Selling the Cellars
For this Chico couple, a wine shop is a labor of love
Brenda and Dennis McLaughlin share a love for each other, Chico and good wine, and they show it in their wine shop, Creekside Cellars.
When she was a youngster, in 1953, Brenda’s family moved to Chico to escape Los Angeles’ smog. Before long the family moved to her grandfather’s ranch in Durham. Later, Brenda attended Butte College as well as Chico State University. For several years she traveled out of the country before returning to Durham in 1975, where she bought a house that she and Dennis still live in.
Brenda served as director of marketing for Sierra Sunrise senior retirement community for five years. Dennis, who’s also originally from Southern California, moved to Chico in the mid-1980s from Eureka. He has worked for the city of Chico for 15 years and currently serves as the city’s housing officer.
The McLaughlins met in 1990, when she was working on a housing project for the homeless that eventually became the Esplanade House. The two found they shared many things in common, including a love of good wine, but also that they often had to shop out of the area to find the wines they were interested in. This led to discussions about a shop dedicated to selling just wine.
As Brenda puts it, “Living in a community for such a long time, you get a feeling for that community’s needs.” Dennis’ position with the city and Brenda’s background in marketing gave them deeper knowledge of the community.
They began their research to determine if an independent wine shop could make it in Chico. They visited other shops and researched demographics such as age and income and the amount of wine currently sold in Chico and Butte County.
Their decision to locate their shop in the Courtyard adjacent to Big Chico Creek, where the former Christian & Johnson nursery once grew fruit trees and grapes, seemed a natural progression. Brenda continued her training by attending wine classes at the Culinary Institute of America and intensive classes with Holly Mondavi and then Shramsberg for a deeper understanding of sparkling wines. It is her job to stay current on readings, scores and tastings.
The McLaughlins look for wineries that offer great wines at good value, handcrafted wines with smaller productions and more attention to detail. Brenda hand-sells each bottle by finding out customers’ needs, such as price, food pairings, taste or varieties (Merlot, Syrah, etc.).
To the best of the McLaughlins’ knowledge, Creekside Cellars is the only wine shop/wine bar/tasting room north of Sacramento to the Oregon border. Each week its tastings offer a different theme featuring seven or more wines and wineries. Typical of recent tastings was “Summer Sipping Wines,” which included Gewürztraminers and Rosés paired with five lighter-style cheeses, Tin Roof rosemary foccacia bread and an assortment of fruit. The “Italian Antipasti Wines” tasting included Asti Spumante, Chianti and Sangiovese paired with bruschetta, a selection of cured meats, olives and Italian cheeses.
Creekside Cellars offers an unpretentious, friendly and non-intimidating environment and outstanding customer service, including deliveries, shipping and complimentary gift wrapping. Patrons have been known to fax Brenda their dinner menus for appropriate wine suggestions. Over time, a trust develops with customers regarding her wine recommendations. Customers can choose from a selection of 51 varietals from more than 300 wineries, ranging in price five to hundreds of dollars, with the average bottle purchased being $25.
The McLaughlins are planning to expand and remodel the 1,200-square-foot shop after the first of the year, which will double the size of their business and provide outside seating. In addition to a variety of local olive oils, spreads, vinegars, olives, smoked salmon and books on wine now stocked, Creekside Cellars will be offering a selection of artisan cheeses to complement its wines.
Loretta Metcalf is cohost of the food show Mangia with the Mamas alternate Tuesdays, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., on KZFR, 90.1FM.