Delivering Artisanal Eco-Friendly Wines to Your Doorstep
A note from our founder:
I created Stellar Bottles to provide a simple way to explore, discover and enjoy the finest, eco-friendly wines from the world’s top family-run wineries. Good wine is universal. And, it’s become clear that an increasing number of the world’s best wines come from vineyards that are tended without the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.
All of the wines that we represent are from brick-and-mortar wineries that strive to build a chemical-free, diverse, naturally balanced vineyard eco-system. The benefit is a protected environment, improved worker safety and wines that display the purest expression of their potential. All, while in many cases, not costing more than the conventionally produced wines.
Whether it’s from traditional or cutting-edge regions, there have never been more high-quality, artisanal, eco-friendly wines. The challenge is finding them. This is why Stellar Bottles is ultra-obsessed with quality and authenticity. Each month, hundreds of wines are assessed, but less than 2% make the final cut and are offered to you.
The finest wines are a result of obsessive attention in the vineyard and minimal manipulation within the winery. This allows for the most expressive, authentic and pure experience, along with the truest sense of place. This is the essence of true artisanal wines and the sole purpose behind Stellar Bottles.
An Interview with Bob Paulinski, MW, founder of Stellar Bottles
How long have you been in the wine business? Bob – Since 1981, I landed a part-time job in a specialty wine and spirits store as a high school kid. I stocked shelves, unloaded trucks, bagged ice, and so on.
How did wine end up being your career? Bob – It was completely by chance. While working part-time, I befriended Lester, a semi-retired night manager who was a long-time wine geek. He prompted my interest in wine.
How did that happen? Bob – It started with a simple, single event. One evening while Lester was having a late supper in the shop’s office, he said to me, “Polish boy, try this wine”. It was a bottle of 1966 Chateau Cantenac Brown. At the time, the name meant nothing to me, but I did find the gold and black label with a slightly gothic look as confusing and imposing. With the first taste, I nearly wretched. I thought who could choke this down? This is exactly what Lester expected to happen. After he stopped laughing, he gave me a copy of Alexis Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wine, the gold standard reference book of its day. He said, “take this home and read about what you’ve just tasted.” I was none too happy about it. It was like I had been punked before the term came into its current meaning. In the worst-case scenario, if I had no interest in the book, at least I could use the voluminous piece as a doorstop.
That night, with a bad impression still fresh on my mind, I read about the wine that nearly gagged me. It started to sink in that wine was more than just something to drink, there was an epic story. There were aspects of science and art, culinary connections, politics, religion, business and so on. It’s about people, places, tradition and those breaking the mold. It’s about it being part of the social glue for a millennium. And, with each vintage, the deck is reshuffled. The fact that wine came from places that I hoped to visit was an added bonus. From that point, I was hooked.
What are some of the other things that you’ve done during your career? Bob – At age 23, I opened a specialty wine shop. Looking back, it was clearly a case of instinct over intelligence. Fortunately, the business took hold as a place to buy unique, interesting wines that couldn’t be found broadly. I sold the business in 2002, the same year I passed the Master of Wine exam. That was a gamechanger as it opened up a world of new opportunities. I spent the next several years working for some of the largest wine retailers in the US and most recently in Australia. It provided me with a chance to travel broadly, as I had projects throughout Europe, South America, China and so on. Through the years, I’ve remained active in the MW program as an examiner for some years and as a mentor to students, many coming out of the WSET program. I also continue to judge at many of the world’s top wine competitions. During my younger years, I’ve worked harvests, pruned vines, etc., to get firsthand experience.
If you weren’t in the wine business, what would you be doing? Bob - That’s a tough one. Maybe a chef or a farmer, as I’ve always liked a connection with food.
With all of the years that you’ve been in wine, is there an experience that stands out above the rest? Bob – That would be a trip to Chile about ten years ago. I was visiting a winery in Marchigue, about a three-hour car drive from Santiago. It was my last day before heading back to the US. To allow for more meeting time, the winery offered to fly me back to Santiago, maybe a twenty-minute flight. When the time came to leave, I was taken to a decrepit old plane. I sat next to the pilot, in the co-pilot seat. The seatbelt was broken. After multiple attempts to start the plane, the engine finally turned over. Half of the instrument gauges didn’t work. As we fishtailed down the runway, pebbles could be heard popping off of the fuselage. We were not gaining much speed. As we neared the end of the runway it occurred to me that the plane was never intended to take off like a normal flight. We were in the Andes. Instead, the plane launched off a cliff. My heart skipped a couple of beats as it felt like we were standing still in midair. Then, we slowly started to climb. It was the first day that I noticed a few gray hairs!
You owned a brick-and-mortar wine store for many years. Is there anything about it that carries over to the web and Stellar Bottles? Bob - Yes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. People always want to be treated fairly and honestly. They want to feel secure in their purchases. With a web-based business, that element remains vital, it’s just done in a different manner. That’s one reason why social media is vital. Sure, we want to sell wine, but part of that is being experts on what we sell. We’re not nameless and faceless like many other web businesses, we’re out there every day.
Do you keep a personal wine cellar? Bob - I do. It was once more than 3,500 bottles. Today, it’s about 1/10 of that. I tend to keep bottles that have sentimental value, along with some gems that I really enjoy.
What’s the oldest wine that you’ve ever tasted? Bob – An 1862 D’Oliveiras Reserva Sercial Madeira. This type of wine is like Kryptonite, it can live forever.
Do you have a favorite wine region that consistently over-delivers? Bob – There’s currently a lot of challengers for that title. Southern Italy, Sicily, several regions in Spain and Portugal, Australia and Chile are doing some wonderful things. For me, the top spot still goes to the Rhone Valley of France. Much has changed there in recent years and the values are tougher to find. I first visited there about thirty years ago. At the time, the value for the money was off the charts. Today, you need to dig to find the gems. It’s a diverse place and it’s one of the leaders in eco-friendly wine production.
What are the least appreciated, lesser-known grape types? Bob – There are thousands of grape varieties used to make wine around the world. Only a few dozen have a good level of recognition. That leaves a lot of possibilities for under-appreciated gems. For me, the short list would include; Assyrtiko, Aligote, Carignan, Chenin Blanc and Mourvedre. I’m also a fan of the many indigenous grape varieties from Italy, Spain and Portugal.
What makes Stellar Bottle special? Bob - It takes the concept of a brick-and-mortar store into the digital world. There are countless labels in today’s wine world. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and not really know what you’re buying. There are constant market forces at work. The largest wine companies increasingly dominate store shelves. The presence of private label wines is surging, as the profits are huge. Stellar Bottles is the polar opposite. We focus on the artisanal side of the business, the small, mostly family-run wineries that in many cases have been linked to a specific place for years, in some cases it could be for centuries. We don’t rely on third-party reviews. We conduct our own internal tastings and objectively select wines to offer from hundreds tasted each month. Prior to tasting, we do a lot of research. The end result is an ultra-curated offer that represents the best of the best. We communicate the relevant talking points like a one on one conversation in a retail store. We’re geared to people who want to explore all that the wine world has to offer. I see a connection to people who enjoy a wide variety of cuisines, they travel broadly, they have diverse interests, etc. And, they want to know the story behind what they are consuming.
What're your thoughts on food and wine pairing? Bob – There are way too many rules. It’s not about hard science, it’s more about personal preference. For me, regionality is the easiest guide. Wines and foods from the same region often have a synergy. We always evaluate wines with food, I find new combinations that work well for me nearly every day. It’s a subjective thing.