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Friday, August 30, 2013

In the Wine Shop...

We’ve all been in restaurants before.  When the waiter comes to the table, we listen to him (or her).  We listen for the specials, the soup of the day, the fresh fish, the flavor of ice cream or souffle, and eventually, we place our order.  How do we know what to order?  Well, we might ask some questions about the dishes, and we might ask the waiter for a recommendation, but ultimately, we order it because it’s what we want.  It’s probably something we already know we like, and if it’s what we’re in the mood for, we order it.

Sometimes, we also speak with the sommelier or wine captain.  We do this so we can decide what we’d like with dinner - maybe we want to pair correctly, or we want to choose the best option based on value or on our own taste.  And the sommelier helps the customer come up with the best option.  But if the sommelier is doing his (or her) job correctly, he’s accommodating the taste of the customer, and not his own preference.

Such should be the case in wine shops.  And this is a two way street.  I go into a lot of wine shops, and sometimes I see an active shopkeeper or employee, helping customers find the wines that would best suit the needs of the customers.  But often, I see the shopkeeper or employee doing very little, if anything, to assist.  Odds are, if the customer is not familiar with all the products, the customer will not know what is best to suit his needs, and he may very well be dissatisfied with the wine when he brings it home and opens it.

The shopkeeper needs to take the time to assist customers for a number of reasons - perhaps the customer is completely unfamiliar with wines in general.  Or maybe the customer is looking to broaden his palate and try new things, and isn’t sure which direction to go.  Or maybe the customer has a particular palate profile (we all do) and would like something to fit his needs.  If the customer tends to prefer Malbec, Shiraz, and Cabernet, the shopkeeper probably shouldn’t recommend Mondeuse.  Maybe he’d suggest a Mourvedre, Aglianico, or Tannat instead.  Or would he?  Does the shopkeeper even understand his own inventory?  How is the customer supposed to understand the inventory if the shopkeeper cannot or will not assist the customer?
Anyone can recommend a cheap magnum of mass produced plonk.  Anyone can recommend a $300 bottle with a 95+ score from Robert Parker.  That would be taking the easy way out.  There’s so much more to it - how about finding a great value wine to match someone’s palate profile and preferences?  That should bring great satisfaction, especially if the customer returns again to make another purchase, and tells the shopkeeper just how happy he was with the previous selection.

And what about the customer who makes no attempt to speak with a helpful shopkeeper?  It’s that customer who either refuses help and goes away unhappy, or makes no attempt to describe to a willing shopkeeper what he generally likes.  Naming a price point and asking for a recommendation isn’t the answer.  Do you like your wines red or white?  Sweet or dry?  Lighter or heavier?  There’s a starting point.  Then - what would you like to spend?  Are there any particular wines you’ve really enjoyed?  And here’s a favorite - when a customer shows a label from their smart phone.  That’s unbelievably helpful - because the shopkeeper can either find the same bottle in the store, or recommend something similar.

My point is, if a customer wants to be as close to completely satisfied as possible, he’s got to do his part and work with the shopkeeper when selecting a bottle.  He’s got to give as many clues as possible, in order for the shopkeeper to come up with the best possible options for the customer.  And if a shopkeeper wants to help his business and become trusted and respected by his customers, he’s got to do his part in being educated on the inventory in the store, and being active and helpful with customers.

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