AMONG SEATTLE’S MANY small independent wine shops are a handful that go back even further than McCarthy & Schiering. The oldest date to 1969, the year House Bill 100 (commonly, and with disdain, called The California Wine Bill) was passed, permitting out-of-state wines to be marketed on an equal basis with Washington-produced wines. Before then, only the Liquor Control Board could import out-of-state wines. Grocers had to buy them from the board at retail prices. The legislation wound up creating competition that stimulated production of more and better Washington wines and invigorated retail sales by making wines from all over the world more easily available here. 

Riding that crest, both Champion Wine Cellars and Esquin Wine Merchants debuted in 1969, followed by European Vine Selections (1972), Pete’s Supermarket & Wine Shop (1974) and Pike & Western Wine Shop (1975). All since have moved on from their original ownership. 

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Emile and Stephanie Ninaud sold Champion Cellars in 2017 to Honolulu-born hospitality veteran and sommelier Erin Lyman and her partner Suthap Manivong. Champion’s catalog is still strongly French but includes many styles of natural or low-intervention wines, and the website not only categorizes wines by country, region and style; it also highlights wines made by women and people of color.

McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants changes hands after 4 decades 

Rand Sealey sold Esquin Wine Merchants in 1997 to Chuck LeFevre, who hugely expanded its portfolio by adding spirits and acquiring online retailer MadWine. Doug Nufer, one of eight current owners of European Vine Selections, has been a constant presence at the quirky little shop since 1989, when it moved from Fremont to Capitol Hill. George Kingen sold Pete’s to grocery executive John R. Bennett just last year. 

Thirty years ago, Michael Teer bought Pike & Western from its founder and his former boss, Ron Irvine. All told, Teer has worked at the Pike Place Market shop for 41 of its 46 years. Now approaching 70 and contemplating his own retirement in a few years, he says, “The changing of the guard is a big thing to me.” 

Teer has seen a lot of changes in his career. In the early days, he says, his shop had to appeal to a broader base to survive, and they needed the giant brands. Now they can focus on wines from smaller producers they are passionate about. He believes working in retail is one of the best ways to build wine knowledge because retailers “probably taste more than anybody.” He hopes to sell the business to an employee when the time comes, but one of the bright spots of the pandemic, for him, was hearing customers say, “We don’t want you to go anywhere.” For independent shops, “It really gets down to the personal connections. It’s what we have to offer they can’t get elsewhere.”