During my time as Fine Wine Manager at Heritage Wine and Liquors, store co-owner David Heller used to regularly say that “well-bought is half-sold.” What he meant was that any retail product will sell like hotcakes at the right retail price. This is, in turn, dictated by the wholesale tariff, which is often the result of negotiations with the distributor.
Colorado wine distributor Scott Lauck, owner of Synergy Fine Wines, is a perfect example of the truth of that motto. I’ve known Lauck for almost 15 years and consider him to be one of the top businessmen in the state, and not just in terms of wine. He also has a tremendous palate, something he developed in the restaurant trade before starting Synergy in March of 2001. But he didn’t begin with a tastevin chained around his neck.
“I was raised Southern Baptist and don’t remember having so much as a beer until I was 18,” says Lauck. “But I was always an entrepreneur.” His family moved to Denver, occupying a house near Orchard St. and Holly Ave, when he was seven. In the second grade he made spending money by manufacturing and selling cinnamon flavored toothpicks. By the time he attended Denver Christian Middle School, he and a buddy co-owned a T-shirt screening company. “I may have been the only 14-year-old in Denver with my own business license.”
After graduating from Littleton High School he headed off to Baylor University. It was during the summer after his freshman year, while temping at Pasquini’s Pizza in Denver, that he came down with the restaurant bug. “I was also a trash man because my father worked for Waste Management. I’d pick up trash in the early morning and work at Pasquini’s later in the day. Over time I realized how much I loved it. So I moved to Aspen, which at the time was the restaurant capital of Colorado.”
A car accident in 1995 meant a lot of down time when he just happened to live next door to Bobby Stuckey, a Master Sommelier who’d worked at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Stuckey is now the owner of Frasca Restaurant in Boulder. “Bobby taught me a lot about wine. He was the first person I ever saw taste blind and I’ll never forget a 1986 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon that we shared one evening. The way he described terroir, which means sense of place, was instantly recognizable by me in the context of food. It was my epiphany in the world of wine.”
A stint at chef school in San Francisco preceded a 1997 move back to Denver so that his wife Rebekah could finish her own schooling. There he met Tom Lane, a legendary Colorado wine importer and distributor, who introduced him to Harry Lukas, owner of Lukas Liquors in Highlands Ranch.
That’s where I first met Lauck in 1999 when he was the assistant wine manager. “Back then we couldn’t taste customers on the wines. So I would cook something fun and bring it into the store where we’d serve it and talk about how great certain wines would taste with that particular morsel. It was crazy but our passion sold a lot of bottles.”
His time at Lukas brought him into contact with many of Colorado’s best local wine distribution companies, including Classic Wines and Grand Vin. “The 1995 Bordeaux were coming out, it was a pretty good vintage, and so we learned along with our customers. It was salesmanship 101.”
Scott saw an opportunity to operate between the big boys and the small independents but had no seed capital. However, over his years in the restaurant business and at Lukas he had accumulated some nice bottles. Most were gifts from satisfied customers. He connected the dots and sold his collection to raise the capital to start Synergy.
In the beginning, Lauck would hit the various wine retailers and restaurants and his brother would deliver product. He started with five brands and now has more than 200 in his portfolio. He also turns over more than $15,000,000 of inventory each year.
Lauck and Synergy, while entirely successful, are not standing still. 2007 saw an investment in a Lodo loft/corporate office/educational center. By centralizing his operations Lauck makes money every day. He’s expanding into craft beer sales (all from overseas) but doesn’t necessarily care about company growth per se. “I just want us to keep doing what we’re doing by providing better distribution through smart sales.”
Lauck, who seems to always have a smartphone attached to his head, is obviously more than just a salesman in a highly competitive industry. Profane at times, cajoling at others, he’s also constantly looking three steps ahead. “Every successful entrepreneur knows that he’ll be paid someday, not today maybe, but someday.”
Synergy Fine Wines sells wine and beer made by real people that come from a particular place. “That’s what we do,” says Lauck, “and if we do it well we’ll keep selling more.”
Synergy Fine Wines
3999 Holly St.
Denver, CO 80207
Tel: (303) 831-6130
Synergy Fine Wines Loft
1766 Blake St.
Denver, CO 8002
Of Wines Distributed By Synergy Fine Wines
(750mL bottles unless otherwise indicated)
Chartogne-Taillet Cuvee Saint Anne NV (Champagne, France) $40
This is an example of just how wonderful wines can be simply because of how talented and conscientious the makers are. Their land, while good, is not aristocratic. This 50-50 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay with a small amount of pinot meunier focuses sauteed apples, butter, braised beef, shiitakes and honey-mushroom. The silky, tangy palate is stylish and reliable.
Scarpetta Brut Rosé NV (Friuli, Italy) $25
Scarpetta is a winery owned and operated by Bobby Stuckey, M.S. and Chef Lachlan Patterson, owners and creators of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, a restaurant inspired by the culture and cuisine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy. This sparkling rosé is fresh and balanced with rose petals and ripe berries. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel and produced in the Charmat method, which is the same as that used in the production of Prosecco.
Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner Hefeabzug 2011 (Wachau, Austria) $27
This sur-lie bottling has become a Nikolaihof icon, redolent of sweet lees and fresh oysters, along with white lilac and a bit of freshly toasted bread.
Donnhoff Riesling Kabinett, Kreuznacher Kahlenberg 2007 (Nahe, Germany) $24
Yellow roses and orange zest line the nose and palate, with a charming, playful finish. Light and delicate, with good balance and a nice, lingering finish.
Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand) $15
An aromatic mix of green fruit tones with underlying ripe tropical aromas that add great complexity. Flavorsome hints of pineapple and passion fruit start the party, with mild herbaceous character lingering on the tongue.
Chehalem 3 Vineyards Pinot Gris 2011 (Oregon, U.S.A.) $20
Very pretty white and yellow fruits of lemon curd, apricot, orange blossom, lemon verbena, white peach and green apples, tethered by zippy acid tension and a balancing sugar component for weight – 25 grams of RS per liter, but the impression is dry to medium dry.
Chateau Haut Rian Bordeaux Rose 2011 (Bordeaux, France) $14
This crisp and zippy Rosé is defiantly proud and dry, with the skins providing a delicate, salmon color. Like the estate’s Bordeaux Blanc, stainless steel is the vehicle for fermentation and élevage. The grapes are sourced from south to south-east facing vineyards that face the River Garonne — where the vines can see the water but won’t get their feet wet.
Susana Balbo Malbec 2011 (Mendoza, Argentina) $25
The wine has a beautiful reddish/purple color as do most good malbecs. The aromas are a mix of freshly crushed black cherries and toasty/smoky oak — just enough to frame the exuberant fruit. On the palate, the flavors of cherries and spice are obvious, and the jammy fruit quality just keeps coming on strong, with hints of spice and sandalwood lurking in the background.
Mr. Riggs Shiraz The Gaffer 2010 (McLaren Vale, Australia) $23
Made with 30 percent new French oak, this shows excellent integration of shiraz fruit with the gentle use of oak creating a big, rich, juicy, smooth style of red, finishing with elegance and spice. It is a flavorsome, fruit-driven, full-bodied Shiraz that is well balanced and assured to please the palate. The wine is named in honor of John “The Gaffer” Riggs (1814-1902), the great-great-great grandfather of winemaker Ben Riggs and was made to acknowledge 150 years of the Riggs family’s farming heritage in South Australia.
Ventisquero Reserve Carmenere 2010 (Colchagua Valley, Chile) $14
This Reserva Carménère is cherry-red in colour with hints of garnet. Intense aromas of very ripe blueberries, black and red currants, strawberries and cherries harmonize perfectly with touches of cocoa, tobacco and elegant oak. The palate is rich and well-balanced, with lush, generous tannins that highlight the clean finish.
Domaine Dupont-Tisserandot Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers 2009 (Burgundy, France) $99
The domaine owns 2 hectares of 45 year-old vines of Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Cazetiers, where the soil ranges from white limestone-marl through sandy-limestone. Being slightly higher in elevation, the Cazetieres offers bright, black-cherry fruit underpinned by a fruity acidity. The finish is remarkably persistent with a touch of minerality and a wonderful lift to the fruit.
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2010 (Tuscany, Italy) $26
This is an elegant and balanced Chianti Classico that is medium bodied, with ripe cherry fruits and spice. Cedar notes are present on the nose and pallet. It is very focused and pretty with fresh acidity and firm tannins.
Bodegas Muga Muga Reserva Unfiltered 2008 (Rioja, Spain) $22
Medium red. Gamey red berry aromas complicated by tobacco, leather and mineral qualities; a gentle vanilla quality contributes to the old school impression. Pliant red fruit flavors take on a firm edge with air, as well as a riper bitter cherry character. Finishes with solid tannic grip.
Andrew Will Champoux 2009 (Washington, U.S.A.) $60
This wine has a full middle palate with layers of raspberry, black cherry, and plum with blueberry reflections. The wine is soft considering the percentage of cabernet and has good acidity that contributes to its freshness and structure.
Lewis Cellars Alec’s Blend 2010 (Napa Valley, California) $60
A deliciously complex blend of 70 percent syrah, 25 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Heavy with wild blueberry, violets, and oak forest aromas with deep chutes of blue-black fruit Mocha and espresso bean flavors kick in just as you glide through the dust to a fine chocolaty finish.
Kopke 20 Year Port NV (Douro Valley, Portugal) $47/375mL
Elegant, rich and nutty with flavors that go on forever. A creamy smooth blend of 15 to 35 year old tawnies showing deep caramel and dried fig flavor and well developed color. Kopke draws on good stocks of its own aged tawnies and this wine certainly tastes all of 20 years, with its richness and dryness finely in balance, and with lemon jelly and intense ripe fruits shining through the well-defined finish.
Alvear Pedro Ximenez de Anada 2004 (Montilla-Moriles, Spain) $20/375mL
Molasses, spice, chocolate and pure raisins define this as classic P.X. It’s syrupy but not too much so, with maple, cinnamon and brown sugar flavors. For a sweet and candied dessert wine, it has excellent balance and persistence. A star among many in this category; these wines are hard not to like.
Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com. Ben can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com