Costco Wine: Shall I Be Offended?
Over at The Eater, Talia Baiocchi is a bit offended, or at least disheartened, that America's most powerful wine buyer doesn't believe that wine is much more special than toilet paper or tin foil. Talia, a keen observer of the wine world and a very good marketer, has reason to be offended by this.
Talia's moment of virtual head-shaking comes in response to a CNBC video featuring Annette Alvarez-Peters, Costco's head wine buyer, who responds to an interviewer's query about wine perhaps being more special thant toilet paper or tin foil with: "I don't think so". Alverez-Peter's conclusion is, "People can look at it that way. But at the end of the day, it's a beverage." I suspect that more than a few other lovers of the grape were equally offended upon learning of this view of wine held by the wine buyer at Costco.
Here is a woman responsible for the selection from which vast numbers of Americans will choose their wine. Costco is the leading retailer of wine in America. And she doesn't think wine is that special…or at least not much more special than toilet paper.
Now, I'm not much of a connoisseur of toilet paper, but, like with wine, I can tell the difference between ordinary toilet paper and superb toilet paper. And I suspect that Ms. Alvarez-Peters is no different than me.
So all this begs a somewhat important question: Does one need to hold a feeling of reverence for wine in order to successfully choose a selection for the buying public? Given what we know about the success of the Costco wine program and about Ms. Alvarez-Peter's disposition, the answer is certainly "no".
Though it's fairly clear from the CNBC video that despite her view of wine being not any more special than toilet paper or tin foil, Ms. Alvarez-Peters does know a little something about wine. But more importantly, she knows a good deal about what her customer base wants from the wine selection in her hundreds of Costco stores around the country and that this knowledge is far more important than possessing a reverence for wine.
So, all this begs an important question: What are the paramount requirements for a professional wine buyer? I think we can break them down to this:
1. Knowledge of your customers' desires
2. Knowledge of the product
3. Knowledge of buying and market trends
I honestly don't think that if there is a 4th on that list, that it is likely to be a reverence for wine or the view that wine is any more special than most other consumer products. No matter where I shop for my wine, I don't need the person putting the wine on the shelf to have any special love for wine. What I need is for them to put the wines on the shelves that I want and understand why I want them. Beyond that, they need to be able to answer my questions and understand why I ask them. I won't be be clasping my hand in theirs, bowing my head with them, and praising the magnificence of the bottles.