Tag Archives: wine retailers

One more time: The independent wine retailer is your best friend

independent wine retailer

No, this is not the selection at a quality independent retailer.

Only the independent wine retailer can save us from crappy wine and unfair pricing

The country’s pre-eminent “natural foods” grocer had two wine displays next to each other last month in a Dallas store. One wine was the kind you’d expect it to carry – Jules Taylor New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a terrific wine and especially for the $15 sale price. Next to it was mass produced schlock, a California chardonnay that uses intensive winemaking to taste sweet and buttery. It was also $15, and I saw the same wine for the same price at Target.

If a store that markets itself as carrying only the finest natural, organic, and sustainable products treats wine that way – junk next to excellence, and for the same price — how can we count on any retailer to offer quality and value?

Fortunately, that’s what the best independent wine retailers do. Because, as a wine business friend emailed the other day, “The consumer has a romantic view, with no idea of all the BS behind the curtain to sell the ocean of wine being made. And I feel the consumer is overpaying most of the time.”

The best independent wine retailers don’t do those things. They won’t sell you something like that chardonnay, where the bottle was probably the most expensive part of the product. In fact, most won’t even have it in their stores.

The best independent wine retailers understand that customer service matters, which is why they don’t carry junk. Better to sell you cases and cases of wine over the long term than six bottles of plonk and never see you again. And they price their products fairly, without the come-ons and phony discounts that dominate the marketplace. Right, Cost Plus World Market?

What makes a quality independent wine retailer?

To paraphrase from the cheap wine book:

• Does the retailer ask questions about your preferences, helping you figure out what you want – red or white, sweet or dry?

• Does the retailer let you ask questions? Do you feel comfortable asking those questions? Or do you feel you’re being humored in the way adults humor small children?

• Does the retailer answer your questions? Are the answers understandable or in winespeak? And, when you say you don’t understand what he or she means by leathery or oaky, do they explain so you do understand?

The best retailers do more than sell wine. They help you find wine that you didn’t know you would like. It’s easy to sell someone something that they already know about. What’s more difficult, and a mark of the best retailers, is to find something new – a Spanish albarino or French picpoul for an Italian pinot grigio, for example, or a fruity rose instead of a white zinfandel.

I’m lucky to have two top-notch independents in Dallas, and I have rarely been disappointed. I know if the wine is on their shelves, it’s probably worth buying. And I also know I can ask any question I want, no matter how Wine Curmudgeonly cranky, and I’ll get an intelligent answer. No one will sell me something because it’s on sale or because they get a bonus for selling it. They sell it because they want to make me happy.

And when’s the last time we could count on that in the wine business?

How to find a good wine retailer

good wine retailerThis checklist will help you find the wine drinker’s best friend – a good wine retailer

The Wine Curmudgeon, after suffering through the $3 wine challenge as well as two weeks of cheap wine samples that tasted like alcoholic Big Red soda, needed to buy some quality wine. So I visited a good wine retailer.

Why a good wine retailer? Because they may even be more valuable than a terrific bottle of cheap wine. When I went to Pogo’s in Dallas to rescue my palate from all that junk, Lance Storer guided me to what I wanted. He was even able to answer a question about a wine they didn’t carry. They had sampled it, and decided the quality wasn’t up to Pogo standards – which saved me from buying another lousy wine.

Not quite what you’ll find at the grocery store’s Great Wall of Wine, is it?.

In this, the best retailers are usually independents, who understand the value of customer service. They know it’s their reason for being, and that you’d shop elsewhere if all you cared about was price. Ironically, this is a result of the three-tier system, which has protected the independent retailer from the kind of competition that destroyed local music and book stores.

How does one find a good wine retailer? This checklist will get you started:

• The best retailers do more than sell wine. They help you find wine that you didn’t know you liked. It’s easy to sell someone something they already know about. What’s more difficult, and a mark of the best retailers, is to find something new that fits the parameters of wine you already drink – a Spanish albarino or French picpoul for an Italian pinot grigio, for example, or a fruity rose for a white zinfandel.

• Does the retailer ask questions about your preferences, helping you figure out what you want – red or white, sweet or dry? Or do they steer you to something they assume you’ll like because you’re a woman (sweet wine!) or younger (cute label!)?

• Does the retailer always seem to recommend wine that is on sale, is displayed at the end of an aisle, or highlighted in some other way – regardless of what you like? Many bigger retailers offer incentives to their employees if they meet sales goals or quotas on featured wines, and too often, that takes precedence over what the customer wants.

