sifting through your booze-buying options in washington state

Friday, July 13, 2012

The media-sphere has been regurgitating speculation about the supposed impact of the Gallo acquisition of Columbia winery (and its rather forlorn compadre, Covey Run). Nothing that I have read has added to the information first published in this blog on June 6th and in the Wine Enthusiast online at the same time. My own thoughts remain exactly the same as what I wrote over a month ago.

The bigger story is what will be the impact of Costco, BevMo and Total Wine on the whole way wine and spirits are bought and sold in Washington state. And this week, I had the chance to visit all three.

First of all, despite the impressive selections in BevMo and Total, I do not see a threat to the smaller wine shops in the region. There is a little overlap in inventory, but not much. The big boys are pouring less expensive, widely-available, and proprietary wines for the most part. They are making their money in beer and spirits – no threat to the little wine shops of the world. As I have said before, the Legislature should move quickly to allow wine shops to carry aperitifs, digestifs, bitters, and other custom liqueurs. How is that do-able? Maybe we start by sitting down with members of the retail trade and collect suggestions.

The Total Wine in Bellevue was packed on Saturday when I did my book signing. The staff is ubiquitous and very friendly. I did not test their knowledge. But there are free catalogs and a free, extensive guide to wine. The beer selection here is amazing. Amazing! The wines are arranged by variety and within that, alphabetically. There are plenty of good options at all prices, including rare and older bottles. The spirits, as you might suppose, run heavily to vodka, tequila, bourbon and gin. The food options in this store are slim and uninspired.

The BevMo stores in Tacoma and Silverdale are quite similar to each other. Very nicely laid out, spacious, with good selections of beer and spirits, and a particular focus on craft distillers from Washington. The wine selections are fair, but far less ample and interesting than at Total. BevMo does a lot of case stacks of affordable wines such as Renegade Red and Renegade Rosé – a terrific rosé by the way. Prices on these wines are very competitive. BevMo also has truly substantial food options, all sorts of cheeses, cured meats, tapas-friendly snacks, etc.

Costco has a very limited selection of booze, and as much as half of it is under the Kirkland label. This is the place to grab cheap party-ready liquor, but don’t look for anything fancy or special. The wine section seemed undiminished by the intrusion of the liquor.

The whole brouhaha over pricing seems to be dying down as consumers get used to calculating the add-on taxes, and retailers put up plenty of signs to make it clear that posted prices (usually) do not include the egregious taxes that the state piles on. And while I’m on that dreary subject, why do the soft drink purveyors of diabetes-inducing garbage get away scot-free? How about putting a 25% tax on that crap, and while you’re at it, make it liter-specific, so those gargantuan sugar-bombs that the fast food and gas station lard bars offer pay more and more taxes as the gulps get bigger and BIGGER and BIGGGGGGERRRRRR..... ???

Enough on all that. A housekeeping note – this blog will be very occasional throughout the summer, as it is being redesigned and I am taking a break. Please don’t think I’m abandoning blogging altogether (I know you may be hoping for that day to come, but it has not yet arrived).

And to end on an appropriately timely word, click on the link below to see a photo of the latest Higgs’ discovery. No, I am not talking about the so-called “God Particle” – the Higgs’ Boson – old news that, and who cares about multiple universes if they don’t have decent wine? This is the Higgs Corkscrew! which, according to Drinks Business online was created by designer Robb Higgs, and, the site notes, “stands at an impressive 5.5 feet tall and weighs half a ton.” In other words, it’s a lot like my neighbor down the street, only he won’t pour me anything.


Unknown said...

No over-lapping? Have you been out and actually walked into any of the smaller wine merchants other than Pete's, Esquin, wine world? Most of us wine merchants have to now fight for the wines we already have on the shelf. Wines that I was not even offered are being placed in these liquor barns for only a few dollars above cost. Sure my shop has only been open for 7 months, but we were not able to wines that our customers wanted when they were released yet Total and Bevmo have them all over the place.

Most of the wines were not even bought in our own state as they were shipped in from their other warehouses. I'm sure this will help the local importers/distributors as well. Sure these stores will help you sell more books and put a little extra cash in your pocket, meanwhile the being made is being sent back to MD where the main office is.

They are here to stay and I'm sure will push a few of the larger stores out of business. Just what out local economy needs. Sure glad we got the state out of everything. Now the state does nothing but collect tax for sitting around. Who's idea was this again? That's right...another big company.

PaulG said...

Santo, chill. I'm sorry your 7 month old business is having some growing pains. But your silly and ignorant shot at me – that somehow I'm going to sell a lot of books and make a ton of cash at BevMo or Total – is ridiculous. So get and grip, mind your store, and stick to what you actually know.

Anonymous said...

Santo, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it. If you run your shop with the attitude of your post.....go ahead and close your doors. You don't have a prayer

Roger said...

Strangely, when I was walking through Total Wines the other day I kept thinking that a lot of local shops are doomed. TW has a much larger selection of Washington wines than I was expecting, 80% overlap with many of the stores I frequent (certain culty WA wines they didn't have), and most of their prices are way lower than local shops. Certainly local stores are going to need to find their niche to stay alive, but I foresee these big stores taking a big chunk of their business.

As a consumer, I'm happy that I saved $6 on a bottle of Bordeaux that I also saw in a local store, and $10 off a $55 bottle of WA wine by going to TW. But I'm also trying to figure out to support the smaller local stores in the area....

Anonymous said...

I agree with Santo, if it was easy everbody would be doing it. It is easy to sell Clos du bois, Blackstone, Ravenswood even Mondavi or KJ they are lost leaders and so large retailers who have no people in store (some even do but with limited knowledge) to educate. Look for the next best thing? What wine style do your costumers want? Surely somebody in WA has a different preference to wines than somebody in CA or NY. Look at your foods. Embrace diversity offer things the big stores cant get in volume. Bring in new buyers? They are being created all the time. There is room for both types of stores.

Erik said...

One thing to watch is overall price integrity of brands. If people migrate their shopping habbits to Total Wine and BevMo because of the low pricing they offer. In other markets, has this effected a producers ability to sell their wine and their desired price point?

Hoke Harden said...

As always in a new environment, there are obstacles and opportunities. The wise ones will figure out the opportunities--they are called "successful"; those who lack the necessary vision or ability to capitalize on opportunities will bemoan the obstacles until they go out of business. Observe, adapt, know your business, and tailor your business to your target market. Don't blame anyone but yourself if you don't succeed. Nobody guaranteed retail would be a slam dunk.

Anonymous said...

I found service to be mixed in two visits to Total Wine. One person was helpful, made some suggestions, and backed off when it was clear I just wanted to browse. One friendly person clearly didn't know anything about the $60 California cab blend he/she was pouring, nor wine in general. As I read the winery-provided info sheet he/she asked, "You seem to know a lot about wine. What wines are sweet?"

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