My Wine Web: Best Buy Liquor and Wine in Camarillo
By Mark Storer
Published in the Ventura County Reporter Winter, 2003
“Oh what a tangled web we weave…” when we write about food and wine. Before you change the page and fire off an e-mail to the editor about the food and wine guy who went nuts, hear me out. I’ve been writing about food and wine for about two years and all that time I lived around the corner from one of the best wine sellers in the county and never knew it. That title is getting a lot of play as there are some extraordinary wine purveyors in the county these days, but Mike Asaad and his brother Tony of Best Buy Wine and Liquor in Camarillo really do run a unique establishment.
For starters, it’s not just wine, it’s a regular old liquor store and it’s not in Old Town Camarillo with its charm and small town ambience, where you’d expect it to be. It’s on Pickwick Street, across from the Post Office, next to the pharmacy and an old bar. You can buy lotto tickets there and you can buy cheap gin there and you can buy peanuts, beef jerky and soda there, too. Heck, if you want, you can buy a 6 pack of Bud there. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Then again, I’m a snob. What do I know?
However, you can also buy a bottle of Justin Cellars Isosceles, a meritage red wine out of Paso Robles that defies description. You can buy a bottle of Frog’s Leap Cabernet from Napa Valley or you can buy Paringa Shiraz from Australia. Mike even has access to Mondavi’s Opus One if you’re in for that sort of thing. Simply put, if you’re within a reasonable distance from the Camarillo Post Office, you’ve got an extraordinary gem of a wine shop right across the street. And I do mean “you’ve got” in every sense of that term. Mike and Tony take pride in calling their customers friends and making them feel at home and comfortable when they come into the store. Mike likes to say, “The customers own the shop, I just run it for them.” It’s really a refreshing way to run a business, but it’s more than that—it’s friendship and home, it’s finding the right wine with knowledgeable help and it’s enjoyable to go shopping there.
Now, about the tangled web—the story of how I met Mike and how I found out about his store is now holy writ in my book. The phone rang and on the line was Dr. Cary Chronis who happens to be my daughter’s pediatrician. Now, I’m the worrying sort so the first thing flashing through my mind is “is he going to tell me something about my daughter that I missed? Was I supposed to bring her in and didn’t know?” No, Dr. C was merely calling because he reads the Reporter and he wanted me to meet his step-son-in-law. I’ll leave you to figure out the family connections. Anyway, Adam Mahler is a sommelier who works for Henry Wine Group, a seller of fine wines. Adam is doing some stuff with local folks like Nona’s Courtyard Cafe in Ventura and he is also working with Café Fiore which will open soon at 66 California Street, site of the old 66 California Restaurant. He assures me, by the way, that Café Fiore will be utterly fantastic. Of course, I will go and be the judge of that myself. You’ll be the second to know. Adam and I got to talking and soon developed a working wine relationship because from a food and wine reporter’s point of view, quite honestly, about the best contact you can have is a sommelier that is active in both the wine sellers and restaurant business in your area.
Adam introduced me to Mike at Best Buy because he was there for a Tuesday Night Tasting. Every Tuesday night at 6:30, Mike has a wine tasting featuring any number of great wines from various regions. Upcoming events include wines from Rancho Sisquoc in the Santa Maria Valley and an Italian varietals night. The night I met both of them, Adam was doing the pouring of some of his company’s Spanish wines. I bought a mixed case—if you haven’t tried Spanish wines, you’re missing out. They are just breaking in to American markets and are priced to move. The Gotim Bru I purchased is a blend of Tempranillo, Spain’s claim to grape fame, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot—all grown in Spain and the flavor is smooth, full of ripe berries and just a hint of earth. Delicious stuff for $10.00 a bottle.
Mike also has the American Wine and Spirits Company coming in to pour its wines soon. I happened to have met a guy who worked for American two years ago named Eric Reichenbach. Eric and his wife Theresa bought my house in Ventura when I moved to Camarillo. Eric will be pouring the wines for American that night.
Just today, I had to bring my daughter to Dr. C for treatment of an ear and sinus infection, poor kid. When we drove back home, I stopped at that pharmacy next to Best Buy and Mike was standing out front. He asked how we were and when I told him, he told us to stop by on our way out. Proper medications in hand, my wife, my daughter and I all walked into Mike’s store where he offered us something to drink, made cooing noises at my daughter (you will always be on my good side if you make cooing noises at my daughter), gave her some ginger ale and generally treated us like good friends. And that’s the web and it is perhaps as it should be. It has come full circle and now, simply hangs in the air with delicate grace, inviting new friends, pouring new wine and sharing stories. Wine, after all, isn’t about treasuring or keeping or collecting, at least not for me. Wine is merely an enhancement to the treasures that are already there, family, friends-new and old, food and the celebration that those things bring to any life. Mike and Tony Asaad have built their business around the notion that life is to be enjoyed and that is best done not just by gaining customers, but by making customers into friends.