Hicks Fine WinesImpressive Selection & Thoughtful Service
When Hicks Fine Wines opened in the fall of 2014, it was one of only four tenants in the brand-new Shops at Boudreau centre in St. Albert. In the four years since, it’s become a destination unto itself.
“We’ve established ourselves as THE wine store in St. Albert and North Edmonton for fine wines,” says General Manager and Buyer Marcia Hamm. “People from South Edmonton come to us and that’s a long way to go for tastings and events.”
The store is owned by Doug Hicks, who cultivated his love of wine travelling around Europe at the end of a 15-year professional hockey career, three of those years spent playing with the Edmonton Oilers. In 1994, just as Alberta privatized its liquor stores, he opened Crestwood Fine Wines & Spirits. He later sold his shop and spent three years living in the Caribbean before returning to Edmonton and opening Hicks Fine Wines.
The result is a beautiful, well-stocked store, featuring 1,800 sq. ft. of beer, spirits and about 1,000 SKUs of wine. Big, bold artworks inspired by Brazilian artist Juarez Machado brighten the space. A stunning light fixture made from riddling racks and Riedel glassware hangs overhead. There’s a table for formal wine tastings, and space for more in-depth classes, but the heart of the store is the welcoming tasting bar made of gleaming redwood, where industry reps pour tastings on Fridays and Saturdays, so customers can carry their drinks with them as they shop.
We’re really customer-service first, but at the same time, I’m hoping I can get them out of their wine box.
However, the real draw here is the thoughtful, well-educated service, led by Marica herself. She has not only earned the prestigious Wine and Spirits Education Trust Level IV Diploma, she is also one of only a handful of people on earth to become an Italian Wine Expert through the Vinitaly International Academy. Not surprisingly, Hicks Fine Wines has a special niche for Italian wines, especially the more unusual and exciting varieties.
“I like to offer a lot of tastings of native (Italian) grapes, so customers can find a new favourite,” Marcia explains, noting that Italy has more than 600 listed grape varieties and another 470 that haven’t yet been registered. “My favourite is Nerello Mascalese, which grows on the slopes of Mount Etna. And we have five SKUs of that, which is unheard of.”
To encourage customers to break out of their habits and try something new, whenever Marcia brings in a new native grape, she likes to offer two variations on it, one at a lower and one at a higher price point. That way, shoppers can feel comfortable taking a risk on an unfamiliar wine without blowing the budget. “Then, whichever one they’re not buying, I’ll delist it and replace it with something new,” she adds.
Marcia leads a team of loyal staff who have been with the store since it opened, and who have all been honing their own wine knowledge, both formally and informally. “For most of my customers, it’s all about the food and what you’d pair with it,” she describes, noting that everyone on her team is an expert at suggesting pairings. “Most of our reviews mention the wine knowledge.” Those reviews tend to recognize the “friendly and warm, smiling staff,” who are “educated without being condescending,” and comment on the store’s impressive selection.
“Then again,” Marcia says, “there’s always the customer who asks, ‘I’m just going to have a glass by the fireplace and what should I drink?’ We’re really customer-service first, but at the same time, I’m hoping I can get them out of their wine box.”
One way they encourage customers to expand their favourites is through their staff picks, which are presented in a most engaging way: Inspired by the Hedonism Wines stores in the UK, they’ve attached sculptures of hands to the walls. “Every month our staff pick a wine feature and we put them in the hands,” Marcia describes. The presentation is witty and almost impossible to resist.
And that goes not just for the customers who live in St. Albert, and, increasingly across Edmonton, but also for the industry experts who come by to pour their single malts, Champagnes and quirky Italian varieties too.
“We have this very beautiful shop and some of our distributors have said it’s the most beautiful shop in the Edmonton area,” Marcia shares. “We just have so many unique things.”