It’s easy to sell a great bottle of wine. But there are certain wine shops that become so much more than sellers of great wine. The Premier Group, with three independently owned and operated stores under its umbrella, is not only among the largest and most critically acclaimed wine and spirits retailers in the country, each store also draws in locals and visitors from afar eager to seek advice and counsel from knowledgeable staff members. These wine lovers take part in the excellent wine tastings on offer and choose from wines that have been steeply discounted, as well as iconic cellar-worthy bottles selling for thousands of dollars.
“We try to offer something for everyone, from $3 mass-market bottles to rare bottles that collectors from across the country seek out,” says Jon Notarius, vice president of Premier Gourmet Corp.
Jon’s father Burton “Burt” Notarius founded Premier Liquor in 1969, with a humble goal.
“My dad founded Premier honestly to give my grandfathers Zell [Notarius] and Bill [Drown] something to do,” Jon explains. “But then he ended up falling in love with the business and turning it into his life’s work.”
Burt, who died at age 70 in 2014, saw it as his mission to introduce Western New Yorkers to new wine styles and regions, while also delivering their favorite brands. From the beginning, offering a “good deal” on wine was foundational to their operation’s success, but slowly over time, expanding customers’ palates and educating them about wine became just as important.
Beginning in the 1970s, well before this was the industry norm, Burton introduced his customers to regions, artisanal producers and grape varieties they would have never otherwise encountered, often bringing the winemakers in themselves to tell their own story. He also championed New York viticulture, before much of the world had recognized its potential.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, his passion was contagious with customers, collectors, and his sons, Jon, 48, and Mark, 50.
The original store was located at 2191 Delaware Avenue, on the corner of Girard Avenue in Kenmore. After a few moves and expansions, there are now three stores: Premier Wine & Spirits in Amherst, Premium Wine & Spirits in Williamsville, and Prestige Wine & Spirits in Orchard Park. Linked to Premier Wine in Amherst is Premier Gourmet. Yes, it is a little confusing.
“Because of the way the laws work, every store has to be independently owned and operated,” Jon says. “My brother and I opened Premium Wine together in 1995, which he now owns. I own Premier, and my wife Ellen owns Prestige.”
Each store has its own feel and selection of specialty wines and spirits—generally around 8,500 different wines and 4,000 spirits—but the same core philosophy drives the business.
“We are all about meeting the needs of our novice and experienced customers, while also introducing them to new things,” Jon says. “And we have always been focused on New York wine and spirits. Not only do we love supporting our local community, but the wine being made here is incredible.”
While the spirit has remained steady, the Premier Group has been remarkably nimble, especially in the past decade, when trends seemed to shift and change at lightning speed.
“We love having a gourmet store with an incredible selection of locally grown food, cheese and beer as part of our business model,” says Jon. “People are increasingly interested in supporting local makers and purveyors and seeking out specialty foods. COVID was of course a challenging time for everyone, but we have been building up a web presence for years. Our online business boomed, but we were also happy to meet customers at the curb and do socially distant hand-offs of wine.”
Now that the world is inching back to normality, wine tastings are up and running again, and he hopes to restart wine education programs in their seminar spaces capable of sitting between 50-60 guests.
The Premier Group has earned accolades from Wine Spectator and Beverage Dynamics, among many others. The Retailer Award from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation underlines, Jon says, their commitment to their New York roots.
“We are committed to the growth of the wine industry in New York, and we offer the largest selection of New York wine in the country,” Jon says. “We feel like we’re staying true to our father’s vision while pushing forward into the future.”
The Unity Awards were created in 1990 as a way to recognize, encourage, and celebrate cooperation among grape growers, wineries (and their staff), researchers, retailers and others to advance the entire industry. The winery and grower community in New York state has a rich history of working and succeeding together despite facing a variety of challenges through the years. Recognizing the longstanding and bold spirit of our community members and their numerous achievements, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is proud to continue honoring industry leaders & champions of New York wine for more than 30 years.