“We have carved a niche by understanding the palates of our customers and what they enjoy drinking.” – David Breitstein
In April 2009, The Culinary Institute of America, located at Greystone in the Napa Valley, received an extraordinary gift from David and Judy Breitstein, owners of the wine shop Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park. David and Judy, passionate collectors and connoisseurs, donated 150 plus bottles of rare California wine celebrating the men and women who shaped the history of the California Wine Industry. The collection, A History of California Wine: The David and Judy Breitstein Collection (view catalog), of rare bottles and vintages dating back to the 1880s will be on permanent display, each with a description of its historical importance written by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible.
David and Judy made their own history by opening the first store in the San Fernando Valley dedicated to wine. The Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park opened its doors in 1967. The following year, David and Judy headed north following the California coastline to explore wine country. This trip was the first of many wine adventures that have continued over the last 51 years. They developed “the art of wine buying” by visiting California winemakers, tasting their wines, listening to their stories and developing long-standing relationships. David described it as “creating a relationship with the producer, the artisan, who created the wine. One of my philosophies is that the personality of the winemaker is in the taste of the wine. I guarantee that if you taste a great wine, you are going to like the person who made it.”
These friendships with California vintners enabled David to focus on the quality of his wines and to make buying agreements with a commitment to purchase a specified number of cases of wine over a six-to-twelve month period. These winemakers we now recognize as the founders of the California Wine Revolution that began in the mid-1960s. David explains in 2009, “The popularity of wine and the fact that we have the largest allocations of many of the wineries in California are responsible for our success. We teamed up with many of the wineries in the beginning, before this wine boom came. They are taking care of us now.” In 1977 Judy and David developed the Chaparral wine label with wines produced by Chalone Winery for The Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park. In later years, the wine was produced by Au Bon Climat Winery.
The Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park became known as one of the only stores in the Los Angeles area where customers could purchase the finest California wines and also learn why they were so unique. On weekends, customers came from Pasadena, Beverly Hills, and downtown Los Angeles to enjoy the beautiful wine displays and photographs of winemakers, with jazz and rock and roll playing softly in the background. Some came to buy wine by the case and others by the bottle. David shared the hobby of wine as a multi-dimensional experience: reading about wine, searching for the wine, tasting the wine, procuring it and sharing it with friends. He wanted his customers to enjoy wine and feel that collecting was fun.
The store was about 2,700 square feet in size when it opened and was located in a local shopping mall. Judy and David stayed in that location for 45 years to the day, adding another 850 square feet for a temperature-controlled wine vault and museum. David collected wine and the vault contained rare large-format bottles which he enjoyed showing and talking about with his customers. David and Judy loved to discuss wine with the customers.
David and Judy developed the same close relationships with their customers as they had with winemakers. They learned about the tastes and palates of their customers through the Wine Association of the Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park, their wine club that held tasting events featuring top winemakers, wine proprietors, and importers from around the world. The Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park hosted wine dinners and invited customers to join them on trips to tour wineries in California and Europe. David and Judy developed seminars and produced a newsletter, Vine-Line, for thousands of customers, engaging, educating and describing new releases as well as showcasing rare wines. David says, “The personality of our store is the key. Lots of people sell wine; it’s that we have carved a niche by understanding the palate of our customers and what they enjoy drinking.”
David and Judy began attending Wine Auctions, such as the Napa Valley Wine Auction and the Central Coast Wine Classic, to purchase rare wines and to support philanthropy. David served as the co-chair on the steering committee with Archie McLaren, co-founder of the Central Coast Wine Classic, for many years. The Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park invited their customers to join “Team Duke” at these events, introducing everyone to new varieties, food and wine events, and regional wineries. David and Judy continued to document and record the California Wine Revolution as it advanced through the decades. Their newsletters are now archived at the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County and are valuable historical documents of the California Wine Revolution. Their vast collection of wine labels and photographs taken as they traveled are also archived in this collection.
In 1981 David and Judy created Wine Concepts, a creative wine marketing company to consult with a variety of wineries and vineyards to improve their marketing efforts and knowledge of industry trends.
The Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park became the merchandising model in the wine industry. David and Judy were named Wine Spectator Market Watch Leaders in 1990. About the same time, their son Ron joined the business adding creativity and modernizing marketing efforts. In 1995 the Duke of Bourbon became one of the first wine shops in the United States to have a presence on the internet.
Customers and wine lovers began to build wine collections in the 1990s, which created a need for temperature-controlled environments to store these wines. In 2003 David and Judy established a partnership with wine distributor Alex Miller to open Terminal 55 as a temperature-controlled public storage facility in Van Nuys, California.
David and Judy received the 2009 Market Watch “Best Merchandising Award” in honor of their unrelenting efforts to showcase and promote fine wines. Many of the winemakers and wineries such as Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn of Duckhorn Vineyards, Bob Long and Zelma Long of Long Vineyards, Joe Heitz of Heitz Cellar (the pioneering winemaker who made Napa Valley famous for producing award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon), and Jack and Jamie Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards have all expressed their appreciation to David and Judy for marketing their California wines.
Although David and Judy retired from retailing wine in 2012 after selling the Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park, they continue to leave a legacy for others. “We want more people to be independent wine merchants, and we feel we should leave a legacy for those who are entering the business.”