Mark Aselstine
April 30, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

Wine at Costco

I should start by saying I have a Costco membership. I’ve enjoyed it since it was called Price Club in Southern California.

Anyone who has ever been in a Costco on a Saturday or Sunday knows how busy the warehouse chain really is these days, everything from a first rate butcher to the cheapest toilet paper on the planet really brings in the crowds.

Heck, my 15 month old really loves Costco for the samples. Where else can we go that random people will give him food to try?

All that being said, I was somewhat sickened when I saw the CNBC show on the Costco Craze last week. Specifically the part about wine and how Costco’s lead wine buyer doesn’t view wine any differently than toilet paper.

If we’re really going to compare an agricultural product like wine to an inadament one like toilet paper, I think we’re in trouble at Costco when it comes to quality.

I could honestly see a parallel if they promoted someone from the beer or hard liquor department to take over the wine department when the previous buyer left, but I think the standardization of wine isn’t going to be a good thing for Costco long term.

Believe it or not, plenty of consumers like supporting local vintners. Plenty of consumers like supporting smaller vintners. Not everyone is buying wine simply on price. Plenty of people are choosing to buy wine based on quality. Yes, story matter for wine. There is romance. Vintage even matters. Unlike beer and other hard liquor, some years are better than others in certain regions.

If a wine buyer who is responsible for over 1B in yearly sales understands none of that, I have to seriously ask what might happen to the quality of wine being sold at Costco over the long term.

As an example, my local Costco here in San Francisco carries a much higher end sample from Bordeaux than does the Costco in San Diego where my in laws and parents live. Does that change? Will there be any thought in regard to local tastes? Sensibilities? Will it all be a price game? Should I expect other products like coffee to go down this same path?


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