Robert Marsh first got into wine through bar tending. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
Robert Marsh is a well-known Central Coast wine rep whose portfolio includes the top Santa Cruz Mountains wineries. He spoke to me about breaking into the business, changes in the industry and some of his own favorites.
How did you get into wine sales?
ROBERT MARSH: I got into wine sales though my bar tending experience at the original Pearl Alley Bistro. I was a budding wine lover, still am for that matter, and this was the place to enjoy a good glass of wine. Wine by glass was not the norm then. For me, Pearl Alley Bistro was a breath of exceedingly fresh air in the wine world. I hung out there, and got a reputation for imbibing the best wines they offered by the glass—usually French Burgundy. At the same time, I was trying to secure my Ph.D. at UCSC in political sociology. But after convincing the Pearl Alley owners to hire me part-time to tend their unique wine bar, I said bye-bye to a college teaching career. Fortunately for me, the early ’80s just happened to be the front end of the wine boom taking hold in California. I was able to meet almost everybody who counted in this world, as we would pour their wines and “give them exposure.” Pearl Ally for me became a great spot to network; after a while there, I began to feel that I could go on to to the next level of the wine world.
What are the current top selling wines?
The big sellers in wine are shaped by three factors: price point, personal preference, and fads. For many wine drinkers, price point rules their selection. For this type of wine drinker, price cap determines their purchase. For many drinkers, that cap is $10.00 or below. This is the golden price point for the merchant class. This market segment is where the big corporate wineries play, there are not many small wineries in this segment, the margins are very thin to non-existent for them. As far as preferences go, red wine is dominant over white wine nationwide. For some drinkers, red wine has been the only wine they drink and they view white wine as lacking flavor. There has been one exception to this generalization about white wine and that is Chardonnay. Among women, Chardonnay tends to be the preferred white wine.
You’ve seen some big changes in the industry during your career. What are some of the trends you’ve noticed?
In the current era, wine tastes are broadening a bit. There is a movement among wine geeks, the master sommeliers, to push the non-Chardonnay white wine just to prove they know something about wine and warrant their jobs. Amazingly now, rosé is “in.” I personally view this acceptance of rosé as a big plus. No other wine is as versatile for food pairings, especially at lunch, as this wine.
Your favorite wines?
I love Pinot Noir: California, France and New Zealand. When made right, it is the most sensual wine on the planet. My other favorite wine is red Bordeaux, particularly the Cabernet side such as Pauliac and Margaux. Give me Bordeaux or give me an artisan IPA beer; both are superior food beverages. Finally, my favorite winery in the world is Ridge Vineyards, located right here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Except for a couple other wineries in California, no other winery is doing so much to bring acceptance to wine as a moderating and life-enhancing beverage.