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Tastes Better Here
Meet Ray Brych: Our Wine, Beer, and Spirits Manager
January 02, 2019
Ray Brych loves discovering new things. He’s the Category Manager for Gelson’s beer, wine, and spirits, and oversees all 11 of our wine and craft beer bars — so he and his team partner with distributors, brokers, wineries, breweries, and distilleries to stock our shelves with wonderful things to drink.
He’s only been with Gelson’s for a little over a year, but to hear him talk about wine, it’s like he was always on his way here. About 15 years ago, Ray started visiting wineries in Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and the Napa Valley. Those visits changed what had been a nascent interest in wine, into a true passion. “After meeting some of the winemakers, getting to tour the wineries, and learning about all the different elements that can go into making this wine taste different from that wine, bells went off for me. I thought, ‘This is just fascinating.’”
“The more you learn, the more you get into it,” Ray adds. “And then things start to domino — and the next thing you know you’re obsessed, like I gotta go find something else that I don’t know about.” Luckily, Ray’s job gives him plenty of opportunity to do that, and he’s applied all that curiosity and enthusiasm to stocking our shelves with a broad variety of wine, beer, and spirits, from the everyday to the special occasion, the hyper local, and the exquisitely small batch and boutique.
When we ask Ray what he’s excited about right now, he talks about Swagger, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Saunter Wines. “It’s made by Thomas Rivers Brown, who’s one of the rock stars of Napa,” he says. “He takes a portion of the juice from two high-end, single-vineyard bottlings and uses it to make this really nice fifty dollar bottle of Cabernet. I love being able to find something like that and get it into the store.”
How does he do that? Both he and our wine broker have a great relationship with the winery. Ray discovered Swagger about ten years ago on a winery tour, and he’s on Saunter’s mailing list. “When I asked our broker if we could get it in, he said, ‘They don’t make much of it, but let me ask,’ and after a little back and forth, we were able to get 77 of the 350 cases made.”
Gelson’s craft and local beer program brings Southern California beers — like San Diego’s Green Flash and Santa Barbara’s Figueroa Mountain — into our stores and wine bars. We’ve also been partnering with local brewers, like Three Weavers and Ballast Point, to put together beer pairing dinners: think saison with lobster sliders and a coffee stout ice cream float. “Craft beers have as much nuance as wine, and they’re great with food,” Ray says, “and it’s always fun to get out and try a bunch of beers from one brewery.”
Ray is also pretty jazzed about a couple of new Gelson’s exclusive tequilas, including a Patrón Reposado Tequila and a Código 1530 Rosa. In both cases, he says, we were able to pick our own barrel. “That means they bring us samples from all the available barrels, we choose the one we like best, and they bottle all of it up for us and put our label on it.”
Ray chose a reposado that had been aged in a Hungarian oak barrel rather than French oak, which gave it a deep yellow color and a warm, sippable sweetness, like butterscotch — it tasted as if it had already been mixed in a drink. On a similar note, the Código Rosa is a blanco tequila that ages in an oak Cabernet barrel for one month, giving it a pale rosé blush, and a lightly sweet, floral finish.
With the constant influx of new and adventurous wine, beer, and spirits, training is also a big part of Ray’s job. “We give our folks background information and tasting notes and encourage them to try new products,” he says, “and then we’ll have educational dinners and training days with expert guest speakers, where everyone can taste, ask questions, and feel good about talking about the new products in the store.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all have that training? With so much to choose from, it can be a challenge (albeit a fun one) to figure out what wine to serve at Mom’s birthday dinner, what gin to use in a gimlet — or what beer to pair with a picnic on the patio. Ray’s advice is to talk to the producers and sellers. The best way to get to know a wine, beer, or spirit is to ask a lot of questions about it, to sample different brands at different price points, and to keep track of the ones you don’t like, as well as the ones you do like.
“We love it when people come in and ask us about a pairing or a recommendation,” he says. “We could talk about this stuff all day, and it’s fun when you nail it, and they’re really pleased.”
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