New wine shop aims to be world’s best

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So much for talk of hard times in Norway. The state-run liquor retailer, aptly called Vinmonopolet, has greatly expanded one of its high-grossing outlets in downtown Oslo and claims it will boast one of the best selections of wines in the world. Customers spent millions on opening day.

Until 1999, customers in Norway had to purchase all their wine and liquor from behind a counter. No longer. PHOTO: Vinmonopolet

Vinmonopolet re-opened its expanded store in Oslo’s Vika district last week, on the same day that 450 sought-after and rare burgundy wines were released to the market.

Some wine lovers had started lining up outside at 7am, and around 120 were waiting when doors opened at 10am. By the end of the day, customers had left NOK 2.6 million in the outlet’s cash registers, reports newspaper Aftenposten

“Some spent more than NOK 100,000,” said store manager Øyvind Bryn Jensen. That’s the equivalent of nearly USD 17,000. On wine. In one day.

The attraction? More than 3,000 types of wine including many hard-to-get, special vintages. The new “special selection” department of the Vika Vinmonopolet features wines selling for reportedly good prices despite Norway’s high taxes on alcoholic beverages: A 1996 Richebourg for NOK 3,000 a bottle, for example, and a 1983 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild from Bordeaux for just over NOK 2,800. Most disappeared quickly.

Many of the wines in the new special section carry prices somewhat easier to swallow, however, from NOK 200 to NOK 1,000. Many of the wines previously have only been available in restaurants, at average markups of 300 percent, so now they can be bought for consumption at home without the customer having to pay a premium.

For Vinmonopolet, the new and expanded outlet from Vika symbolizes a major evolution from the state retailer’s earlier days as a dowdy sort of place where all bottles were kept behind the counter and customers weren’t allowed to wander the aisles. Modernization was demanded as part of Norway’s trade deal with the European Union in the 1990s. Stores opened up for self-service, selections expanded and employees were sent to wine courses.

Sale of alcoholic beverages remains tightly controlled and heavily taxed in Norway, to discourage consumption, so ushering in the new era for Vinmonopolet has been tricky. Customers generally seem to support what’s become one of the last real monopolies i Norway, fearing that sale of wine in grocery stores, for example, would mean less product selection, no chance of lower prices and ongoing restrictions on sales. With beer, for example, no sales are allowed after 8pm in most counties even if the store remains open later.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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