Meet the Expert: Wine & Spirits Category Manager – Anissa Gurstel
How does Anissa Gurstel, the category manager for Wines & Spirits at Lunds & Byerlys, choose what goes on our shelves? Some selections come from customer requests; some come from the interests and tastes of our talented Wines & Spirits team members; and sometimes it’s by gut feeling. “I have been in the hospitality industry for a long time, and I have always done the beverage program,” says Gurstel. “It’s a little bit of science and a little bit of guesswork.”
No matter their origin story, all the wines and spirits at our 11 metro-area stores meet our brand standards: They’re high quality and locally made when possible and offer great taste for a great value — a commitment to quality that has helped customers as they make cocktails at home more than ever before.
What are customers mixing up at home? Gurstel has seen demand for comforting drinks go up this year, and she is proud to be able to help people find their familiar favorites when the world feels upside down. “I’m really excited about helping bring that comfort to customers,” she says. “I literally have the best job in the world.”
A Long History in the Hospitality Industry
Gurstel got her start as a beverage expert by working at restaurants during college. “It was something I did to pay the bills, but I found myself lingering,” she says. Early in her career, she was fortunate to work with famed Chef Marcus Samuelsson at the Minneapolis restaurant Aquavit (“He is so intelligent and creative,” she says), and spent a long tenure working for Richard and Larry D’Amico. “It was at D’Amico that I was very involved in the wine list, and it has been a love of mine ever since.”
This isn’t Gurstel’s first time at Lunds & Byerlys, either. “I had the delight of working for Lunds & Byerlys when they opened L&B Kitchen, which was part restaurant and part grocery. I worked there for over three years.” She left to work for a wine wholesaler, then returned to Lunds & Byerlys this past January, just as the global health crisis was looming. “I was ecstatic to be back,” she says. “I’ve had the pleasure not only of learning a new job, but of learning when nothing is as it seemed or used to be — or perhaps ever will be again. It has been a wild and wonderful ride.”
Wines & Spirits in 2020
For customers, a big part of the experience of buying wines and spirits is getting to taste them in the store — a practice that has been put on hold for the time being. “We don’t have the same storytelling capabilities as we usually do right now,” says Gurstel. “We’re learning different ways of interacting with customers.”
To that end, Gurstel is working to expand the Lunds & Byerlys mixer sets for customers who are new to mixology. “People are cocktailing at home for the first time in ages,” she says. And she’s also working to develop an L&B Cocktail at Home kit, which will have everything customers need to make great tasting drinks in their own homes.
She’s also making sure the shelves are stocked with familiar favorites in preferred quantities. “We have seen an increase in boxed wine sales, which allows people to come in less frequently because it stays fresh longer,” she says. And she’s stocking larger-sized liquor bottles and more 12-packs than 6-packs for the same reason.
The supply chain has had some hiccups this year. An aluminum shortage interfered with packaging and distribution at some breweries, which meant occasional limited or missing options at stores, and Gurstel wasn’t always able to get her full tequila order — a fact that coincided with a surge in demand. “Everyone wanted to make margaritas at home this summer. Margaritas are fairly easy to make but still feel special,” she says. “So we found ourselves having to pivot more than usual.”
What’s Next in Store
Gurtsel is a fan of bourbon-based cocktails. “I love Old Fashioneds and Manhattans,” she says. “They are so simple to make at home, and they are comforting on so many levels.”
She maintains a steady supply of single barrel bourbons at each store. This fall, she’ll make room on the shelves for L&B Custom Blend Heaven’s Door Bourbon, a custom blend of six different barrels from Bob Dylan’s distillery, Heaven’s Door, that she helped choose. “It will arrive in stores any week now and it will only be available until it is gone,” she says. “So get it now!” Lunds & Byerlys will also partner with local breweries to put together a 24-pack of local, craft beers for the holiday season. “We introduced the 24-pack last year, and it was enormously successful,” says Gurstel.
If you’re new to drinking bourbon, tasting craft beer or appreciating wine, but you want to break out of your current beverage routine, don’t be afraid to ask. “We are really fortunate to have teams of passionate experts in our stores who can make recommendations,” says Gurstel. We will always stock the familiar favorites, she says, but “I also want us to be known as a place where you can find something new, exciting and fresh — from new bourbons to canned cocktails to the latest trends in hard seltzers. We want to be relevant and fresh and on-trend.”