Monday, May 16, 2011

Costco: On track to continue as the world’s largest retailer in 2011

An earlier post (MadisonWineScene: Costco: the world’s largest wine retailer – Parts I and II discussed Costco’s wine sales in Madison, Costco's wine operations and the Kirkland label.  

The Shanken News Daily, Monday, May 16, 2011, had an interesting interview with Annette Alvarez-Peters, Costco’s assistant general merchandise manager -- wine, spirits and beer at

Some highlights:
  • In fiscal 2010, global sales of wine, spirits and beer were $2.345 billion and projected sales through August 31 2011 are $2.495 billion.
  • The average Costco is about 145,000 square feet. The average alcohol beverage department is approximately 5,000 square feet.
  • The average inventory is less than 200 wine, spirits and beer items
  • Chain wide the breakdown of sales is 50% wine, 25% spirits and 25% beer.
  • For wine, the sweet spot is in the $7 to $15 price point.
  • Wine prices range from $6.99 to $50 and above.
  • Costco is seeing double-digit growth in California Cabernets, red blends and Italian reds, Rhône wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône Villages. Also performing well are Spanish Albariño, Malbec from Argentina and Chilean whites.
  • The sweet wine category is seeing a surge in sales, from sweet reds to Moscato to chocolate wine. 
  • Top-end Bordeauxs are struggling, as are Australian wines and Chilean reds.
  • Kirkland Signature products represent around 20% of total sales and approximately 5% of wine, spirits and beer sales.
  • Costco is very pleased with the Kirkland Signature growth year after year, and they continue to find new partners to source their products. They just finished their rotation of Argentine Malbec, which performed phenomenally. A Côtes du Rhône Villages and a Friuli Pinot Grigio have followed that. Both are off to a great start. 
  • In the U.S., it’s Annette and 10 buyers in charge of the wine, spirits and beer category.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wine and Tapas on Madison’s West Side – Eno Vino – Part II of II

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Jennifer Cameron, Wine Director of Eno Vino (, @ENOVINO on Twitter, Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro on Facebook) at 601 Junction Road, Madison, WI 53717, 608-664-9565) about their wine business.
A previous post discussed Eno Vino’s wine list.  This post continues that discussion and also discusses Eno Vino’s wine and food, training of staff, and wine events.
MWS: Who makes the decisions about which wines to offer on the wine list? What do you look for?
Jennifer: I do. Our General Manager is very helpful if I get stuck and may suggest directions to try, but for the most part I make the decisions.

Right now, as I had said, I know what I want to add in terms of French reds – also with white wines some more funky stuff -- I might like to add an Albarino or a Torrontes.  

I will then contact my wine vendors, and see what wines they have, sample the wines and take notes and when it comes down to actually making the changes I will go through all my notes and see which ones I like, which ones may or may not fit and what kind of price range they are in, and go from there.

I also have to keep in mind that my tastes are not the same as everyone else’s taste. With the Sauvignon Blanc I prefer more of the French style, like I really enjoy Sancerres, but a lot of our guest really love the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs so I have to keep them. I have to remember that I may not choose that to drink, somebody else will love it. Same with Pinot Noirs, for me I would rather have an Oregon Pinot Noir versus a California Pinot Noir.

So what I will do sometimes is that I take wine samples from our vendors and sit down with some of our servers who absolutely love Pinot Noirs and have them taste the samples and ask them what they think; I have other people who love Cabernets and others like to try the Pinot Grigio and I will sit with them and try to make decisions that way.

We tend to add between five and fifteen new wines each time we change our wine menu – which we do about twice a year, in Spring and Fall.

MWS: How did you learn about wine?
Jennifer: I learned here. I have been at Eno Vino since it first opened and I started as a bartender, so I have seen every single wine list change that we have had. I was more of a spirits person, and I was the bar manager but I learned more and more about wine. I was offered the job as Wine Manager and I said, “Sure. Let’s try it”.  

Well, it turns out there was a lot more to learn about wine then I had thought.  It has been fun and educational to learn about wine and all the elements about it.  I have had some patient wine vendors and have learned from our guests as well. In my opinion, you can never stop learning about wine, which makes it such an enjoyable job and hobby. The more you learn, the more you appreciate drinking a wonderfully tasty glass of wine.

