Even as Paul Marcus Wines embarks on its 33rd year serving the friendly folks of Rockridge and the greater Bay Area, Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time celebrating milestones. Instead, he is always focusing on the moment at hand, which means searching for and tasting another wine to thrill and delight his clientele.
With the shop’s prime location–inside the European-styled Market Hall and across from the BART station–Paul never doubted his business would be a success, thanks to what he affectionately refers to as its “captive audience.” If you put out high-quality wines, he knows, the customers will follow along. However, with that built-in opportunity comes great responsibility. It requires steering your clients in new directions while simultaneously listening to their feedback and keeping them satisfied. PMW has been building that trust for three decades, and it remains the shop’s most valuable asset.
Not surprisingly, PMW has always placed an emphasis on European wines, offering ideal counterparts to the meat, fish, produce, and specialty foods sold by its neighbors. In the beginning, when it was just Paul and Joel each working six days a week, the shop featured at least 60 percent imports, and that proportion has only increased since then.
Though Paul was initially attracted to the wines of Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley, he’s developed over time an enormous affection for the grapes of Burgundy, Piedmont, and Tuscany–namely, pinot noir, nebbiolo, and sangiovese. These are grapes that proudly display their terroir, that distinct sense of place; they boast balanced mouth feel and are structured yet elegant. As any PMW regular knows, these wines represent the backbone of the store.
Along with his selection of splendid bottles, Paul also takes enormous pride in the quality of his staff. From the beginning, he has tried to hire people with diverse interests and full lives outside of the shop: artists, musicians, actors, writers, professors, etc. If you allow your employees freedom to pursue outside interests, he believes, they’re better workers in return because they’re content.
It’s worth noting that Paul often enjoys hiring novices who are willing to learn and might bring a different perspective to the store, in addition to people with wine-industry experience. (He relishes shaping the palates of the newcomers.) Employees are encouraged and incentivized to take home wine; by experimenting with food pairings at home, they can better serve the customers and respond to their tastes and tendencies.
An owner who is guided by intuition as much as anything, Paul has always looked to hire self-motivated people with a strong curiosity and a desire to develop new ideas, concepts, and approaches. Already in 2019, PMW has launched the Wine League, improved and expanded its online presence, and installed a new state-of-the-art inventory system. Even after more than 32 years, the shop is moving boldly into the future while still retaining the homespun qualities that have helped make it a Rockridge stalwart.
To be sure, Rockridge has changed dramatically over the years. As the neighborhood has become a little denser, and its denizens perhaps a little younger, the average PMW customer has shown a bit more sophistication. Pleasing them all is a challenge that Paul and his staff embrace with gusto. Wine is food, after all, and few pleasures in life can match a perfect wine pairing, whether it is for a simple weeknight pizza, special occasion, gourmet feast, or anything in between.