Kailua-Kona resident Alex Thropp is parlaying a career as a sommelier and wine expert to a new path as a wine shop proprietor.
Thropp opened Westside Wines in the Kopiko Plaza in Kailua-Kona earlier this year. The shop, which he designed and remodeled himself, offers wine in three pricing tiers, from everyday wines to more expensive, harder-to-find varieties. He also stocks spirits, including Caribbean rum, Japanese sake, single-malt scotches and dessert liqueurs, 60 craft beers and artisan cheeses to accompany the beverages.
A grand opening celebration was hosted Nov. 2 with a blessing by Kahu Danny Akaka.
Thropp spent 30 years working for restaurants and resorts across the country and the Caribbean, selecting and explaining wine.
He then spent about 15 years working for distributor American Wine and Spirits as a fine wine specialist. During those years, he drove 600 miles a week, visiting restaurants and resorts helping them craft their wine lists.
Those experiences combined to help him assist his customers, he said.
“My job is to explain the wines, the composition of the wines, how they match with food,” Thropp said. “I can also help them try new grape varietals.”
Around the world, farmers grow 10,000 kinds of grapes for making wine. That can make the whole task of finding just the right wine confusing and complex, Thropp said.
He also finds customers show up with the name of a wine a friend recommended as the best wine in the world. Thropp talks with those customers about that wine before selling them a bottle, to make sure the wine will be something they will enjoy.
“The best wine in the world is the wine that you like, not that your friend likes,” he said. “That’s what I provide, the background knowledge to navigate through all the labels.”
Wine preferences, like those for clothes and cars, are very personal, he said.
While he promotes his shop as a place with fair prices, Thropp said he can’t compete with a big box store buying certain wines in bulk. He does keep 15 red wines and 15 white wines in stock that cost less than $15. His goal isn’t to compete with grocery store wines, but to offer a different selection that more resembles the wine lists at fine dining restaurants.
If a customer comes in and mentions a particular wine they love from Costco, for example, he might help them find something similar in his shop, but he might also encourage them to buy what they know they love, even if it isn’t from his store.
Thropp also offers items his customers can’t find anywhere else, from French champagnes to seven kinds of absinthe, which come from Austria, France and the U.S. He has three coolers, so he can keep bottled beverages cold, and a microchiller, which can cool a bottle of wine in 10 minutes, for bottles that aren’t in the coolers.
Kona’s wine drinkers have a broad palate and have kept him busy enough he had to hire his daughter, Paulette Griffore, to help in the store.
Keeping the business in the family, his wife, Marian, is the bookkeeper.
Thropp said his wife pushed him to open the shop, which he considered for several years. He did so without investors or partners, doing much of the construction in the store himself, with the help of local carpenters Ross Pegg and Mike Godfrey.
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