CNBC, the cable network, is running a documentary later this week about what it calls "The Costco Craze: Inside the Warehouse Giant." Part of this is a very quick look at the part Costco plays in the wine business as the largest importer of high-end French wine in the U.S. and as perhaps the largest wine retailer in the world.
The clip, which is after the jump, is revealing if only for the interview with Annette Alvarez-Peters, who oversees Costco's wine buying -- and rarely gives interviews. It's not long, only a couple of minutes, but worthwhile for Alvarez-Peters' reaction when reporter Carl Quintanilla asks her if she is the most powerful person in the wine world.
I saw this most forcefully when I was in a liquor store in Anchorage, Alaska, several years ago. Many of the prices were lower than they were in Dallas, and I asked the salesman how that could be, given the high cost of living in Anchorage, the extra transportaton costs, and the like. He sighed and said, "Costco." At the time, Anchorage had a Costco and Dallas didn't.
This is a subject worthy of serious reporting, but I'm not sure CNBC does it justice. As the wine world changes over the next decade, and the importance of critics like Robert Parker wanes, power may well shift to trusted retailers like Costco, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. These retailers will be able to set the consumer wine agenda in much the way that critics like Parker did, something that has happened already with Two-buck Chuck, a wine invented for Trader Joe's that gets middling reviews but elicits almost cult-like devotion. The experts I have talked to say this could happen more and more.
Which would certainly make someone like Alvarez-Peters, who decides what wines get in that trusted retailer, the most important person in the wine business.