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Home » FOOD AND WINE in CT » CONNECTICUT (all topics) » A Wine Story
Inside the Store
A Wine Story

How Stew Leonard’s Became Wine Retailer of the Year - Norwalk, CT

By Emily Neeves | January 24, 2012

You wouldn’t know it from first glance, but Stew Leonard’s wine shop in Norwalk, Connecticut has been declared the best in country.

The Fine Wine Cellar

The banner that hangs over the door says just as much, boasting, “We’re proud to be Wine Enthusiast Wine Retailer of the Year.” But what really makes one wine shop stand out from the rest?

Admittedly, I don’t know much about fine wines, but I’ve always been curious.

So the news that one of the wine shops near my hometown had won “Retailer of the Year” sparked the perfect excuse to improve my education.

Stew Leonard Wines feels like a vineyard showroom.   The welcoming hardwood floors, the oak beams that checkerboard the ceiling, and the warm overhead lighting craft a cozy atmosphere—so much so that I expected to see a fireplace.   Shelves fill the walls with wine, and the displays across the open floor are organized by type and country.

Meghan Bell, director of public relations, greets me with a smile and shows me the fine wine cellar; a sizable temperature-controlled room that showcases rare, highly rated, and even limited production international wines.

After we leave the cellar, Bell points out another unique feature of the store—the signage.   Accompanying each individual selection of wine is a clear and detailed label that offers a description of the flavor and advice on food pairings.   This makes the store incredibly “user-friendly,” as Bell puts it.   Costumers who don’t have much experience with wine, or who are looking to try something different, now can select wines as they might select books from a bookstore, not judging merely by price or name, but by a helpful blurb.

Doug Zucker

Doug Zucker, “the wine man,” or more formally, director of wine operations, discusses the particularities of wine, what to choose, and how to break into tasting.   For someone new to the world, he suggests tasting whatever you can.   By doing so, he notes, “You’ll build up knowledge in the back of your head, so that eventually, you’ll think, okay, this is what a Malbec tastes likes.”

As Zucker shows me some of the shop’s bestsellers—a bottle of Bear Print Pinot Noir and another of Venue Chardonnay, both from Monterey County, California—he describes in detail how tasting on your own will increase your wine knowledge.   It’s about finding what suits you. “Just because you don’t like a wine doesn’t mean it’s bad.   It’s just not to your style.”

I ask Zucker and Bell why they think Wine Enthusiast has given the store such an honor. “Our people, hands down,” Bell believes, “people trust Stew Leonard’s name from the affiliated grocery store chain, and this trust is accompanied by a highly trained staff with a great attitude.”

The staff indeed seems eager to help costumers demystify wine selection and advise on food pairings and party planning. Many costumers come back week after week, I’m told, and ask for the same wine consultant. Because of this, “customers develop a certain amount of faith and confidence in the suggestions we make.”

An Enticing Wine Selection

To keep current with the latest news and developments, Stew Leonard’s staff makes trips to wineries, trade shows, and tasting events in California, Europe, and even Chile to learn and hunt for deals. Zucker just got back from Bordeaux, but it’s not just the executives that go on these trips. The chain has twenty certified specialists, and alongside consultants, store managers, and buyers; they take turns traveling.

“It’s about telling a story,” Zucker tells me.   He’s not always around or available, but he’d like some of the staff to be able to share their wine-abroad experiences with customers.

But even if a staff member hasn’t been on a trip or become a certified specialist of wine, every Stew Leonard’s employee participates in an internal training program, so that even the cashiers have a basic knowledge, and can answer most questions a customer might ask.

Our conversation wrapped up, I decided to take Zucker’s advice on tasting whatever I can and sprang for a bottle of the Bear Print to share with my family.   Let the tasting begin.


There are three locations in Connecticut for Stew Leonard’s Wine’s:

55 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06851

(203) 750-6162

2 Nabby Road, Danbury, CT 06811

(203) 790-8030

3475 Berlin Turnpike, Newington, CT 06111

(860) 760-8100


Opening Hours:

Mon–Thu: 9AM–8PM

Fri & Sat: 9AM–9PM

Stew Leonard’s Wines in Norwalk hosts free tastings every Friday from 3PM–6PM and Saturday from 12PM–6PM.

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