A new job taking up about 60 hours a week. A weekly radio gig. A family of four. With all that on his plate, what in the world would possess Bill Abrahamson to take on another time-consuming task? ¶ "Actually, this one should be easy and fun," he said of next week's WineFest, where he and Cities 97 radio partner Brian Turner will moderate a symposium with four Australian vintners. "The Aussie guys are colorful, not lowbrow but open. ¶ "We'll probably try to get them to speak to terroir but not go really crazy on that. We want it to be analytical, but not turn it into geek-speak."
This approach -- that wine is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated but not deconstructed to death -- makes Abrahamson and Turner, who evoke an easy rapport on their Friday-morning confabs (heard between 6:45 and 7:15 a.m.), ideally suited for the symposium.
The same kind of exuberant but lighthearted bearing pervades Abrahamson's life, which is largely about wine, women (wife Tammy and daughters Emma and Abby) and song (he's an avid guitar noodler and member of the band Skycarp).
"Bill has an encyclopedic memory of people, places and most importantly wines," said Annette Peters, import manager at local distributor World Class Wines. "Add to that his creative musical background and you have a pretty colorful persona. He's a great storyteller, and actually recounts my wine travels better than I do."
Abrahamson has traveled to Europe with Peters and others to seek out wines, but his most recent journey was a much shorter one: from a longtime job at Sutler's Wine & Spirits in Stillwater to reorganizing and managing the wine operation at five stores under the Northgate Liquors/Top 10 Wines & Spirits umbrella. Thus the 60-hour workweeks.
"It's pretty insane," said Abrahamson, who moved to Stillwater at age 6 when his father landed a job as chief of police. "I've never been so busy in my life."
Abrahamson's mission: convert the five suburban stores from convenient commuter stops to wine destinations.
"It's been an everyman store, carrying good, solid items that people are looking for casually," he said. "The customer base has been someone stopping by on the way home from work to get a 12-pack of beers, some Canadian Club and, oh yeah, a bottle of wine for the weekend.
"They do get some serious high-end buyers, but they just haven't paid much attention to the customer who's looking for good-tasting, well-made wines at realistic prices, $15 to $25. People who get up in the morning and know they need to buy wine, I want our store to be the one they think of."
Making that happen is a two-step process. First up: improve the inventory. Fortunately, Abrahamson's 15 years at Sutler's came as the Stillwater store built up one of the Twin Cities' best, most wide-ranging wine selections.
"When I started at Sutler's, imports were kind of negligible," he said. "We tried to tweak it up, starting with Italy, actually all around the Mediterranean. We didn't want to outprice people's curiosities, but we did want to get people into styles different from California, bringing in interesting artisanal wines."
Which is the stratagem Abrahamson will bring to his new enterprise, along with step two: getting his staff "juiced" about wine.
"We need our wine savvy tweaked up. We're fortunate to have a lot of young folks who are sponges, so we're holding a lot of tastings, making sure they're exploring," he said. "People who love good wine are better at selling good wine. That's one of the reasons Sutler's has been so successful: Everybody there is interested in fine wine, drinking it and selling it."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643