"A very merry, dancing, drinking, Laughing, quaffing and unthinking time," Dryden, Masque, 1700, I. 39.
Many years ago, I visited Ray’s Liquor and Wine Shop on 89th and North Avenue in Wauwatosa. I was with my father as he bought his favorite scotch. Since then, I’ve followed their growth and reputation, especially as their burgeoning wine inventory followed national trends. Today, I regard it as one of Milwaukee’s best and largest wine stores, along with Consumer Beverage Outlet in Hales Corners, Discount Liquor, Downer Wines, Sendik’s and Waterford Wines on Brady Street.
During my recent visit, I happened upon an enthusiastic and upbeat discussion between Rick Laev, his nephew Orey (the store’s website and creative e-mail director) and John Edwards, an established industry veteran. Their dedication to the wine industry was patently obvious, and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
Ray’s will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year (Rick has owned it for the past eight years since he bought it from Ray), and business is vibrant. After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2003, Orey joined the shop as did his sister, Sarah, who mothers over sundry customer relations slots. Orey modestly and enthusiastically admits that his palate is steadily improving as the gang tastes 75-150 wines per week. In late June, Ray’s proudly dusted off an addition on the second floor dedicated to tasting, education, etc. As Yoda would say, "Pregnant with possibilities is this!"
Ray’s e-mail list, the first in the state, is thoroughly readable and informative. Customers pick up wines that they order from the shop because Ray’s does not ship.
In selecting their wines for sale, Ray’s criteria is quality and value, which is primarily driven by their shared passion. These days, Malbecs from Argentina (my prediction as one of the world’s future wine growth factors) are hot as are quality Cotes Du Rhone from France. Customers migrate toward wines that sell for fewer than $15. As for what’s on the horizon, this energetic team informed me that they are about to turn their sights toward Burgundies, those elusive gems so worth capturing.
My time with the Laevs and with John Edwards was so full of passion for the grape that I couldn’t help but buy five beautiful bottles for future enjoyment.
Later, after enjoying lunch across the street, I noticed Rick policing the parking lot, on the prowl for errant scraps of paper and detritus. Obviously, here was a person who is living his life’s true mission in every way, hands-on. What a great operation.
Ray’s Wine and Spirits
9630 W. North Ave.
Salut, cheers, etc!