Wine Merchant to the Stars Calls It Quits — and 'Guess?' Who's Taking Over?
A few days ago, we named wine merchant Steve Wallace, proprietor of Wally's Wine & Spirits — regularly hailed as the best wine shop in Los Angeles, and undoubtedly one of the best in the country as a whole — as one of our 60 Coolest People in Food and Drink for 2013. Today, he has shown us just how cool he is: Wallace has just announced the sale of his legendary Westwood Boulevard emporium of alcohol-filled delights, and, when asked what he plans to do now, he says, "Whatever I want."
The buyers of Wally's, which Wallace launched (in a smaller location, nearby) in 1968, are the Marciano brothers — Maurice, Paul, and Armand — founders and proprietors of the popular jeans-and-more clothing company GUESS?. Wallace's longtime partner in the store, Christian Navarro, well-known in the wine community for his excellent palate (you don't want to play "guess that wine" with this guy) and encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, will be a co-owner with the Marcianos.
The brothers are longtime wine lovers, with large cellars (amassed primarily with the help of Wallace and Navarro), and owners of a new winery in the Napa Valley, Marciano Estate. Supervising production will be Andy Erickson, who makes the big-ticket, impossible-to-get Screaming Eagle wines. The Marcianos reportedly plan to expand the Wally's brand (next stop Dubai?).
Over the years, Wally's has survived changes in California liquor laws, the onslaught of "big box" wine and liquor stores, and a roller-coaster economy, building a large, loyal clientele of wine lovers — many of them celebrities. Wallace doesn't like to reveal the famous names that shop at Wally's, but does say that Danny DeVito is in the store all the time and that Kareem Abdul Jabbar visits the store's cheese and specialty foods department on a weekly basis. An article calling Navarro "sommelier to the stars," published in 2004 in Hollywood Life magazine and quoted on the Wally's website, adds Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone, and Tom Cruise to the list, and a profile of Navarro on the site mentions "former presidents." And, adds Wallace, "Elvis was a Wally's customer. He drank Mountain Valley Spring Water from Arkansas."
Wallace retains an interest in four LA area restaurants, in partnership with veteran local restaurateur Bruce Marder: Capo, Cora's, Brentwood, and the new Brentwood Café. Apart from helping to oversee these eateries, Wallace plans to "travel a lot and fish a lot." He is particularly looking forward to a forthcoming fishing trip to an island off the coast of Baja California, owned by the Mexican government, arranged by some influential friends of his.
"Wally's is doing great," he says. "We're on fire. But I just got burned out."