Three Reasons to Divorce Your Wine Guy

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People love to ask about our favorite local wine merchant.  Truth be told, we don’t have one. In fact most of our wine is shipped to us. So it’s safe to say our favorite wine usually comes via FedEx.

Occasionally though, I will venture into one of our local wine shops or an upscale market wine department to supplement our “cellar.” But I’ve yet to find a wine guy I can trust. And I’m probably not alone.  Here are the top three reasons to divorce your wine guy.

He Assumes You’re a Cheap Date

When I go into his shop to supplement my cellar, I’m usually looking for very good, value wines that I already know and love. It never fails that the wine guy shows up right after I’ve put two or three bottles of under $20 wine in my cart. I might ask for a particular Chilean cab that I know is good. But he says he doesn’t have that in yet. Instead he directs me to a California Cabernet Sauvignon priced at $7.99. While there may be a good one out there at that price, I find that highly doubtful. Look dude, I know the difference between good and bad. I asked you about a wine. Don’t assume I’m asking about a price point.

He Assumes You’re Stupid

Last week we had a virtual tasting and I was looking for a particular vintage of a particular wine. I was pretty certain that it would not yet be in, because it had just been released and was making its way through the vaunted three-tier system. Upon finding the particular wine, I note only 2006 and 2007 vintages on the shelves. Mr. Helpful comes over and I ask, “Are 2006 and 2007 the only vintages you have available.” And he replies smugly. “Well of course. You aren’t going to find any older vintages at this location.” Actually, I was looking for the 2008.  Don’t assume I’m not familiar with your shop.

He Assumes You’re Easy

One local shop is notorious for this one. Every year when the Wine Spectator Top Wines of the previous year comes out, we make our pilgrimage to procure them to compare with other wines we like. Before I had a smartphone, I would carry a piece of paper in with me to make sure I had the right vintage. Now I just have the digital list. As subscribers we can get them in advance. But keep in mind, I’m looking at a list in full view of the wine guy.

If you are the guilty party in this relationship, you might want to get some counseling.

“Do you have the 2007 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley?” I ask. “The one that made Wine Spectator‘s Top Ten Wines of 2009?” And the wine guy answers something to the effect of ‘no one ever has the wines listed in Wine Spectator.’ And then proceeds to direct me to whatever white wine he’s pushing that week.

Seriously, one of these things is not like the other. As if all I want is a white wine with a woman’s name on it. How did that work out for the country in 2008, dude? Don’t assume I’m looking for any old substitution.

Is It just a Man Thing?

You’ll note I didn’t say wine guy or gal. Just guy. That’s because this rarely happens when I ask a woman about wine.

Case in Point: After the wine guy tells me there is no Merry Edwards in the place, a woman asks if I found what I’m seeking. When I say no, she offers to look up the wine in her on-line inventory (it’s a big place). At her screen, she says, “that’s strange, it says here we have four bottles.” We walk back to scour the Sauvignon Blanc section to no avail. “Let me look in the back,” she says. Still no wine. But she has given me enough to keep my eye out in case it has just been misshelved.

Sure enough, amongst the Pinot Noir, there are four 375 ml bottles of the Merry Edwards. Guess the whole Russian River Valley thing threw someone off. I pick up three and tell the wine lady about the one remaining. I probably should have purchased it as well, but I don’t want to be a hoarder.

It’s All About Assumptions

If you have a usual wine merchant who knows your tastes, listens and offers advice when asked, great! He’s a keeper. But if your merchant assumes he knows more than you do, and treats you as such then you’re in a really bad relationship. If he talks down to you, lies to you, treats you like you’re stupid or even gives you advice when you clearly haven’t asked for it, it’s time to get a divorce.

And if you’re the guilty wine guy in this relationship, you might want to get some counseling.

In the words of Felix Unger, “NEVER Assume. When you assume, you make an ass of u and me.”

Well, actually just out of you.

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events.
  • Benito

    I’m fortunate to be pretty good friends with several local wine retailers, so if I walk into one of those shops I can find what I want or get a good suggestion pretty quickly. After the requisite apologies for not coming by more often (I get by on samples 90% of the time), I usually just ask, “What have you got that’s new and interesting?” And then I discover something like a still white wine made from Pinot Noir that I never would have noticed on my own.

    I can respect that the situation is different for women. You get two dozen housewives in a row who just want White Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio, and you’re caught off guard when a woman comes in who knows about wine.