Also I found the Wine Bible (by Karen MacNeil - $12.92 at very helpful – one of the best wine books I have ever read. I enjoy the way she writes. She is very witty and funny, but she breaks it down to make it very easy for you to understand. She breaks it down by region, and makes everything a little bit more simple.

MWS: Are there some wine labels that you try to always carry?
Jennifer: Wines by the bottle - yes. I never get rid of Caymus just because it is the Cabernet that everyone wants, same with Jordan. Not necessarily so much by the glass, although there are some that have been on the menu since before I was a wine steward, that are still our top ten sellers – Madrigal Zinfandel, Erath Pinot Noir, The Show Cabernet.

At the same time, I have to be looking to get the best -- even if something is selling great, I have to find out if there is something out there that is even better.

MWS: Any surprises – wines that do better than expected?
Jennifer: Yes – for example the Cotes-du-Rhone – it was the Janasse – has been doing very well.  We had a Cotes-du-Rhone on our wine menu a few years ago and it did not move at all back then.

I also put a Super Tuscan on the menu and Super Tuscans had not done well in the past, but I had somebody actually make the comment the other day that if I ever get rid of that Super Tuscan – Poggio alla Badiola -- from the menu that he would be very mad at me.

Also Petite Sirah has done very well. I don’t know whether it is because of the name of the wine – it is called Cupcake.  I have had Petite Sirahs on the list before and it was too big for some, but this has been selling like crazy.

MWS: What are your personal favorites on the wine list?
Jennifer: There is a Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It isn’t your typical Sauvignon Blanc – it has the typical New Zealand nose but it is vey tropical on the palate, which I really enjoy.

For red wine --I really enjoyed the Cambria Syrah, which we used to have on the menu, and other than that I would have to say the Black Sheep. It is an Australian Shiraz, Merlot and Malbec blend by Stanley Lambert which is one of my favorites to recommend to guests who are having their food to share just because it pairs well with a lot of different foods.

MWS: Given the variety of foods served at Eno Vino, is wine pairing a challenge?
Jennifer: Yes and no.  

It can be difficult and easy at the same time. It depends upon how perceptive guests are and how much wine they would like to have. That is why we offer the quartino, which is a glass and a half, so that way when they are sitting down and they are starting off with something like a salad or a Carpaccio or a seafood dish they can have a quartino of white wine to share and for dinner you can get a quartino of a red wine – so that can make it easy. Another great thing about wine is that it can be so versatile – you can have a spicy dish and you can either tame it with a sweet white wine or you can add to the spiciness by maybe doing something like a Tempranillo or a Zinfandel – so you can go in either of those directions.

MWS: Does your chef have any input into wine suggestions?
Jennifer: Yes. Like I might have a problem with a certain cheese and he might suggest a wine that could go really well with it. For our Wine & Tapas, I’ll provide notes for the chef, and he creates the meal off the wine. For our special dinners like the New Year’s Eve dinner or for Valentine’s Day, he will create a dish and then I will read the components and decide which wines would be great, and then when we meet with the staff we will talk about how the two work with each other.

MWS: How do you train your staff to answer questions about wine?
Jennifer: We have training and we also let them try wines. We have five days of training. Whenever we have a new server we have them taste every wine that we offer by the glass, so that they can say that they have had the wine, and we try to choose three words to describe that wine. That way it is easier to remember. Whenever we have a change in the wine menu we always have our servers taste the new wines.

Our bartenders have been here for a while and have seen several wine menu changes so their knowledge is very good because they have been able to taste everything, so the guests really rely on them – so when we have a wine menu change, guests frequently ask them what their favorites are on the menu change. And so we get to introduce a guest to wines that they may not have been familiar with.

The best thing about our staff that we have right now is that they really want to know more about wine – they enjoy wine, they want to try more wines, they want to know what might go with it – they are always open to learning more – which is what I think is great about them.

MWS: What do you focus on in your Wine & Tapas tasting on Wednesdays?
Jennifer: We sign up a distributor for each our weekly tastings, and then that distributor looks at what is strongest in their wine portfolio that what they might want to showcase, and we organize around that – so the typical focus is on a region  – like Oregon, or the California Central Coast -- and so you can become familiar with the wines from the region. I guide the distributor’s selections to some extent to make sure that we are not repeating our themes. Each dinner features three wines.  Our chef then creates three dishes around the tasting notes for the wines. The distributors also speak at the dinner because they have all the tasting notes, and they know all that there is to know about the wine.

