Costco comment horrifies wine snobs

The retailer's top buyer has the nerve to say that it's just 'a beverage.'

By Kim Peterson May 10, 2012 3:47PM
Costco (COST) is one of the largest wine retailers in the world, selling more than $1 billion worth each year.

And that gives its top buyer, Annette Alvarez-Peters, a lot of power within the wine industry. But instead of waxing poetic about terroir and tannins, Alvarez-Peters is all business when it comes to wine. And that's giving some wine lovers heartburn.

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The controversy centers around a recent CNBC special on Costco. Alvarez-Peters was interviewed by Carl Quintanilla and told him she doesn't think wine is any more special than clothing or televisions.

Quintanilla suggested that wine is more personal than tinfoil or toilet paper. Alvarez-Peters disagreed.

"People can look at it that way," she said. "But at the end of the day, it's a beverage. It's a beverage. I think you either like it or you don't like it."

Cue the exploding heads. The Eater site called the CNBC special "a six-minute segment on wine ignorance" and said Alvarez-Peters doesn't understand why wine is any different from toilet paper. "Very sad," said a commenter on the site. "Show some respect, Costco."

The Bubble Brothers wine blog said Alvarez-Peters "secured her place in wine infamy" with her response, noting that Alvarez-Peters first worked for Costco as a car-parts buyer and came to the job with no knowledge of wine. But maybe that's a good thing. "I think everyone can agree that if you put the world's most passionate wine lover in charge of Costco's wine buying that that person would make a shocking mess of the business before long if he or she wasn’t first skilled in the often unsexy craft of trade buying," the blog noted.

But another viewer appreciated the sentiment. "I think far too often we lose sight of wine, beer or liquor as simply being a beverage, albeit a fun and tasty one most of the time," wrote the Bangers and Mash blog.

Alvarez-Peters clearly has knowledge of wine, although she was caught in the video writing "delicious" as a tasting note. She wouldn't be where she is today without having a thorough knowledge of the industry. The bigger question is whether she has to be outrageously and obnoxiously passionate about the "beverage." I think the answer is no.