BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
Norman S. Yuen was known in the business community and to his friends as a distributor and retailer of appliances.
But after decades in the white goods industry, he decided to officially retire in 2014.
Yuen is now what’s known in the U.S. as an “encore entrepreneur” – a person aged 55-plus, who opens a small business.
Salut Guam which Yuen is launching this month will import and wholesale fine wines and spirits. But the small business didn’t happen overnight.
Yuen’s love affair with wines didn’t begin well. “We had a distributor conference annually and wines were always served with each meal. I didn’t like wine at all at that time, because I thought wines tasted bitter,” he said.
Then Yuen sipped a German Riesling and “the fruity aromas” changed his mind about wine.
“I started feeling interested in different types of wines especially red. I started to wonder how the grapes after fermentation can turn into so many different combinations of aromas and tastes. I thought that was fun and mysterious.”
Yuen developed not only an interest in wine, but his palate. With a property and children and grandchildren in California, annual visits there allowed him to pursue what at the time was still a hobby. Still, he began attending wine conferences and developing relationships as a customer.
“In 2018 I started going deeper asking about a distributorship to Guam,” he said. The timing was not good as fires in California decimated wineries and affected their output in 2020 and 2021. “Then we had the pandemic,” Yuen said.
But he achieved his goal and is now a licensed importer and wholesaler.
While he can import from anywhere, he said, “My focus now is California.”
Guam has several well-established alcoholic beverage wholesalers, and wine to suit a variety of preferences has become a staple at any island supermarket and gas stations.
However, Yuen said, he is concentrating on a particular niche market.
“I don’t want to sell a $10 bottle. I’m after quality and I’m trying to bring in something that’s not available.”
Those visits to California led to the establishment of relationships with wineries which similarly service the higher end of the market.
Yuen is importing from Amuse Bouche and Shafer wineries in the Napa Valley, as well as the Jonata winery in the Santa Ynez Valley and the Hilt Estate in Sta. Rita Hills Valley.
“I believe people who enjoy wines know that Heidi Barrett was the first winemaker for Screaming Eagle,” he said. Yuen who also collects wines and spirits said, “A 1992 Screaming Eagle was auctioned for $500,000 for a magnum size bottle. Today a 750 ml bottle of Screaming Eagle could easily be sold for $4,000 if you could find one.”
Heidi Barrett is the winemaker for Amuse Bouche. “So, we can try the wines she makes for a more affordable price,” he said. Amuse Bouche is a red blend in the Pomerol style, which retails for $225 to $275 in the U.S. mainland.
Shafer is a historic winery and the owners of Jonata and the Hilt Estate also own Screaming Eagle. “Definitely they know how to make good wine and I am happy to introduce those wines to Guam,” Yuen said.
The first shipment of three pallets will be of various wines in small quantities, Yuen said. They are mostly reds with some white wine and will include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. “For some of them, there will be only a few cases,” he said.
Salut Guam’s wines will range from under $100 to $500. “It’s a premium product for serious wine lovers,” Yuen said.
He still intends to develop his interest in wine further, he said. “I would like to continue to learn more about how to find wine for people who are wine lovers.”
In addition to wine, Yuen is also bringing in a range of wine cellar climate control systems the VinoPRO range. “I have a 40-foot container of eight different sizes,” he said. The selection can hold from 15 to 194 bottles, he said.
Yuen held the distributorships for Hotpoint and Westinghouse brands, beginning his wholesale and retail businesses in the 1980s.
He and his wife, Julie, arrived in Guam from Vietnam in 1979 as refugees and after their second attempt to leave Vietnam by boat. The teenagers were married in Guam. Yuen has been an active member of the community and is a past president of the Chinese School of Guam.
“Guam is a beautiful island,” he said. “I feel so fortunate to have lived here for 40-plus years.” mbj