MWS: What is your Private Wine Lockers program?
Jennifer: It is like a wine club. It is an annual membership. We have three different levels – Platinum, Gold and Silver. With each membership you get a certain number of wines – for example with the Silver you get 12 bottles of wine for the year. I select the wine each month and put it in the locker and when the guests come in they can see their wine book and have one of their wines. It is a lot of fun, because you really start to work with the guests and understand what they like and what would be fun to put in their locker and what would be a bad idea. We also have four Wine Locker events a year where they get to meet our wine vendors and to purchase wines for their lockers. Wine locker members also have the opportunity to buy two bottles of wine a month from our wine list at our cost.

MWS: Do you have wine for sale?
Jennifer: If you like the wine you had with dinner you have the opportunity to buy a bottle at 25% off the price and take a bottle home with you.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wine and Tapas on Madison’s West Side – Eno Vino – Part I of II

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Jennifer Cameron, Wine Director of Eno Vino (, @ENOVINO on Twitter, Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro on Facebook) at 601 Junction Road, Madison, WI 53717, 608-664-9565) about Eno Vino’s wine business.
MWS: How has business been in Madison?
Jennifer: Business has been great.  We have actually have been doing a lot more than we have in previous years; it has just been very popular lately. We usually slow down in February and March, but this year it has been just outstanding.

MWS: How long has Eno Vino been open in Madison?
Jennifer: It will be seven years in November 2011.

MWS: Eno Vino has a very extensive wine list – over 275 bottles now ( What factors do you consider as you make up Eno Vino’s wine list?
Jennifer: Eno Vino's wine menu is designed to appeal to all of our guests. Whether they are a first time wine drinker or an advanced wine drinker, we want everyone to be happy with their choice of wine.

With that, we set our goal to have the largest wines-by-the-glass selection in Madison. We have everything from your more common varietals, such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay or Cabernet. But, we also want to introduce some uncommon wines like Viognier, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah.  

It's so enjoyable to introduce a new wine to a guest that they fall in love with. We also want to make sure that we have elite and some staple wines by the bottles. We are always looking for great wine, and adding them to our list.

MWS: Is there a difference between the wines that you offer by the glass and by the bottle?
Jennifer: Yes, there is.

When we are looking at our wine by the glass selection at Eno Vino we always want to make sure that it is going to be in the price point that people are looking for.

Also when you drink a glass of Sauvignon Blanc you want it to have it taste like a Sauvignon Blanc, but as you know Sauvignon Blanc from France or New Zealand or California can be very different.

In the summer time I expand our white wine selections by the glass so I will have multiple styles of the same varietal, plus some more uncommon wines that are delicious on a hot summer day.

When people hear words like “it’s oaky” or “it tastes dry “or “it tastes sweet” they may have never really sat and tasted those wines side by side. So with our wine flights you can taste three different Chardonnays or three different Sauvignon Blancs next to each other and really understand how different each wine can be, and still be true to it’s varietal.

In the winter time what I do is I decrease the white wines by the glass and add a lot more red wines by the glass – people are looking for Cabernets or big, dark reds versus having the lighter reds in the summer time.

MWS: How do you decide how many wines to carry on your wine list?
Jennifer: Eno Vino is a wine bar, so we are actually always looking to increase our bottle selection and I plan on increasing it more and more as we go along.  

You don’t want somebody to be bored when they are flipping through a wine list, because it is a lot of information, and the way we had first stylized the wine menu, it was by varietals.  

Now we have decided to go by region instead, and so we did a big staff training session on what’s so great about wine from different regions, what does it really mean, does it make that big of a taste difference. So now people can come in and say “I am looking for a French Burgundy versus a California Pinot Noir” and so when we broke that out we started to add more wines by the bottle for specific regions and we want to continue to do so.

MWS: Any areas or wines you want to expand into with your wine list?
Jennifer: I would really like to increase our selection of French wines.

However, I feel that French wines have kind of gotten a bad name because, first they are a little bit more expensive, secondly many of our guests, I feel are much more prone to fruit-forward wines than Old World wines, but I feel like it is starting to make a comeback and we are starting to get people in here who are looking for French wines, in particular.  

I only have one Chateauneuf-du-Pape and I know people want more than that, so I plan on increasing it. Our French burgundy – not that big of a selection either, and I would really like to increase those – as well as the Bordeauxs.

