Prices are competitive, and a discerning palate is clearly at work, says Wine Adviser Paul Gregutt.
SELLING WINE online has very quickly become commonplace. Roam the Internet and you’ll find auctions, wine clubs and specialty retailers offering “deals” on a vast variety of wines. Rare is the bricks-and-mortar wine shop that does not also send out email updates and take orders online. Great for consumers, but for retailers there is one big problem, and that is breaking through the clutter.
How do you make your online offerings stand apart from the crowd?
Paul Zitarelli believes he has found the formula, and his Full Pull Wines, now in its fourth year, seems to have leapfrogged the danger zone that all new businesses must navigate. Started in a former foundry in Sodo, a few blocks south of Home Depot, Full Pull is definitely a warehouse, not a wine shop. The retail business is conducted by email, in daily posts that Zitarelli composes about a wine or producer that has captured his attention.
In his early 30s, Zitarelli has the chunky, friendly, somewhat unkempt demeanor of a latter-day Jerry Garcia. I’ve been reading his well-written posts since he opened, and was not surprised when he confided that he had given serious thought to becoming a wine writer. (Not that I’m suggesting it’s a viable career!)
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The path to Full Pull was full of zigzags. Zitarelli, the son of two teachers, studied applied mathematics at Harvard but quickly determined that the academic life was not for him.
“I came out of school and spent a good portion of my 20s in a bunch of strange jobs trying to figure out what to do with my life,” he confides. He and Mrs. Z moved to Seattle in 2004 — “the first time I’d lived anywhere near wine country.”
It turned out to be a life-changer. Something clicked. A short-lived blog provided the chance to write and learn about wine in more depth. After considering a number of other options, he began offering carefully selected Washington wines to a small list of friends and readers.
How much was Full Pull’s business model influenced by the success of Jon Rimmerman, just a few blocks away at Garagiste?
“It’s a viable business model,” Zitarelli admits. “I also looked at guys like Doug Charles at Compass, McCarthy & Schiering, the traditional brick-and-mortar shops. I see the role of a good retailer of being in the wisdom business, educating people. That’s the part I really like — this idea that you can write well, educate and get the wine in peoples’ hands at the same time.”
Full Pull’s offerings, though still focused on hard-to-find Washington wines, now include selections from Europe as well. Prices are competitive, and a discerning palate is clearly at work. Zitarelli admits that there are built-in growth limits to the business, but at the moment, his mailing list remains open, and there is no cost nor any purchase commitment (http://www.fullpullwines.com).