Thank the ultimate honcho upstairs (or, if you like, any of the many hybrid human/beast transmogrified beings worshipped since antiquity) for the fact that running a business is nothing like doing a geometry proof, where there’s one route to the correct answer with scant variation allowed. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have one very hip, very different Wine Country entrepreneur boosting the North Bay’s mojo.
To wit: Glenn Siegel, founder of The Wine Spectrum in Santa Rosa. He’s a consummate wine merchant with a loyal following who depend on him to find labels and vintages with that wow factor year after year; he has connections with many of the best winemakers in the world; he’s a friendly, affable man of action; he’s followed unique inspirations to great success; and he’s contributing to the revitalization of once-stagnant downtown community. He reached a place in life where two roads diverged, and like the poet Robert Frost, took the road less traveled. That road was uncharted territory of new business ownership. Even so, he’s on a very different journey.
After fine-tuning his naturally discerning palate as founder of the telesales division of Windsor Vineyard’s direct marketing program, Siegel founded The Wine Spectrum 15 years ago. His objective was, he says, “to bring to passionate wine collectors and consumers the very best wines in the world.” While Siegel’s scope is worldwide, he doesn’t hesitate to recommend excellent local wines to his clientele when they’re the right fit.
“We have amazing depth and breadth internationally but are very committed to the best local wines,” he says. “For the most part, our customers are busy people with busy lives, and they really depend on us to help keep them on the cutting edge. Because of our track record and the way we get to know each of our customer’s tastes and preferences, they usually trust us and just buy what we suggest.”
But Siegel also has a contingent of customers who definitely write all the rules. “They tell us exactly what they want, and we find it. We’re completely dedicated to pleasing them in that manner as well,” he says. “We educate and serve.”
Recently, Siegel found a birth year wine for one customer: 1959 La Mission Haut Brion. For another, he put together an Opus One vertical, reaching all the way back from its 1979 inception to the present.
At his company’s hillside headquarters in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove Corporate Center, Siegel emphasizes stellar customer service with his 40-member staff. “We pursue close, intimate one-on-one relationships with customers,” he says. “As knowledgeable and trained wine professionals, we get to know people’s preferences, their likes and dislikes, and because of all the years we’ve been in business and our unique connections all over the world, we have the ability to get wines that are very difficult for other people to get and get them into the hands of our clients.”
The Wine Spectrum can also obtain hard-to-find wines in large quantities. “A lot of times customers will be limited to one or two bottles of a particular wine, but often we’re able to provide them with case lots. That’s something our customers particularly value,” he notes.
On occasion, Siegel will land exclusive U.S. distribution rights to a very special find. One recent example is the Heidsieck & Co. Monopole 1907 Gôut American Champagne that was aboard a small Swedish schooner that was sunk by a German submarine in 1916. The Champagne had been on its way to Tsar Nicolas II in Finland, where he was stationed with the Russian Imperial Army. Preserved for 82 years undersea, the Champagne was recovered in May 1997, perfectly intact, down to the last bubble.
The only drawback Siegel has found to being so good at what he does is that sometimes customers don’t like to refer him to their friends. “A lot of times our customers like to keep us as their own secret source. They don’t like to divulge it,” he says.
Siegel has a silent partner, but he’s completely in charge of running the business. “I’m a songwriter and musician, and I feel like I go about my business in a creative, stream of consciousness way,” he reflects. “It’s all about having fun and appreciating the passion that’s available from being in the wine industry and about appreciating the people who surround you – employees, clients and suppliers. I’m lucky these days to have a really fantastic staff. We’ve come up with several ideas for profit centers over the last few years. Aside from being a very high functioning sales organization, we also provide wine storage for local customers and we have a wine cellar design program.”
The Latest and Greatest
Siegel’s newest idea, a wine shop and tasting bar called Wine Spectrum (no “The”) at 123 Fourth Street in Santa Rosa’s up-an-coming Railroad Square district, brings entirely new dimensions to the business. “It’s the first time we have a real public face in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Interfacing with the community is one of the primary reasons we’re doing this,” Siegel says.
He got the idea for the business while driving through the district one day. “I really wasn’t looking to do anything, but I do have some knowledge of what the plans are for old Railroad Square and it’s really exciting. When I saw this beautiful new building and this great storefront, you know, my brain started churning and clicking, and I figured that if I didn’t do something here, somebody else would,” Siegel says.
Wine Spectrum’s wine shop and tasting bar share the tree-lines and whiskey-barrel-planter-festooned block with some popular eateries and shops, including Don Taylor’s Omelet Express, Mi Arte Es Su Arte, Sacks on the Square and Sushi to Dai For, among others. The venture, which began with a soft opening in May to work out any bugs, followed by an official opening in June, has received a warm welcome.
“There are various restaurants and business down in Railroad Square, but there’s nothing like Wine Spectrum. It’s really a beautiful room, and it serves great wine. I see it as both a neighborhood place for people to go and a tourist draw as well,” says Steve Rabinowitsch, who’s been a member of Santa Rosa’s City Council for eight years. “I think it’s just what Railroad Square needs.”
Rabinowitsch has known Siegel for 20 years and watched him develop The Wine Spectrum from a small operation to a major business with international clientele. “I think the combination of a place to taste and buy great wines from all over is something unique in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County,” Rabinowitsch says.
The mixed-use building that houses Wine Spectrum was developed by Hugh Futrell who, Rabinowitsch says, is one of Santa Rosa’s premier developers. Above the shop are 29 apartments. The most spectacular feature of the shop is a curving, black metal, floor-to-ceiling wine rack that gracefully divides the wine shop from the tasting bar. The walls are warm earth tones; the bar is topped with oak. The furniture, in tones of brown and black, feels warm and contemporary.
Initially, Siegel considered just serving cheese with the fine wines at the bar but quickly realized that wouldn’t accurately reflect what the company is about. “We’re a quality-oriented company, and we realized we needed to take the food we were going to serve seriously.”
“We’re not trying to bill ourselves as a world-class restaurant people flock to for the food, but we want people to know they can come and get some really satisfying food while they’re drinking wine. We’re a small plate/tapas kind of venue with about 10 things, not 25, to choose from, including panini that’s particularly geared toward wine pairing, an assortment of exotic local cheeses and a focus on local organic produce.”
Specialty desserts are also on the menu, which is posted outside to help entice passersby. “There’s nowhere else to eat near here that isn’t a full-on, sit-down meal, other than a coffee shop,” Siegel notes. “Here you can get something special without it having to be a full dining experience.”
The shop opens at 10 a.m., and the bar opens at 11 a.m. The shop closes at 7 p.m. while closing time for the bar is flexible to accommodate patrons of the nearby Sixth Street Playhouse and other performance venues. And, of course, the wine bar has a small, moveable stage because Siegel, who’s written more than 100 songs, knows how much live music can enhance the entire tasting experience. (His friends, however, like to tease him, saying the stage is really about him creating his own venue à la Ricky Ricardo.)