stephen gitto, manager of the liquor department at the lindbergh schnucks location photo by virginia harold

The secret St. Louis wine room you need to know about

About 15 years ago, Dave Birkenmeier, then store manager at Schnucks’ Lindbergh location, and Scott Schnuck, then CEO of Schnucks, recognized the need to expand the store’s wine range beyond its core selection. One of their goals was to venture into rare and highly sought-after bottlings. Birkenmeier’s innovation was the creation of the store’s wine room, or “reserve room,” which is distinctive not just among Schnucks stores in St. Louis, but also in the grocery business in general.

The room is a 12- by 12-foot space lined with rare finds. In the center of the room lie stacks of wooden boxes, many containing rare and allocated wines that are a collectors’ dream. The wines are cataloged with library-like precision, and Stephen Gitto, manager of the liquor department at the Lindbergh store, navigates the impressive selection with expertise, capably explaining the lore behind each label.

Gitto, a certified wine educator and one of only nine advanced sommeliers in the St. Louis area, is the reserve room’s cellar master and primary keyholder. The space features wines from all around the world, with countries like Portugal, Spain and Argentina just a few of the destinations represented. However, Gitto said any wine selected for the reserve room has to earn its place. “It’s about getting the best wines out there, focusing on the best of what France, Italy and the U.S. have to offer,” he said.

The chalky vineyard of Clos des Goisses is arguably one of the best sites in the Champagne region of France. The 2014 Clos de Goisses – a rare, sparkling treat by the celebrated producer Philipponnat – was the first luxury item I spotted upon entering the reserve room. The oldest vintage bottle is a 1965 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva, a Sangiovese library release from Tuscan winery Badia a Coltibuono.

The most expensive? At the moment, a Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet 2020 retails for $2,200. The price tag can be even higher for bottles from prestigious Burgundy winery Domaine de la Romanee-Conti – at least, if you can find one. “We do get those things, but they don’t hang around,” Gitto said. “The last time they came, they were gone within a couple of hours.”

Premium wines fill the reserve room, but there are some values nestled among the stacks. Gitto and I agree that the most approachable find is the 2018 Benjamin Leroux Bourgogne Blanc, made with 100% Burgundian Chardonnay. At $30, it’s an excellent accompaniment to pork, seafood and great conversation.

The reserve room alone holds 2,800 bottles, but Gitto manages a much larger inventory out on the main store floor, ranging from still reds and whites to sparkling, fortified, dessert, alcohol-free and kosher options. The Lindbergh store offers an elevated selection compared to other Schnucks locations, giving the shopper a deeper dive beyond the big box labels and wines that are widely available in other stores.

“(The Lindbergh location) crosses several niches and blurs the differences between different types of outlets,” Gitto said. “Most big box retailers do not do fine wine business, while fine wine shops typically don’t carry big box wines. It’s like having two businesses in one.” Gitto is the ideal person for managing the task. In addition to his certifications as a wine professional, he’s a trained chemist and briefly taught high school chemistry. His wealth of knowledge enables him to explain everything from the intricacies of the crus of Barolo, Italy, to the nuances of Napa Valley vintages. I enjoyed watching his interactions with customers, simultaneously unpretentious and generous with his knowledge.

The reserve room is available during business hours and can only be accessed by a manager, but I recommend taking advantage of Gitto’s exemplary knowledge if he’s available. Gitto’s schedule varies, but he’s typically in the store five days a week during daytime hours.

Schnucks Lindbergh, 10275 Clayton Road, Ladue, 314.991.0510,

Alisha Blackwell-Calvert is an advanced sommelier at Madrina.

Tags : People, Places, Wine, Shops