Words by Aliya Hall, Photo by Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard
Wine has long been an integral part of Boris Wiedenfeld-Needham’s life. Raised in Dusseldorf, Germany, Wiedenfeld-Needham said that wine is part of German culture. He recalled his father’s wine cellar and enjoying a small glass with dinner at age 13.
By age 21, he had become well-informed about the subject of wine.Wiedenfeld-Needham retained the passion for wine after moving in 1987 to the United States. He worked in wine distribution and retail sales before opening his own wine shop, Bo’s Wine Depot, in February 2016.
His business is next to Lox, Stocks and Bagels, in South Eugene’s Safeway-anchored Edgewood Center, at East 40th Avenue and Donald Street.
“When I think of the wine-buying experience in our state, you have two options,” Wiedenfeld- Needham, 47, said. “And I didn’t like either of them very much for the general public.”
The first option — buying wine in a supermarket — leaves customers on their own, he said. Employees aren’t able to answer questions about what’s on the shelves, and stores generally don’t provide signs with detailed information.
Wiedenfeld-Needham classifies supermarket wine inventories as “factory wines,” produced by big wineries in large quantities. The supermarkets’ buying preferences often excludes products from smaller wineries, he said. The second option for consumers is specialty wine shops, which, Wiedenfeld-Needham said are geared toward select audiences, such as fine wine collectors and connoisseurs.
“Most of the price points (in specialty wine shops) are where regular people are not willing to pay,” he said. “It has a great place (in the marketplace), and I’m glad these stores exist. I have and will send people there.”
Wiedenfeld-Needham instead has modeled his store after wine shops he’s accustomed to seeing in Europe.
“A place where you could come in and have a bunch of good wines, have someone who knows what it’s all about, and not pay much for it,” he said. “There’s so much great wine out there from small producers from around the world. It’s dirt cheap, but no one’s work- ing with (small producers) because no one knows these wines.”
Bo’s Wine Depot occupies about 1,500-square feet. Wiedenfeld- Needham co-owns it with his wife, Karen Wiedenfeld- Needham, a molecular biologist at the University of Oregon. It cost about $100,000 to open Bo’s Wine Depot. That included inventory.
Wiedenfeld-Needham received a federal loan administered through the city of Eugene and a loan from Community Lending Works in Springfield. Two friends invested in the business.
“It’s a tough industry,” he said. “I was able to be in the black after year one. I was counting on needing two.”
He said his annual sales are “just north of half a million” dollars. Wiedenfeld-Needham employs three people, one of whom is wine industry veteran Buzz Kawders. He owned former sparkling wine maker Domaine Meriwether, in Veneta.
Bo’s wine prices range from $7.50 to $100 a bottle, with an average price of about $11.50 a bottle. Although Wiedenfeld- Needham has seasonal favorites, he always carries a pinot gris called Bo’s Gris made by friend Mark Nichols, who owns Oregon Wine Lab in Eugene.
Wiedenfeld-Needham worked for a wine distributor before becoming general manager in 2006 of Sundance Wine Cellars in Eugene. While working at Sundance, he had the idea of opening his own store.
Wiedenfeld-Needham’s experience in the wine business taught him the advantage of making one-time buys of wines at discounted prices. Such purchases allow him to pass along savings to shoppers, he said.
The sale of wine and other alcoholic drinks is highly controlled in Oregon by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The state agency is closely involved in the distribution and sales of beer, wine and liquor through approved retail outlets and bars and restaurants.
For years, liquor could be sold only in state-approved stores. Beer and wine, however, had been sold in grocery and convenience stores. The OLCC three years ago quietly reversed years long precedent and allowed grocery, convenience and other types of stores to sell state-owned liquor along with beer and wine.
Eight months ago, Bo’s Wine Depot added new inventory to the shop: liquor.
Wiedenfeld-Needham calls the liquor store within his wine shop South Hills Spirits. The liquor store doesn’t have to be separated by walls from the wine shop because Bo’s Wine Depot was already a designated 21-and-over establishment.
South Hills Spirits is the only liquor store within a wine shop in the southern Willamette Valley, Wiedenfeld-Needham said.
“It was just an opportunity you couldn’t pass up,” he said. “It was a no-brainer.”
He credits Nichols of Oregon Wine Lab for encouraging him to attend an OLCC meeting on the liquor outlet expansion.
In August, the owners of Bruns’ Apple Market in the Whiteaker neighborhood complemented their beer and wine selections by opening a liquor outlet in the store.
On Dec. 10, Bailey Hill Market, southwest of Eugene, also began selling liquor.
The OLCC owns the liquor and sets the prices, but Wiedenfeld- Needham’s business keeps 8.15 percent of sales. The business typically keeps about 30 percent of wine sales.
Wiedenfeld-Needham wants to open more Bo’s Wine Depots. He hasn’t selected a location for a second Bo’s, but it could be in the Thurston area of Springfield.
Wiedenfeld-Needham said he will finance the opening with his money and investor funds. He eventually wants to have three stores in the area.
His longer term goal is to franchise the business, perhaps with outlets in the Portland suburbs.
Bo’s Wine Depot is a “wonderful model for a franchise,” he said. “It’s not the store you do to get rich, but it is peoples’ passions. What I want in term of franchisees, I want the retired lawyer. I want the retired physician whose passion has always been wine. They’ll make some money off of it, but they get to go in and do this themselves and be passionate, because if the person working there is not passionate, then it doesn’t work.”
Wiedenfeld-Needham said the neighborhood response to his wine shop has been rewarding. The south Eugene neighborhood feels like a small community, he said. He said he knows the names of about half the people who stop in the shop, and customers have become friends.
Many residents outside the neighborhood are unfamiliar with the Edgewood Center, but he says his business and the next-door Lox, Stocks and Bagels, which opened in August, are changing that.
“The locals call our grocery store the secret Safeway,” Wiedenfeld- Needham said. “Part of the reason why so few people know it, is that for many years, there were really no retail businesses in the center. There was no reason to come here. The space that Bo’s Wine Depot is in and the adjacent space that is now Lox, Stocks and Bagels were sitting empty for years. Since we both opened, Edgewood has become much more of a neighborhood destination and a place for our local community to meet.”
Wiedenfeld-Needham said he and bagel shop owner Scott Lilly have been thanked by residents for opening their businesses.
“We have been both told by many customers how much they appreciate this, and how much a walkable community means to them,” he said.
BO’S WINE DEPOT: Wine shop and liquor store
Address: 364 E. 40th Ave.
Owner: Boris Wiedenfeld-Needham
Year founded: 2016
Annual sales: About $500,000
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6:30 p.m. Website: http://www.bosdepot.com