Acme Fine Wines shops sells the best wines you’ve never heard of

Acme Fine Wines shops sells the best wines you’ve never heard of

There’s an underground stock market for wine in Napa Valley. Tucked a few blocks away from St. Helena’s Main Street, a tiny, little-known wine shop deals in a different kind of IPO: Initial Public Offerings of the next cult wine brands that nobody has heard of yet. 

Acme Fine Wines is not a place that tourists stumble into accidentally;  it’s not even open on weekends, and you have to make an appointment to shop. Instead, it’s a kind of secret society for oenophiles. The region’s best winemakers and their protegees come here to sell their latest passion projects and side hustles — and the most prolific collectors of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon come for the bragging rights for discovering them before anyone else. 

Over the last 20 years, Acme owner Karen Williams has developed a knack for scouting star-power in wine long before the critics. As a result, her shop goes beyond the job of middle man and plays the unconventional role of incubator. Acme is known around Napa’s wine industry as “ground zero,” a place where some of the most sought-after, cult Cabernet brands of Napa Valley, including  Scarecrow and Hundred Acre, got their start. Williams sold the latter’s Australian wine, Ancient Way Shiraz, through one of her wine clubs back when it was first released in 2007. She was also there for the early days of the Prisoner, which later sold to Constellation Brands for $285 million. Today, it’s one of the top-selling wines in the country. Once it became too mainstream for Acme customers, she had to pull it from the shop. 

Karen Williams, owner of Acme Fine Wines in St. Helena, gets access to the next cult Napa wines before anyone else. 

Lauren Segal/Special to The Chronicle

Williams moved to Napa Valley in 1998 to pursue a wine career. She worked at the famed Tra Vigne restaurant and in wine production before starting her boutique shop, which she prefers to call a “wine gallery.” 

“That’s what it looks like,” she said. “People often think they’re in the wrong place.”