PANDEMIC SILVER LINING: Colonial Wine & Spirits' Chris Catoon loads up alcohol for delivery to sheltering customers. Brian Chilson

If you ask Clark Trim what his favorite wine is, he’ll tell you it’s the one in the glass he’s holding at the time. He’s got some favorites: whites and rosés in the summer, reds in the wintertime. He thinks Rieslings are hugely underrated, and loves a good Chablis. For Trim and his partner, Henrik Thostrup, it’s not so much about whether the grape hails from California or Tuscany or the sticker price, it’s about whether you like it or not. “Just enjoy what you like to drink,” Trim said. “A $100 bottle of wine is not worth anything if you don’t enjoy it.”

Trim and Thostrup opened Colonial Wines & Spirits in 1992. In those days, gas stations didn’t have growler taps, craft beer was still a relatively niche endeavor, and Central Arkansas was a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc desert. Equipped with Trim’s background in hotel/restaurant management and Thostrup’s background as a chef, the pair made it their business to anticipate trends and to catalyze new ones. 

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“There were very few Sauvignon Blancs available in the state in 1992, and we got with our suppliers very early on,” Trim said. “And as hesitant as they were to bring a lot of Sauvignon Blanc in — they said, ‘Oh, people aren’t gonna drink anything but Chardonnay,’ and we said, ‘Just bring them. We’ll sell them. I think one of the first ones we got was [from] Villa Maria, in New Zealand. And our suppliers were very surprised to see how that trend caught on.” When they think a particular drink is going to go big, they’ll lean on their research and stock up on names from beyond the mainstream channels. Right now, Trim said, you’re going to find champagnes — a lot of them. Trim and Thostrup are proud of their work to “make champagne an everyday wine,” Trim said. “It’s a great wine for pairing with all kinds of food. When we came here to Arkansas in ’92, we started doing tastings privately with champagnes and food pairings, and we went from having maybe five to six champagnes to having a full 40-foot section with 10 shelves full of sparkling wines and champagnes.” Bubbly, he said, is “not just for New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day.”

Keeping inventory flexible — and ample — means that Colonial needs a lot of space. It had operated in the ’90s from a building on the corner of Alamo Drive and West Markham Street and, in 2007, moved a few blocks eastward to its current location at 11200 W. Markham. The parking lot’s a breeze to get in and out of, and that began to come in handy in March, as Central Arkansans began to self-isolate at home and new “emergency rules” allowing local liquor stores to deliver were implemented. “It was literally announced in the governor’s briefing that afternoon,” Trim said, “and the next day we began to ramp up for it. It was not a simple task. First of all, the requirements were that there were no third parties available; Grubhub, for example, couldn’t deliver alcoholic beverages. It was specifically required that the company own the vehicles, and that the delivery personnel must be employed by the store.” So, the next day, Trim said, they went out and bought a van. 

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“But one of the things you may not think about,” he said, “was getting commercial insurance to deliver alcohol. That was kind of a hurdle. Not everyone will write that insurance. … And then the internal things, if you compare the steps a customer takes during an online order to the steps taken when a customer comes in and shops, there is about five times more labor involvement for us to fill an online order or a curbside order. So it was a learning curve for sure, We worked on it very diligently to make sure that we were doing exactly the right things, that we got the orders filled properly and delivered properly.” For one thing, Trim and Thostrup had to make sure they knew who they were selling to, and to put safeguards in place to prevent minors from attempting to order liquor delivery; the customer who ordered the delivery must be present at the home, ID in hand, to accept the delivery. “It was not an easy task, but it was manageable, and it has been successful for us,” Trim said.

And, unsurprisingly, it’s something Trim and Co. would like to see stick around. “I think the customers who use the service — not only from Colonial, but from other stores throughout the metroplex here and throughout the county — the customers enjoy that convenience. I think it would be a very good service to the community if it would be continued. I’m not an attorney, and I don’t profess to know what process it would take to become permanent. But it’s my understanding that it would take a change in the law. … We’re hoping that maybe it will be addressed in the next session, and that there will be enough support behind it to make it permanent.” 

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Meanwhile, Trim said, they don’t take awards like those in the Arkansas Times’ Best of Arkansas poll for granted. “We are very humbled that your readers have picked us in these two categories. … We will continue to work extremely hard to meet the desires of our community and to take care of our customers.”