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The Wine Club

April 07, 1990|ELENA BRUNET | Clipboard researched by Elena Brunet / Los Angeles Times, Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Wine lovers rejoice! High-caliber wines can be yours at near-wholesale prices with genial personal service at the Wine Club, a modest shop off the beaten path at the eastern edge of Santa Ana.

A visit does not require a connoisseur's knowledge. Notices and markers on the stands introduce wines by the awards they've garnered. For example, customers discover that the Husch 1988 Sauvignon Blanc was twice a gold medal winner at the California State Fair and the more prestigious Orange County Fair ($5.39); the Hop Kiln 1986 Cabernet Sauvignon, a silver medalist in the 1990 American Wine Competition in New York ($7.39).

Even wine-tasting is available. Fifty or 60 wines are open and laid out on a table near the entrance. A two-ounce taste costs $1 for $10 wine; it's 50 cents for a two-ounce taste of a bottle costing $5.

The Wine Club, which opened Nov. 17, 1985, evolved from the Delicacy Shop, the wine shop and delicatessen that Ron and Marjorie Loutherback owned in Fullerton for 12 years before that.

Ron has been a wine student for 25 years. "It is a passion of mine to know and appreciate quality wines," he says. He even used to teach a wine-appreciation course at Fullerton College.

Helping customers choose the best wine to accompany particular meals is one of Loutherback's favorite tasks. "I love going to work," he says. "One of the neatest parts, probably the most fun part of my job, (is having) people bring the recipes in and ask for wines to go with particular courses."

The Wine Club's sales reflect customer appreciation. It had "a 125% increase in

sales over last year," Loutherback reports. "Gross sales in quality wines was the second highest in California last year. This year may be the highest."

Loutherback credits the wine bar and the shipping service in large part for the store's customer satisfaction. Payment for cases shipped (wine costs and mail rates combined) "will be less than what customers would pay at their local liquor store."

The Wine Club's site in the easternmost part of Santa Ana is intentionally out of the way to keep the overhead low and prices down.

Still, customers find their way from as far north as Santa Barbara and as far south as the Mexican border. "The bulk of the newsletters ("For Wine Lovers," which members receive every month), maybe 50%, go to Orange County,"

Loutherback says. "But the average customer travels (from) more than 25 miles away."

The Wine Club, a single room with a ceiling two stories high, only recently doubled in size to 3,000 square feet.

"When you got so big, I was afraid that things would have changed," a customer of 15 years' standing said as Loutherback carried her purchases out to the car. But the personal service, like the wines proffered, are, if anything, even better.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 12-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day.

Address: 2110 E. McFadden St., Suite E, Santa Ana

Telephone: (714) 835-6485 or 1 (800) 966-5432.

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