Monday, March 16, 2009

Total Heaven

How many different types of gum are in the world? Maybe 100? Maybe even 200? At most, in our wildest dreams, 1000? It would look somewhat impressive if all of that gum was put on a retail wall in a store, but you would expect there to be other products in the store too, right?

I have made mention of how many wines there are in the world on other posts, but I think every wine loving person should have the experience I had this weekend.

As a birthday gift my mother took me into Total Wine for the first time on Saturday. It was a rather intense experience. Total Wine is the equivalent of a Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s for wine. It was almost specifically made for people who just want to explore aisles and aisles of wine. Really, it is a bloggers’ paradise. I almost salivate at the idea of attempting to try every single wine in the store. I am sure I could ask the good people at TW for the number of SKU’s they have in their stores, but just from walking the rows I would say that the number is certainly over 1000, and possibly over 3000. And that might be underestimating it.

Seeing that much wine and knowing nothing about them is daunting. Repeatedly, I was caught by the shelf talkers (the little signs and notes that retailers put near the bottles to give you a sense of what it is you might be buying). One note that did a particular good job at influencing me was the number of points the wine received.

There were plenty of signs, handwritten by the staff that said they had tried the wine and it was delicious. There was even one that said, “if you want to love this wine, let it breath.” These show that a particular amount of thought goes into each sign and that the staff does care that you get the best experience possible. Again and again there was a sign that said “Bob’s Choice.” I knew nothing about Bob, but I assume he was the wine buyer or manager of that particular store. Really it is no different from what Gary Vaynerchuk does at Wine Library.

But back to the points issue. I was really affected by them. It was comforting to know that in this sea of choices, someone out there that is an authority on wine could tell me that this particular wine was good enough to be rated 90 points. Someone I did not know recommended the wine and thought it was good. No wonder that points are in such demand!

The one thing that trumps points every time is a personal recommendation from someone standing there next to you. It could be an employee at the store (and believe me, it was almost a challenge to move from one aisle to the next without someone asking me if I needed help) or as I found out this weekend, it could be just some Joe Schmoe.

The store was laid out by grape variety, which works until you hit France or Italy, so they received special treatment with their own sections. I was standing in front of the Petit Sirah and thinking that I needed to taste more of them when someone next to me pointed to a bottle and said that it was his wife’s favorite. Immediately I picked up the bottle and put it in my cart, whether to be polite or because I truly believed this man’s wife had a palate I could trust I am not sure. Just like that, no second thoughts, no questions, just a hand-sell. The winery or the store should have given him a dollar off for his troubles.

So, at the end of the day my mother and I filled up the cart with 18 bottles and paid the register clerk their due. It was a great experience and it only makes me want to go back for more. Although I think I need to drink through some wine first.
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