Selling international wine in domestic U.S. wine country would seem to have inherent challenges. But it’s not as difficult as one might think, suggests Aaron Kirschnick, a sales rep for Galaxy Wine Company, an importer and distributor in Portland, Oregon. Kirschnick sells international wines—as well as some local ones—to buyers in the Willamette Valley. “Because there are so many winemakers here,” he says, “there is a real concentration of wine savvy and wine knowledge [in the market], which is a wine rep’s dream.” He points out that his clients, a mix of both on- and off-premise accounts, often seek out cool, under-the-radar bottles.
For Kirschnick, a taxing sales-based career wasn’t always the plan. In fact, it was an interesting path that led him in January 2015 to his current position at Galaxy. Originally from Forks, Washington, Kirschnick found his way into the restaurant scene just after graduating high school. After a few restaurant jobs—and one as as a chef for the American ambassador of the Czech Republic, in Prague—he moved back to Washington, settling in Seattle, where he worked as a sales administrator for Classical Wines From Spain, a Seattle-based importer. In 2004, Kirschnick moved to Oregon to pursue his interest in wine. He worked the harvest that year at Cristom Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills and then took a webmaster position at Liner & Elsen Wine Merchants in Portland, which was owned by Bob Liner and Matt Elsen, the same two wine aficionados who started Galaxy.
Founded in 1999, Galaxy represents more than 400 producers from around the world. Kirschnick describes the company’s 1,500-SKU portfolio as offering everything “from grower Champagne to Walla Walla benchmarks, [and] every geeky thing in between.” He says the philosophy behind the portfolio is similar to the rationale one would use to stock the shelves of a wine shop, with an emphasis on diversity, quality, and a range of price points. And though Galaxy has its bases covered in terms of regions and styles, Kirschnick says the company also has a reputation for having “the best Champagne book west of Manhattan.”
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As a sales rep in wine country, going the extra mile for local winemakers is a solid tactic for sales success, says Kirschnick. “My first goal is to give my local wineries the best representation possible,” he says. “My role is part emissary when I’m acting as their proxy in their own territory.” He adds that Galaxy provides a rotating spotlight on producers by frequently bringing winemakers and other winery reps on “work with” visits to accounts. Just yesterday, Kirschnick spent an entire day visiting clients with Ronda Newell, the head of sales for J. Christopher winery in Newberg, Oregon, a local producer known for its single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.
When building his bag, Kirschnick says he considers such factors as account requests, inventory, current company focuses, and his own personal whims. He also tries to seek out unifying qualities among the samples. “I often look for themes, to help give context to the wines I’m showing,” he says. “If I can shed some light on a region by presenting several wines, buyers get an opportunity to expand their own knowledge.” And he hopes that translates into “more enlightened, engaged customers” for Galaxy.
With his carefully chosen bag, Kirschnick says he’s always seeking to educate. “A selection of French wines can be a great tool for that goal,” he says. Here are the six French bottles Kirschnick is tasting with customers today. (Average Oregon market retail prices are listed.)
Bottle 1: Bérêche Brut Reserve NV; $45
Kirschnick describes Bérêche as a great little grower from the Montagne de Reims, and this wine as a super-zesty, refreshing, citrus-driven Champagne. “Everyone needs this,” he says, adding that it’s an especially good choice for consumers who might be turned off by the nutty, tertiary flavors that appear in many Champagnes. “This can be a good counter to those wines—fresh, citric, classic.”
Bottle 2: Tissot Crémant du Jura NV; $25
Quality sparkling wines can come at lower price points, as demonstrated by this Tissot Crémant from the Jura, which Kirschnick says is one of the most outstanding non-Champagne sparkling wines in Galaxy’s book. “The modest price allows for a more varied application,” he says. At $25, it’s a solid go-to for both retail shelves and by-the-glass lists.
Bottle 3: Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc 2015; $30
“As much as I love steely wines,” says Kirschnick, “I’m excited to see how popular this appellation has become again. [The Cassis Blanc has] the texture of a Rhône white and big flavors.” Château Sainte Magdeleine is situated on a private cape, which juts out above steep limestone cliffs in Provence. Kirschnick says it’s an idyllic location, adding, “The wines are super seductive and deep—[they] make you want to take your shoes off.”
Bottle 4: Château de Roquefort Gueule de Loup VdP Bouches du Rhône Rouge 2015; $14
For accounts that might be in the market for an affordable by-the-glass option, Kirschnick is taking along Gueule de Loup from Château de Roquefort, a red blend featuring the varieties Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. “[This wine] embodies the Provençal reputation for duality,” he says. “[It’s] both rich and fresh, light and spicy, complex and transparent. Delicious!”
Bottle 5: Domaine Tempier La Migoua Bandol Rouge Cuvée 2014; $65
Also located in Provence, Domaine Tempier “is one of those benchmarks that just always shows well,” says Kirschnick. “And doors open when I have this wine with me.” He describes the dry red blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah as having “fecund earth-baritone notes.” This flavor profile, he says, is exactly what buyers are looking for in cooler months.
Bottle 6: Domaine de Durban Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise 2015; $15 (375 ml)
“Every bar needs an aromatic sweet wine to play with,” Kirschnick says, “and this time of year, consumers ask for this one by name.” Adding Domaine de Durban’s Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise to his bag not only fills the gap for affordable sweet wines but also opens up the client conversation to the prospect of fortified wines.
Vicki Denig is a New York-based wine and spirits journalist and wine educator, discovering the world through the lens of a glass, one sip at a time. When not tasting or traveling, she can most likely be found running through Astoria Park or sipping on Cabernet Franc.