Ever since Leschi Market’s major expansion of its wine section in the late ‘90s, community organizations up and down Lake Washington have come to the store to collaborate on fundraisers.
“It’s really them putting it on and us working with them,” said Leschi Market co-owner Yousef Shulman.
The local grocer has curated wine tastings and fundraiser dinners for a number of community groups, including the Lakewood Seward Park Community Club, Southeast Senior Center and Madrona Community Council. It has also worked with the Leschi Community Council and Central Area Senior Center in the past, Shulman said.
The store changed from “Western Family” to a more gourmet market in 1997.
“And wine was a natural part of that,” said Shulman, whose uncle, Steve Shulman, led the wine expansion.
Leschi Market has grown its wine offerings from an 8-foot section to more than 1,400 varieties.
Wine manager Ken Benner arrived on the scene in 2007, which was about the time Leschi Market was exploring its own wine label.
“It took the better part of 10 years,” he said of the process of finding wineries to work with. “We turned down hundreds and hundreds of wine samples. In our mind, it had to be the best.”
They finally found success in December 2016, when a new batch of samples came through.
“When we first tried them, we were, ‘This is it, this is it,’ and then it was off to the races,” Benner said.
There are now several wineries that provide vintages for the Leschi Cellars label.
Benner may be the wine manager, but what goes on the shelf is a fairly democratic process. Leschi Market has a six-member tasting panel for vintners to sway.
“So every wine on the shelf has been properly vetted,” Benner said. “We say no a lot more than we say yes.”
Shulman said about 20-30 wines are rotated out weekly.
“It’s a very fluid aisle, in more ways than one,” Benner said.
Each panelist has different tastes, Shulman said, and longtime customers will come to rely on one person’s picks over the others because their preferences match.
The market isn’t large enough to allow for wine tastings there, which makes curating community fundraisers a win-win.
“A lot of the local wineries, they want to get involved,” Benner said. “It gets them in front of the customers and the public in general.”
He said the top-5 sellers during a community event usually find a place on the shelf at Leschi Market.
The latest upcoming event is the Madrona Wine Tasting Fundraiser, which takes place 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, in the St. Therese Social Hall, 926 35th Ave. General admission is $30, and tickets can be purchased here.
“Talking about the event itself, it’s a steal,” Benner said.
There will be far more varieties to try than one might get doing a single tasting at a winery in Woodinville, he said, and for sale at varying price points.
People at the tastings get 13 percent off their orders during the night of the event, and Leschi Market will put 1 percent of its total sales into the fundraiser, Shulman said.
“There’s rarely less than a six-bottle order at these events,” Benner said, adding these fall events are good for people looking for holiday gifts.
Around 50 cases of wine are expected to be ordered during the Madrona Wine Tasting Fundraiser. The bottles can’t be purchased onsite, but Benner said he can fulfill orders within a week.