90 Points of Costco Wine, written on June 9, 2009, turned out to be the most popular WineZag post yet. Untold sums of people search multiple forms of a “Costco Wine” phrase every day and the post drives a high volume of “wine aware” organic search traffic to this blog. Some of those vistors poke around long enough to latch onto WineZag’s sensibility and end up purposely following WineZag via RSS feed, Twitter, or FaceBook. Sadly, that old post does not contain the information these readers were originally thirsty for; recommended value wines currently on sale at Costco. Those searchers would do better checking in at the CostcoWineBlog for up-to-date Costco wine inventory ( as an aside, I recommend the La Mano Mencia posted on November 18 for under $8) or WineWeirdos’ YouTube channel for their latest antics on Costco and supermarket wines.
The WineZag Costco post came at a point in time when the Wine Curmudgeon, Steve Heimoff, and many others turned boisterous over rumors of a pending new Costco wine buyer policy to exclusively inventory 90+ point Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, or Wine Enthusiast rated wines below a $15 price point. Undoubtedly, if this volume wine channel actually implemented the policy, it would have sent major ripple effects through a wine industry that was already licking its wounds. In the end, the policy never came to pass even as many highly credible onlookers were absolutely certain of the rumor’s legitimacy. To this day I wonder whether the early June 2009 wine blogosphere had it all wrong or if it really flexed enough muscle to demonstrate its influence. As you can see from this photo taken only one week ago at a New England Costco, price ceilings never came into play.
This blog’s June 2009 Costco post was grounded in Costco’s CFO’s remarks made during a timely quarterly investor call. He made it clear the company was busy dealing with low margins, shrinking consumer confidence, and cost containment. Costco is a big box retailer, not a “hand seller” of wine, and maximizing product turns per square foot remained a justifiable measure for inventory management. Low price points, aggressive shelf talkers, and high ratings are all part of that business model. I never begrudged Costco for contemplating (whether or not they actually did) an adjustment to its wine program to help feed their own economic engine.
I have another update to my original post concerning a seemingly innocent but deceiving shelf talker strategy that continues to “grind my gears.” As I referenced in the original Costco post, shelf talkers often list point scores and share descriptions from past vintages that have nothing to do with the wine on the shelf. Is the inventoried 2006 Jaboulet Chateauneuf du Pape the same wine as the 2005 review being merchandised? Is the 2007 and 2006 Rombauer Chardonnay the same wine as the 2008 currently for sale?
Costco has not made a visible effort to change this confusing point of sale tactic. Without knowledgable salespeople to guide shoppers through that maze, the average Costco wine consumer will read the review, pick up a bottle without double checking the vintage, and leave for home with a profile and quality expectation established by the shelf talker. Not always, but too often, the review has nothing to do with the wine currently on sale. Unfortunately, the rumored 90+ point/under $15 policy talk lies on the same cutting room floor as Costco’s efforts to clean up misleading merchandising that is helping them drive wine inventory turns at the expense of too many unknowing consumers. While Costco has not cornered the market on dated or misleading signage, the excellent big box retailer knows better and needs to clean up their wine act before it smudges an otherwise trusted brand.