    Weirdest treatment I ever got? I was mistaken for homeless once. I had spent the hot and dusty afternoon helping a friend move and stopped into an unfamiliar shop to grab a bottle of wine on the way home. As soon as I picked up a bottle, a salesperson materialized at my side and said he would have to hold it at the register. I browsed a bit more, was followed around the store, and was reminded several times that the pints and mini-bottles were kept behind the counter. I wanted to double check something on the Sauvignon Blanc I’d picked out, and was told, “I’m going to need to see some proof of payment before you can touch the wine.”

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      I find it amusing that if I’m in my work attire they tend to treat me better, but not always. But what happened to you is simply unacceptable! Did you ever go back?

      • Benito

        I found the whole experience mostly amusing, I wasn’t really offended. I could have easily contacted the owner through my distributor friends, but I have to recognize the reality that Memphis has a crime rate higher than Detroit and that we have wine shops that do more than 75% of their business in things like Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose, pints of cheap liquor, etc. A few shops keep all the stock behind bulletproof glass and you have to ask for what you want and it gets passed through a slot.

        Now, at the nicer wine shops, I’m on a first name basis with most of the personnel, so I could show up in a bathrobe if I wanted. :)

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

          The funny thing about one of the offending wine shops is that I’m in there all the time. I’ve even done tastings there. But I’m usually only there on the weekends or evenings, when someone else is working. But the “quick to judge” thing is really annoying. Even when you give clues that you know what you’re talking about they sometimes miss it totally, because they aren’t really listening to the customer.

    • Annkotze

      a bit patronising! i am a women and most, no all of my girlfriends drink wine. whats more we actually know about our wines and have destinctive tastes.  maybe its because we grew up in a South Africa, the home of good wine……

  • http://winemakernotesblog.com/ John

    Some wine guys just don’t get it. They go all attitude even when I’m taking my time to try to cultivate a relationship (yeah I’m pointing fingers in Houston, at MH IV mostly) so it is not just you, Amy. But still I think you should take some ownership here. You need to work at those relationships.I read a quote from J-C Boisset yesterday to the effect that 70% of the wine sold in the world is priced under $10/bottle (and 70% of that is consumed within an hour of purchase). How much work does the average sales guy need to put in to cultivate relationships in that reality? The vast majority of the time, the customer is wrong.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Our problem really is the fact that we live in the NASA ‘burbs and the good wine shop(s) are quite a drive in traffic from our house. Our area just doesn’t support a lot of high end wine sales or knowledgeable wine people in a straight retail setting. There ARE some very knowledgeable, friendly and reputable wine bar folks who would never steer us wrong.

      My concern isn’t so much that the sales guy doesn’t know; or that we haven’t tried to cultivate relationships. It’s that the average local retail person assumes he knows without listening.

      I don’t care how “wrong” the customer might be, if I don’t ask for their advice, I would prefer they not give it without asking a few questions first and then listening to the answers.

      And unfortunately, THAT isn’t limited to the wine industry.

      Cheers!

  • http://www.suburbanwino.com suburbanwino

    Amy- Iike any business, one should make an effort to know it’s regular, loyal customers. I’d always wondered how a pre-interview or registration process would go over at a wine shop. My experience has been less of pushing the distributor-heat, but simply not knowing. The package store (regional term) closest to me has a very nice guy (kid), and he means well, and he’s even given me some good bottles. But I don’t think anyone wants to invest in a real expert these days.

    Not surprisingly, my favorite wine shop in Atlanta is run by a woman who really knows her stuff and remembers her customers. Shame it’s so far from my house.

    Benito- great story, you street urchin :)

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      @suburbanwino We used to have Drive-Through Beverage Barns in Houston. I think I heard those called “package stores” as well. There are some really awesome women at the Houston Wine Merchant who always steer us in the right direction. But like your lady, the shop is far from our house.

      For good wine near us it’s either Juan and Madeleine at Madeleine’s Wine Bistro and Piano Lounge or Mayra at Chelsea Wine Bar. But then we’re not paying retail. :)

  • http://www.phillywinefinder.com Phillywinefinder

    I agree. People in PA often complain about how the state controlled stores don’t have “knowledgeable sales people.” But when I go to privatized stores in other states, I often have the experiences you describe. As we say in Philly Wine Rule #9: do your own research!
    http://www.phillywinefinder.com/philly-wine-rules-tips-and-strategies-for-buying-wine-in-philadelphia.html

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      I wasn’t really old enough to drink wine when I lived in a state with state-controlled sales(plus it was in the days of the White Zin rage). But research is never a bad thing!

      Great blog post, by the way. And thanks for stopping by here :)

  • http://www.thewineingwoman.com/ Amanda Maynard

    There’s a shop that I always go to because it’s close to home but now I’m kind of in the middle of the break-up with them. There’s a woman there, a wine buyer, who’s simply great. She offers up her honest opinion when I go in and ask for something I haven’t tried. I always leave happy when dealing with her.

