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Marketer to Open Cali Wine Shop

Wine enthusiast Mark Prior wants you to know there’s more to California vintage than what comes out of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Prior, of Valley Village, plans to open a retail shop called California Wine Exchange that will exclusively carry small-batch wines made in California that are overlooked by grocery and liquor stores. He hasn’t signed a lease but is looking for storefront space along Burbank’s Magnolia Boulevard. He launched a Kickstarter last month to help cover preliminary costs and permitting fees and hopes to have California Wine Exchange open by fall 2020. “There’s so much more wine coming out of California than people see in their every day lives,” Prior said. “What you see on shelves at the grocery store is the tip of the iceberg. What you’re seeing are wine makers who produce enough volume to qualify for distribution deals.” That means wine made by independent craft and boutique producers falls through the cracks. These producers don’t necessarily own vineyards — some purchase grapes from vineyards, then crush and ferment the fruit on their own in small batches. Others buy bottled wine, blend it with other ingredients to create personalized flavors and tones, then repackage it as a new product. With California Wine Exchange, Prior wants to give those wines some deserved shelf space next to the heavyweights of West Coast wine country. He pointed to recent favorites from Blackjack Ranch Winery in Santa Barbara and Valdiguie varietals from Pax Mahle in Sonoma County as examples of wines he plans to carry in his store. Prior started his career as a direct-to-consumer salesman with TruGreen Chemlawn before moving into new business development and account management with advertising agency Ross Media, which specializes in marketing for auto dealerships. He’ll look to leverage those sales and marketing skills in this, his first retail venture. Rather than rely on big labels and brand popularity to sell units, Prior wants to let the wine speak for itself. That’s why he plans to include a tasting room at California Wine Exchange. “Wine shops are (rarely) doing wine tastings,” he said. “That’s essentially what I’m trying to pull off — bringing that California vineyard tasting room experience here to metropolitan Los Angeles.” Prior said he’ll try to reflect that atmosphere in his shop’s design, which will feature earth tones, exposed woodwork and soft lighting. So far, his Kickstarter has raised more than $10,000 in donations. He said the campaign serves as a great public relations tool and that starting Cal Wine Exchange isn’t entirely reliant on meeting the campaign’s listed financial goal of $50,000. He’ll likely relaunch with a much smaller goal — maybe $10,000 — to get some initial cash flow. Above all, Prior wants wine drinkers to get adventurous and to support local producers. “I would advise people to make sure one out of every five bottles of wine they buy comes from a small vineyard. They’re going to be pleasantly surprised,” Prior said. “Wine is all about exploring.”

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