By Kara Sweet
Icon. Stalwart. Powerhouse. Driving force. Cornerstone. What would it take to consider a business any of these? Would it take ties to the most tragic event of Rapid City’s past? Would it take an owner connected to other historic Rapid City firsts? What about a successful business for more than two decades? Or a man who was a champion for his home state in his specified field?
Based on all of these reasons, Canyon Lake Liquors and its owner Andy Schneider deserve to be called business icons in the Black Hills, stalwart forces in the wine and spirits world, powerhouses in their field, and cornerstones for an entire industry in this area.
Born in Rapid City, Andy spent his first ten years in Washington DC before his family returned to the Black Hills. He graduated from Rapid City Central in 1969, the largest graduating class ever because Stevens High opened its doors to students the next year, 1970. Andy’s day job was as a carpenter and home builder; however, his night “hobby” as a pool player took on great importance when in 1980 he become the South Dakota state pool champion. At this point, Andy moved to Houston to advance his pool career. He played professionally for six years and saw every state in the nation via his pool cue.
The original liquor store was built on the current property in 1951. The present-day building was rebuilt in 1973 from one percent SBA “Flood Money” that helped repair the city of Rapid after the 1972 flood. After returning to Rapid once again, Andy bought the building in 1992 with no intention of running it as a liquor store because it was not profitable at the time. Since Andy was in construction, he knew the possibility of rental income, so he thought he could use the building as a rental property to make money. Yet, a change of heart occurred. He decided to work the business – even though for the first seven years he worked almost one hundred hours a week and paid himself only about five dollars an hour!
Even though owning his own wine and spirits business was seriously hard work for very little money, Andy developed an incredible passion for wine. He kept building his inventory to the point of having the best selection in the area, and the store had found its niche! After twelve years in the industry, Andy learned of the International Sommelier Guild that taught classes in Denver, Colorado.
Andy felt that he owed it to his loyal customers to have more formal knowledge of wine. Having worked with wine for twelve years, he thought these classes in Denver would be a “breeze”; he was quickly humbled when he learned how little he knew about the theory of wine. He started with the Introduction to Wine class and learned so much. He took a year off, as he was traveling to Denver for these classes, and then decided to go back for the Sommelier Diploma Phase of classes. Many of the “kids” in the class were intent on becoming Certified Sommeliers through ISG, but Andy just wanted the education since he already had his job in the industry. Less than fifty percent of students taking these exams pass the blind tasting portion, and this was the part about which many of his younger classmates were extremely worried. Andy passed that part of the test for the sommelier certification on the first attempt though he did not pass the essay section. Since Andy was only interested in the knowledge from these classes and not necessarily the title, he never retook the essay portion.
Andy could go on and on about how important this educational experience was to him and Canyon Lake Liquors. One of his main goals from the wine school was to learn proper pairing techniques to enhance both food and the wine with which the food is served. Since 2003, Andy has hosted over forty wine dinners with anywhere from thirty-five to two hundred people in attendance. At each one of these dinners, he worked closely with the chefs on the food and wine pairings. In addition to wine dinners, Andy taught classes through community education programs in the Black Hills and judged wine at fairs.
Today, Andy has noticed many changes in wine in the Black Hills. The biggest change Andy has seen is that quality wines are so much more readily available in the state today; South Dakota not only has some of the best steaks in the world, but it also has the world class wines to pair with these steaks. The dinners of which Andy has become so proud usually feature at least one wine in the hundred dollar retail price point, meaning the bottle would cost two hundred dollars in a restaurant! Andy has also worked to educate his consumers about wonderful wines in his weekly tastings. For ten years, Andy has popped corks every Friday at 4:30 p.m. and poured samples of unique, quality wines to expand the palates of Canyon Lake’s wine lovers.
Andy works hard to get good wines at great prices for his patrons. When a wholesaler discounts a quality wine, Andy acquires large amounts at thirty to fifty percent off. This enables him to pass these savings on in the store. In addition to good deals, Andy tries to stock a few prestigious products that can’t be found in other parts of the state. He often purchases these in a program similar to buying “futures,” meaning wine is purchased after it is made yet before it is bottled. This enables wines to be bought at a lower cost, but there is a bit of an unknown to the quality of the final product.
Andy says he can go on forever about wine, yet his passion for wine is much like a father’s love for his children. When asked his favorite wine, he is unable to pick one “child” over another. “I am a wino, I love them all,” is the first way Andy answers this question. Next he claims his favorite is “whatever is in my glass at the time!” He does admit he has a special appreciation for the Riesling grape, not only because it makes delicious wines, but also because it creates wines with such “complicated diversity.” He loves many Old World wines, but can also “enjoy a giant, over-extracted New World” wine as well.
Andy Schneider should truly be considered an icon, a stalwart, and a cornerstone in the Black Hills; however, he is so humble, he would probably disagree. His business is a powerhouse in the Black Hills, filling an important niche by having the best selection of wine in the area. As a Rapid City native, Andy has been connected to many important historic events in the area. His path and his passion have helped him run a business for over two decades, a business that continues to educate customers and offer unique wine opportunities.
Canyon Lake Liquors is located at 4244 Canyon Lake Drive. For more info, visit the website or call (605) 342-7639.
Kara Sweet is a certified sommelier through the International Wine Guild and intro level somm through the Court of Master Sommeliers; she does wine education classes and events throughout the Black Hills and surrounding areas. Follow all things food, wine, and the Black Hills on her blog,thesweetsommelier.blogspot.com.
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