional and non-traditional grapes, such as Cabernet and Sangiovese. I’ve also absolutely loved some of the Barolos from Piedmont in Italy.
We’re seeing a lot more of these, they’re nice hearty wines. For Burgundies, maybe try some of the smaller houses like Roti, which I really like. In White Burgundies we have a couple of smaller but very good producers like Colin-Morey, a fantastic producer, also Henri Boillot, a truly great house. We have many to choose from.
Q: What brings you the most satisfaction in terms of being able to make recommendations for clients?
TZ: Just how good these wines are. We get our wines from the best sources out there. We try and buy as much wine as we can direct from the chateaux and the domaines as we can. We’d rather buy it direct from the producers and bring it in ourselves than go through traditional distribution channels. Just because we know there’s a type of control there. So, I love that aspect of it. Plus, I love our storage system. Every bottle we have, whether it’s a $25 Tuesday night wine, or a $10,000 bottle of an especially rare wine, with our laydown temperature and temperature control, we are able to treat all of our stock with the utmost respect—because it is quality wine and we want others to be able to enjoy it.
Q: If you were going to book your fantasy travel destination to one wine-making region where would you go?
TZ: My personal choice would be the Rhone Valley. I love the Rhone wines. They may not always be the most popular, but they’re close to my heart. The Rhone Valley is one of the first trips I ever took abroad. I was one of those geeks who made people stop and look at the rocks in the wine region. We stopped the car and I made each person take a rock from Chateau Beaucastel as a souvenir. They literally plant the vines in rocks at Beaucastel rather than in dirt because that’s what the soil is. I love the Rhone Valley— people are so friendly there, the food is great, and the wines are spectacular.