In the early 1900s, a man by the name of David Sokolin came to the United States from Russia and acquired one of the first liquor licenses to be issued in New York State after Prohibition was repealed. With that license in hand, he opened a liquor store in Manhattan in 1934 and started a business that would eventually become one of the most esteemed wine brokerages in the world.Sokolin Fine Wine Merchants celebrates eight decades of service this year. Even after changing ownership and locations and shifting the company’s marketing platform, the business has managed to rack up a $15 million inventory of wines dating from as far back as 1900, while maintaining a steady flow of clients—and keeping the business within the Sokolin family.
Dave Sokolin, president of the company and the grandson of the founder, acquired the brokerage in 1992, many years after his father, William, controlled it, beginning in the mid 1950s. The youngest Mr. Sokolin closed the Manhattan storefront’s doors in 1996 and relocated to a shop on North Sea Road in Southampton, but at the same time he also began thinking about the future of the company and the direction in which he would steer it.
“I got in and saw that the future of the high-end wine business was going to be on the phone and online,” Mr. Sokolin said in an interview. “Even though in 1996, there wasn’t really much of an internet yet.”
Mr. Sokolin continued to modify the company’s approach to selling wine and eventually molded it to an online-only business model. He has closed its North Sea Road location and currently operates out of warehouses in both Bridgehampton and Yaphank, doing business solely online and over the phone, with wine brokers available to chat with customers at the click of a button or the touchpad of a cellphone.
“We basically take the old-world approach to white-glove service and personal interaction, and expand it to the internet world. So everyone who does business with us gets great service,” Mr. Sokolin said. “It’s something that involves expertise … to really understand your style and taste. We take a very personalized approach.”
To celebrate its anniversary, the company is featuring some promotional deals for customers, including market-low prices on wines from a $6 million collection purchased from an anonymous wine collector in Europe. Additionally, Mr. Sokolin said the upcoming holiday catalog also will feature many sales and deals on bottles and cases.
From the riverfront French city of Bordeaux to arid land in the state of South Australia, the company distributes wines acquired from regions all over the world. Mr. Sokolin said the business offers customers a unique wine-buying experience that is very personalized. Each bottle and case is hand selected by a team and tasted to ensure that customers are getting a high-quality product at the right price.
“We sell the most expensive wines in the world, and the least expensive wines that taste like them,” he said. “We narrow our product line. We keep a very focused approach and make it really easy to understand.”