Gambino’s may sound a little like Soprano’s, but Karen Gambitsis only crime is to entice.If the smiling enthusiast behind Tauranga’s first speciality wine shop has any sort of mantra, it is ‘try something different.’ Karen is on a clear mission – our words not hers – to nudge us all out of our wine-drinking comfort zone, and be just a little more adventurous.
The name sounds Greek and it is: the family comes from Wellington, with a history of work in the restaurant trade, and in wine-making. In 1989 well-known brother Chris, then a Wellington restaurateur, spotted an abandoned vineyard near Renwick in Marlborough, and purchased the land. He went on to found Lake Challice Wines and remains the winery’s assistant winemaker, and sales manager (but that’s another story).
Her brother’s purchase, Karen acknowledges, helped spur an interest in wine, developed over some years in the restaurant trade working as a chef (many fondly remember The Hobler) then running an earlier wine store. ‘Most people will tell you when they love wine their palette grows as they experience more wines. I think that’s what happened to me really,’ says Karen Gambitsis.
Her aim with Gambino’s is simple if bordering on the evangelical. ‘There are so many vineyards in New Zealand people wouldn’t even know about, let alone have tried.’ She notes that Kiwis can be a little unadventurous, especially when it comes to the wealth of wine varieties at their disposal. We still tend to like our wines very sweet and young, she says.
Gambino’s is stocked with varieties that aren’t common in liquor stores or supermarkets. ‘I mean I’m not saying I’m the only one that’s stocking them. What I’m saying is there’s very few here you’ll find in the normal retail outlet – you’ll find them in wine shops but your normal bigger chain-type liquor store or supermarket. ’
But she’s quick to dispel any notion of trying to dictate what people should be drinking. ‘I mean personally, I like a shiraz with a big hunk of beef or something like that. That’s my taste – that’s not to say my taste is right...it’s not what anybody tells you you should like, it’s what you like.’ The ‘passionate’ wine seller stocks a big range of wines – including many that cater for the current popularity of pinot noir and pinot Gris.
But what about the consumer who thinks a speciality wine shop is for wine snobs? Once they meet me they’d know I’m definitely not a wine snob, she laughs. ‘My line is I’m passionate about wine and that means anything. I’ll try any wine because if you don’t experience it, you don’t know (what it tastes like). ’ Karen Gambitsis is also keen to dispel any idea that you won’t get out the door of a specialty wine shop without having spent $20 or so, per bottle.
Her wines are priced from $10 to about $280 for a magnum of French Champagne. She even has her own wine label – Gambino’s – a $14 sauvignon blanc with passionfruit and grassy flavours. Karen won’t say where the wine is from. On the label of the $14 dollar sauvignon blanc people are asked not to ask where she gets it from,’ just be thankful...’ It doesn’t come from brother Chris vineyard, it’s a little bit of a secret, she says.
Gambino’s has a loyalty scheme that thankfully, doesn’t revolve around yet another loyalty card – but rather, the customer’s name and the last four digits of their phone number . The scheme has been well received and many have joined Karen’s wine club as well.
Gambino’s is easy to find in the shop formerly occupied by Jim’s Music Room. With Karen’s easygoing, un-pressured hospitality, and try-something-different philosophy, we’re picking the store won’t run short of customers.
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