• Does the retailer answer your questions? Are the answers understandable or in winespeak? And, when you say you don’t understand what he or she means by leathery or oaky, do they smile and explain what they mean in English?

Winebits 477: Wine retailers edition

wine retailersThis week’s wine news: Wine retailers Walmart, Total Wine, BevMo are in the headlines

Pricing dispute: BevMo, the West Coast liquor chain, has accused Total Wine of unfair advertising. It claimed that the latter’s ad campaign — “Don’t Paymo at BevMo” – that said BevMo’s prices were higher than Total’s wasn’t true. BevMo brought its complaint to the National Advertising Division, a self-regulatory group set up by the ad business. Total declined to participate in the process, which it is allowed to do. What’s interesting here is that Total, which seems to spend as much time courtrooms as Perry Mason, wasn’t worried by the challenge, which was made by one of the biggest regional chains in the country.

Pricing dispute II: Total has also run afoul of the Massachusetts liquor cops, who have accused it of violating the state’s minimum pricing laws. The chain has sued the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission for briefly suspending the licenses of two Total stores for allegedly selling vodka, rum, and other booze for $1 to $6 below cost. In the Total suit, the company said it assumes that local retailers turned the chain in to the state because they didn’t want to compete on price.

Election dispute: How deep are Walmart’s pockets? The retailer spent more than $4.8 million that helped pass a ballot measure to allow wine sales in Oklahoma grocery stores. That was some 90 percent of the money raised by the group supporting grocery store wine sales. And, because this is about booze sales, the results of the election have ended up in federal court. The state’s retail liquor trade group claims the measure is unconstitutional and wants it voided.

More wine retailer foolishness

wine retailer foolishnessYou’d think I’d find something worth drinking among a dozen bottles, but you’d be wrong

Some notes after buying a dozen bottles of wine at various retailers over the last week; sadly, most weren’t worth drinking, let alone writing about. Call it more wine retailer foolishness:

• Points are bad enough, but they’re despicable when they’re so obviously fake. A Dallas mom and pop had an $11 rose from France that I had never heard of – Rose of Scarlet, complete with a Gone with the Wind style front label. Is this dry, I asked? Yes, I was told. It got 92 points. But really dry (because why would anyone put that label on the wine if it was any good)? Yes, I was told. It got 92 points. Of course, the wine tasted like a bottle of French rose with a Gone with the Wind style front label – not really dry, without much rose freshness, and way too much fruit. If it got 92 points, the score came from the winemaker’s mother.

• Premiumization run amok. A couple of years ago, I bought a bottle of the 2013 Spy Valley riesling from New Zealand at a prominent Dallas retailer for $16. Over the weekend, it was $18 at the same retailer. The wine has not necessarily improved with age, but it cost $2 more? And why was the store selling an out-of-date riesling for the same price as the 2014, which was next to it on the shelf?

• Trader Joe’s wine continues to baffle me. Its prices on national brands are a couple of dollars more than other retailers in Dallas, and buying its private label stuff is a crapshoot. Most of it is cheap and tastes that way, and I’ve bought just one wine in 15 years that was worth what it cost. How so many of my colleagues can rave about its wines baffles me. And the Texas section consisted of one wine stuck in the lower left hand corner of the shelf, and it wasn’t even technically Texas wine – it was a dreaded for sale in Texas only.

More about wine retailer foolishess:
Wine pricing skulduggery
Beware wine vintage skulduggery!
The Kroger wine proposal

walmart wine

Teaching consumers about wine, one person at a time

wine education

Rose? Who’d have thought?

The Wine Curmudgeon embarrassed himself on Saturday, but it was for a good cause.

A 20-something woman was buying wine at one of Dallas biggest retailers on Saturday, trying to make sense of what was on the shelves in the rose section. Fortunately for her (or not, as the case may be), I was nearby, talking to one of the store’s employees. The result? A lesson in wine education.

“You should have seen your eyes light up when we talked to her,” said the employee, who will remain anonymous so he can keep his job. “You looked just like a little kid you were so excited.”

And why not? The woman needed wine for a coed baby shower, and she left the store with a dozen bottles – six roses, three reds, and three whites, all around $10. I’m not sure who was happier, the woman because she got lots of great wine without paying too much, or me because she was open, eager, and willing to do something besides buy more premiumized California chardonnay.