    Lately, though, the older gentleman has just been trying to up-sell me and I’m not too into it. I don’t want to buy everything and I have a budget, but he always takes my budget and adds $5-$10 and then suggests wines in that price point. Very frustrating and I’ve often been disappointed by his suggestions.

    Living in a restricted shipping state (MA), Fedex simply isn’t an option, so I’m stuck driving 20 minutes to a shop that I love and has never wronged me. It’s a trade off, I guess.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      We have a guy like that too. You could always use a little contract negotiation stealth on him. Tell him your budget is about 75% of what it ACTUALLY is, and then he might hit your price point :)

      Restrictive shipping states are so anti-consumer and anti-small business. Their laws clearly violate the Constitution but anti-consumer wholesaler lobbies have way too much money for the lawmakers to ignore them.

  • Jonathan

    As someone who has recently gone from the restaurant side to the retail side I am looking at the differences now. It is interesting that in a restaurant setting you have seconds to gauge, talk, and help. Usually, this is done in the confines of what is being served food wise on the menu and a limited selection built for the food. In retail you have the whole map and even more selections. I think the one thing that bugged me as a restaurant somm. is the lack of trust on the customers part straight off the bat. I taste a ton of wine and I travel, matter of fact, I have not done a vacation in a non wine region in years. I will tell you that bringing in a sheet of paper from a magazine invokes that you are following with everyone else and not willing to talk to the local expert . Easy in, easy out. Not that this even bugs me.. at least anymore. I am happy you are trying wine, cause otherwise I have no starting point and I would be out of a job. However, because it is in print, it is a considered a better recommendation or so it seems. The Parker ratings, the Spectator, the Enthusiast, and even the one I have been in.. Wine and Spirits all are used as a more trusted medium. I think this is why I would like to do more blogging. Shoot, Parker got his start as a semi-amateur wine guy doing a small publican for his friends, while he was a lawyer during the day. Yet these wines they recommend are all bought so fast all across the nation it is very hard to keep in stock, both retail and restaurants. Think if you are a manager of a restaurant without a dedicated sommelier and no education in wine, first wines you buy are the ones on these lists. Then of coarse sometimes in retail someone comes in and buys all of the cases at once. Just like that POOF, gone.

    Asking questions is good, getting snide answers is bad, I will agree. Interesting enough, is that retail in Texas seems to be hiring more wine sommeliers from restaurants to increase their professional staff that is used to dealing in stressful situations while making great recommendations.That and restaurants are doing away with sommeliers. First ones that are seen as “expendable.”

    As for gender, I actually build a better relationships with females as they usually ask for more help and are more interested in listening to recommendations. And as for assuming you are cheap…well one of the number one restaurant complaints is the Sommelier makes a too high of a recommendation in price. Remember we are all trying to avoid stereotypes as well. I love the comments, because I will watch myself. I don’t think I do these things, but it is always good to be on the look out. I welcome you to come in anytime and I would love to have a chat. It is too bad you are so far away.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Where do you Somm? I tend to trust the sommelier in the restaurant because I figure he has tasted the food and knows what pairs best. I can’t imagine having a good restaurant without a trained sommelier.

      And I know seeing someone coming in with a list makes the wine guy cringe. And winemakers get annoyed by the an 89 can kill opportunities for a perfectly good wine.

      But as someone with sales experience, I try to never pre-judge a customer, and because of this am extra hard on someone trying to sell me something. Because even when I come in with a list, I’m usually apt to buy OTHER wines too.

  • Brie

    I TEST my wine people. I go in and very specifically tell them what I prefer, what I’m looking for, in very specific tasting terms and then buy what they recommend in my price point and try it. I kept the guy who just batted 1000 – he listened, he learned, and he has a customer for life! :o) So, when he gets new things in, I get a call saying “You will love this…”

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      That’s great! We have people that will do that with us at wine bars, but as of yet not found a similar professional at a retail venue.

  • John

    Like finding a good life partner, finding the “right” wine guy can be just as frustrating, but that doesn’t mean you should assume “all guys (gals) are jerks”. I would suggest a well-meaning wine guy (girl), when properly matched with an open-minded customer, can add a lot to the relationship. They have knowledge of new, emerging wineries, special projects and other things you may not have access to. But when one party or the other no longer sees the relationship as healthy, time to look for another date.

    Don’t give up on a good wine guy. They are out there and worth the time to seek out.

    But, as Dennis Miller used to say, “It’s just my opinion, I could be wrong”.