Many people don’t know how delicate a French wine can be. I find that Montrachet is a beautiful wine – it is more expensive, but it is carefully selected, only from a particular village, and people don’t understand what goes into that. French wines use confusing words -- people don’t understand that Puligny-Montrachet is a Chardonnay and so people are willing to spend $80 on a high-end California Chardonnay, but for me I would rather spend an extra $20 and go with a Puligny-Montrachet, but that is to my particular tastes.

Right now we are very California-strong because we find that is what most of our guests are looking for – that is what they feel more comfortable with. But I feel if they come back and try these new glasses of wine – which is why I have French and Italian by the glass -- so that if they try it they usually find that they do like it. And then we can kind of go from there.

Similarly, Washington wines are absolutely fantastic and Oregon has wines that are similar to Burgundies – so I would like to increase that. Pinot Noirs are becoming much more popular now so people are looking for Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley.

For our Wine & Tapas events on Wednesdays, we have different themes every week.  The reason we do this, is so we can get a variety of wines out of particular regions. One week it could be Washington wines, and the next it could be a specific region out of Italy.  It gives guests an opportunity to try specific wines from specific regions to understand how different wines can be from each region.

When the wine menu was first created it was even more California-strong, but as the business continues to go on we find that our guests are becoming more interested in trying something besides what they just now know. They want to try new stuff.

It is all about having our staff being trained properly, and having our guests ask more questions, have them able to taste things, to get them to understand more about wine.

MWS: What is the price point you are aiming at in selling wine by the glass?
Jennifer:  I am always looking to have wine that is typical of its varietal, and yet is at a good price point.

However, you can have some other wines like a Cabernet -- sometimes you don’t want a $7 glass of Cabernet, you want a really big, really full-bodied wine with nice tannins, and I will have that be at a little bit higher price point range.  

We want to have a variety of wines for every one, whether you are a beginning wine drinker or an advanced wine drinker.  

You never want to get too high on price though, just because after about $13 a glass most guests would probably opt for a bottle of wine.

Because Eno Vino has such a large wine by the glass selection we never want a bottle of wine to sit open longer than a day. So we want to set our price point so we are not wasting wine, and not serving bad wine either.

MWS: Do most of your guests buy wine by the glass or the bottle?
Jennifer: For the most part, people do it by the glass. However, for special occasions or for business meetings we do sell more bottles of wine.

I think that because Eno Vino has such a large variety of wines by the glass, it allows people at a table to try a variety of reds and whites.

Also, if you are going to start off with a Carpaccio it is not necessary that you want to have one glass of red wine right away, you might want something that is going to balance with the cheese and go with a white wine, and then go bigger as you go deeper into the meal. But we still do a good percentage of wine bottle sales, as well, especially in the dining area.

MWS: Eno Vino has some wine flights featuring relatively lesser-known varietals such as Monastrell, Tempranillo, Grenache in your Running of the Reds, and Eno Vino is probably the only restaurant in Madison that offers Portuguese reds.  Any reason for that and are customers willing to try those?
Jennifer: A lot of guests are starting to really enjoy Chilean reds, and especially Malbecs from Argentina, and they are at a lower price point. Malbecs have been popular here for a couple of years now. Same thing has happened with the Spanish reds. I find that Spanish reds tend to be less expensive but still very good quality.  

People are beginning to understand what a Tempranillo is. When we started off we sold a lot of Malbecs by the glass, and then our guests would go “I really like Malbec, but I am looking for something different” so then we took them to the next step, with Tempranillo. The Monastrell was definitely out on a limb, but the winter menu changed, and I wanted to add another big red and I really enjoyed the Monastrell, and as it turned out some of our guests did as well. We decided to make a wine flight by adding the Grenache as well. It was inexpensive. Guests really enjoy the wide variety and to taste these wines that all come from Spain.

I just put a Cotes-du-Rhone on for our most recent change and because people are now tasting these different wines that go into a Cotes-du-Rhone they are starting to understand that it is a beautiful blend.

A subsequent post will continue with Eno Vino’s wine list and also discuss Eno Vino’s wine and food, training of staff, and wine events.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Barriques: Finn and Matt bring great wine to Madison’s masses – Part III of III

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Finn Berge, co-owner of Barriques, (, @barriques on Twitter, at the Monroe Street location (1831 Monroe Street, Madison, WI 53711, 608-284-9463) about their wine business.

Previous posts discussed Barriques’ place in the Madison wine market and how Finn’s tastes affect Barriques’ selection of wines. This posting discusses the role of wine importers and wine distributors.

