Do you have a store you love to hate? I do.
Recently a friend texted me and asked if I buy wine at Costco. I don’t.
Well, there was this one time, I must shamefully admit, that I did buy a couple of bottles of Dom Perignon champagne there, because it was cheap. I have been known to deride this label as one for pimps and whores, and mindless jocks.But then it wasn’t for me. It was a gift.
My brother who lives near Kirkland, WA, a suburb of Seattle, loves everything Costco. Not only is his pantry full of Costco products but so is his house, furniture, appliances, you name it, all from Costco. Even his pool table is from there. He is a local fan. By comparison, I too shop at Costco, but sparingly and begrudgingly.
I can’t help but like the prices of their bulk items and here in Stockton, California, they have the best lamb in our area. But oh, how I hate the crowds, especially when they pile up like flies around food samplers, and those impossibly long check-out lines. Any time I enter a Costco I have one singular goal, to get out of there as soon as possible. Good luck trying.
With around $ 1 billion in sales, Costco is the largest wine purveyor in the U.S. As it turns out, it is also the largest French wine importer, wines I drink and collect. Their wine selection is diverse, ranging across different price-points, and include numerous well respected labels, domestic and foreign, at attractive prices. So why do I not buy any?
A 2012 headline from CNBC sums it up well: “Costco’s Wine Buyer Doesn’t Think Wine is Different Than Toilet Paper.”
I think I’ve had one or two wines that qualified as such, but for the inventory Costco carries this sounds sacrilegious to a wine lover like me.
Not that I care that much about sales philosophies. But at Costco wine is indeed an inert commodity much like all other bulk items it sells. There is no sales person to discuss any wine with, there are no wine tastings, wine clubs, or other activities to educate buyers.Just see it and buy.
For those who collect and study wine, I cannot overemphasize the importance of establishing long term relationships with wine shops and learning from them through tastings, new features, wine-maker meetings, and most importantly, through regular conversations with their sales staff. I have three major ones. Two are in Stockton, Wine Wizard’s and Fine Wines, both small businesses whose owners I am friends with. The third, K&L in San Francisco, is
a huge retailer from which I learn through monthly wine club offerings, regular e-mails and newsletters, and, once again, conversations with their sales staff at their 4th and Brennan store in the City.
If we all quit such places and bought from inert, big box outlets just to save a few bucks how would we advance our wine horizons?
Yes, there are other ways. For instance I am fortunate enough to live a short drive away from some of the best wine country in the world. I could go tasting there, and I do. But this is an inefficient way to learn, much fun as it is. I also have the good fortune to belong to not one but two regular wine tasting groups where I have been advancing my knowledge for decades. Many can’t or don’t.
My attitude about Costco is so ingrained that were it not for the text I recently received, I would not have realized that I don’t buy there. The query made me stop and wonder why. So, I wrote this essay to explain it to myself. Now you know too.