The Wine Merchant of Centreville

Linda Collier knows wine. Those who visit her 40-year-old wine shop are the beneficiaries. 

Linda Collier has a bone to pick with me. Armed with an afternoon flute of German sparkling wine and the ebullient nature of a born hostess, she’s in disbelief that I, as someone who’s written about wine and beer around Delaware for more than 20 years, had never visited her shop, Collier’s of Centreville.

On various trips up and down Delaware 52 I’ve probably passed the tidy former home that houses Collier’s shop hundreds of times. But given that the shop celebrates its 40th anniversary in December, I’m apologetic and a little sheepish, as this has indeed been a significant oversight.

On the other hand, I must admit I’m glad this is my first visit. In the early darkness of this November afternoon, the shop is aglow not just with brilliantly lit bottles that have been hand curated by Collier and her staff, but with the presence of Collier herself. And it’s her passion for wine and everything that surrounds it that I suspect has resulted in her becoming such a treasure for area oenophiles. Collier is not simply a purveyor, she’s a valued resource to those who value her expertise and ability to uncover otherwise unknown vintages that span the spectrum of both price and customer preferences.

Collier’s story as a wine merchant started in 1981 when she returned to the Wilmington area after having lived in Europe for six years. She could find no wine shop in the area that met the lofty standards she’d developed overseas.

So, she opened one of her own that year on Union Street in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood. It soon became the go-to location for those who already loved wine or were in the early stages of an affair.

 In 1990, she opened the first location of her Centreville store in the same building that houses Buckley’s Tavern. Collier maintained both stores for four years. 

“What I was finding is that people were driving by [my Centreville location] coming from West Chester or Philly or wherever they were coming from to go down to my [Union Street] store,” she says. “My physical presence was more [on Union Street], so people would drive by here because mostly I was down there and would come here [only] once a week.” 

Then 16 years ago the current building became available (she had been running her upstart wine school out of the room over the needlepoint shop that then occupied the ground floor) and Collier jumped at the opportunity to move. She consolidated the store and wine school into a single building and closed the Union Street location.

“My thinking was if I sold the store down there [in Wilmington] and only had to work 60 hours a week, it would feel like a part-time job,” she says. “This seemed a better location, and if I was going to keep one it made sense to be out here because lots of my customers, whether they should or shouldn’t be, are from Pennsylvania.”

Collier says since first opening her doors, her goal has been to create a shop where her patrons can not only find incredible vintages, but also learn to appreciate wine as a pairing with all kinds of food and something beyond an evening cocktail. Give her your general wine preference, an occasion or a menu, and she’ll offer something from her inventory she is confident will delight you.

“In 40 years, nothing has ever come in my shop that I don’t taste first,” she says. “Which is why customers will come in or they’ll call me and say ‘Linda I need five cases of wine — three red, two white — in this price category. I’ll swing by your side door, and I’ll pick them up.’ 

“That’s what they give me, and their feeling is: ‘I’ve never gotten a bad bottle. I love everything you do.’”

Collier’s 40 years of experience in the wine business has also given her the confidence to recommend lower-priced and little-known imported wines from smaller vineyards over better-known yet expensive California varieties. That means customers not only walk away with superior wines, but often a superior value.

“I taste things where the price-to-taste relationship makes sense,” she says. “I don’t have any numbers or ratings in my shop. The Linda rating is the most important rating you can have coming in here because that’s how people buy. What I always say is I will pick a wine that will fit your palate and your pocket, and I will grow you from where you were.”

Despite all the bad the coronavirus pandemic brought on the world, Collier finds a bright spot in the increased appeal of cooking at home — and the desire to find the right wine to pair with that meal. 

“[The pandemic] changed a little bit about how [people] felt about food, cooking and wine,” she says. “They fell in love with it. And I think that’s something that’s stayed through all of this.”

For the 40th anniversary celebration on Dec. 4 (the actual anniversary was Thanksgiving week), Collier says the main event will be a day of toasting the shop’s continued success. From noon-6pm, the shop will be pouring La Cuvee Laurent-Perrier champagne from jeroboams (3-liter bottles) and two massive salmanazars (9-liter bottles, equivalent to a case).

“I guess the logical thing to do is celebrate and drink out of giant bottles,” she says, laughing. “It’s fun, and everyone that comes in that day, we’ll pour. Anyone that knows me knows that that would be the only way to celebrate. Life is meant to be played with.”

— Collier’s of Centreville, 5810 Kennett Pike, Centreville; ColliersWine.com

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