MWS: If I am a small producer of excellent wines in Italy, how would I get my wine on Barriques’ shelves in Madison?
Finn: It goes through a couple of different tiers.  

The importer – someone like Kermit Lynch or Eric Solomon – while touring the area will research the market, or will ask their current winemakers (if they are willing to have their offerings be challenged within the same portfolio) to give up some names of who is doing good stuff in the area. Then the importer will go knock on the door, introduce themselves, tell them of their interest in the product, and then arrange for the product to be shipped.  They have to be able to supply enough – picking it up, putting it on a ship, marketing it – there has to be enough to market. You can't be too small a producer – at least a couple of thousand cases.  Then they present it to the in-state distributor who sells it to retailers like Barriques for sale to the final consumer.

Importers are not interested in one-time deals – they want assurance that the grower can provide the same quality next year and maintain the reputation. If the product starts to take off does the winery have the growth potential?

MWS: What about Madison wine customers who want you to get them a certain wine?
Finn:  What I call the hail-Mary wines – a customer walks in and says “I had this great little Vernaccia in San Gimignano – can you get it for me?” My first question is “Have you bought it in the US?” If it hasn’t gotten into the US it is a dead subject.  Even if it has gotten into the US, but is only sold in a different state like New Jersey, it is still a dead subject because of the state-by-state regulation of wine, which is considered a controlled substance.

A wine has to be locally distributed in Wisconsin for Barriques to be able to get it in Madison.

Another problem is that the labels may not be consistent – the same wine may have a different label in Europe than the one used to sell it in the US.

MWS: Are there certain wines you can not get access to – because of allocations?
Finn: Oh yes.  

There are certain wines where you have to pay to play. Guigal would be a prime example.  You have to move a lot of Cotes du Rhone and other wines if you even want a shot at their better wines like La Mouline, and usually those wines are sold to the same customer every year like the American Club at Kohler, or individuals with large cellars.

MWS: How many different importers/distributors do you work with?
Finn:  Solidly --  about 14.  The game changes every year – who is carrying what, who has got what? Wineries get mad at distributors, and distributors get mad at wineries.

The distributors have a lot of clout – all the cards are in their hands. Wisconsin distributors are probably the second most powerful liquor lobby after California’s.

Unlike the larger states, we have been seeing a fragmentation of distributors in Wisconsin with lots of smaller distributors popping up.  It will be interesting to see how long they survive in the current economy with their needs for credit and for bonding. It is a high-risk business.

MWS: How often do distributors come by with wines for you to taste?
Finn: Bi-weekly on Tuesdays

MWS: How many wines do you taste on those days?
Finn: I taste between 100 and 125 different wines in one sitting.

I had to start limiting the distributors. Some of them would show up with a case and a half to two cases of different wines for me to go through.  I have come down to the theory that I don’t want them throwing mud at the wall. I want them coming through the door thinking “I have six wines that I have chosen wisely and that he will end up buying all six selections of mine.”  

At each tasting, about 65 % will be new offerings and the rest will be new vintages of what I have sold before. So I will be tasting, tweeting, putting information in my database, and talking to the distributor and the winemaker if they are there.  

The biggest difference between what I do with my tasting notes and most other wine stores, especially the big box stores is that their note cards are written by the different distributors and there is no consistency, and they are trying to spin-doctor it, and the point score is the largest thing on the card.  

Also, they might make less effort in learning the wines, because once the few cases of that wine are gone, they will not be replaced, so they don’t invest the time in learning their wines.

MWS: What are you looking for in those tastings?
Finn: When I write my tasting notes I base it on what I think the typical profile should be.  

I rarely get influenced by the label or the bottle or the producer.  It’s more: in my mind this is Barolo and therefore it has to have this typical profile come through, and so you find yourself looking for that profile.

MWS: To what extent are Barriques customers driven by wine ratings?
Finn: Some are.  

I have had customers get mad and say “How do I know what to buy since you don’t have any points on here?” My answer is that I want you to learn what you like, not what people tell you what you should like. Trust what you like.  

Another interesting case was this guy who really likes Cloudy Bay – which is owned by Veuve Clicquot – and really does a ton of marketing.  So one Friday, when this guy had confirmed his attendance, we did a blind tasting and Cloudy Bay was one of the wines in the lineup, and it turned out that that was the wine he disliked most!