Yes, I made suggestions (and kept apologizing because I didn’t want to get in the employee’s way), and yes, she bought WC favorites Texas rose and Gascon white. Mostly, though, I was curious about what the woman wanted to do, part of my fascination about how consumers buy wine. The Winestream Media could care less about that; it’s too busy telling us what to buy without consideration of price or palate. Big Wine does focus groups to find out what kind of wine we want to drink, but that’s different from the actual buying process.

And she wanted to learn. She wanted to know what she could buy that would make the group happy, taste good, and not cost too much money. And when the employee found her those wines, she was eager to try them – so eager, in fact, that she was planning a taste comparison between the Texas and French roses. This is what happens when you talk to consumers instead of talking down to them and when you find out what they like instead of trying to confuse them so they’ll buy something that you want to sell them.

And the three of us had a laugh when the woman said the “real” wine drinkers in the group were bringing their own bottles to the shower. Which means they’ll miss drinking some great, cheap wine.

Finally, my thanks to the employee, and not just because he didn’t throw me out of the store. He was everything a great wine sales type should be – he was enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and respected the customer’s wishes. This contrasts with a dreadful experience I had the day before at another retailer, where I was treated rudely because I was confused by the pricing, where the same employee led another customer on a winespeak merry-go-round to sell her junk she didn’t need as I was walking out the store.

Winebits 448: Bloggers, wine retailers, bootleg liquor

bloggersThis week’s wine news: The feds go after unscrupulous bloggers, wine retailer speak, and bootleg liquor.

Transparency is all: The Federal Trade Commission has decided that “consumers have the right to know when they’re looking at paid advertising” when they’re on-line; hence, crackdowns on marketers who don’t tell us when they’re paying for content. Two cases in the past year, in which the Lord & Taylor department store and film studio Warner Bros. settled with the commission over unscrupulous practices, apparently mean the feds are serious. The Warner case was particularly egregious, reports clickz.com: “Warner Bros. gave the influencers advance copies of [a] game and paid them anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars each to promote the game to their followers with specific instructions, including ‘not to disclose any bugs or glitches they found.’ ” At least we’re not that bad in the wine business. I think.

Retailer-speak: One of the difficulties with buying wine is that many of the the people who sell it have a completely different view of wine than consumers do. We worry about price and quality, and they care about almost everything but that. This interview, with an official at Florida’s ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, is a good example. It’s almost technical in its complexity, and the average consumer probably won’t be able to make much sense of it. But that’s how retailers think, and it’s not about what we want to buy.

Deadly booze: Almost three dozen people have died in India over the past couple of weeks from drinking toxic liquor they bought from a local retailer. The retailer, who was arrested, was selling the booze at one-sixth the price of a name brand; some two billion liters of bootleg alcohol are sold in India every year, compared to less than three billion liters of legal liquor. In addition, 11 officials, including seven policemen, were suspended for for allowing the booze to be sold.

Winebits 446: Cheap wine, retailer foolery, U.S. wine sales

cheap wine

You need to take the bag out of the box if you’re going to slap it.

This week’s wine news: College students take to cheap wine, retailers fudge with scores, and U.S. wine sales will remain flat.

Don’t slap the bag: The Wine Curmudgeon was greatly heartened to see a food website at the University of Florida offer solid advice about buying cheap wine and insisting that cheap doesn’t mean bad wine (and that it linked to my site just hows smart the author, Abigail Miller, is). Writes Miller: “The cuter the label, the simpler the wine,” something I have been preaching for years and that producers assume we’re too stupid to understand. Plus, I brushed up on current slang – “bougie,” a derivative of bourgeois, as in “drinking wine is so bougie,” and slapping the bag, a drinking game that uses the bag inside boxed wine.

Scores and retailers: A Massachusetts TV station discovered that the scores used to sell wine on shelf talkers at liquor stores in its area were playing fast and loose with vintage – that is, the wine that got a 90 was not the vintage for sale. It was something that the TV report found in eight of 10 stores. Said one retailer: “I guess it would be good to know that the winery has won medals, but I think that the consumer needs to look at the year, because the year will make a huge difference.” Sadly, despite the retailer’s observations, I’m told this is a common practice throughout the country.

Not much growth: The U.S. wine boom has ended, and the market will grow at just about one percent through 2020. This compares to growth of 3.3 percent before the recession, a fact the short story mentions but doesn’t try to explain. Has wine become what marketers call a mature category, where we’ve seen all the growth we’re going to have? Or is there something else going on that no one can explain? My guess, given that so few Americans drink wine compared to other countries, is the latter.