Part of yesterday’s birthday festivities involved picking up the last minute essentials for the celebration. The cake was ordered, and simply needed to be collected from Crisan. But I needed some sparkling wine to go along with the smoked meats from Capital Q, and I really wanted to get a bottle of the Rare Pear from Harvest Spirits to sip with Mrs. Fussy after the kids had gone to bed.
The only thing I was concerned about was that last one. When I dropped into the distillery after the Tour de Donut, it was clear there wasn’t a ton of Rare Pear produced. So I wasn’t even sure any would still be available.
Early in the morning, I called Golden Harvest Farm and was told that Derek wasn’t there yet, but the aged pear brandy was still in stock. And the nice lady on the other end of the line reminded me there were actual liquor stores nearby where I could buy it without taking the long drive to the distillery. That was a novel thought. So I decided to give one of the stores a ring.
To protect the guilty, let’s change the store’s name, and call them Emperor Wine & Spirits.
Generally, I don’t bristle at customer service. I can deal with surly and sullen. If service is slow, I can wait if it means I’ll get adequate attention when my turn rolls around. I don’t need a smile, and I don’t need to know your name. You need not be attractive, well groomed or pressed. If you know your sh*t all is forgiven.
But yesterday’s call reminded me of a recent in-store interaction, and that’s a problem.
So I called Emperor looking for Harvest Spirit’s Rare Pear after being told by the farm that they carry it. Maybe the farm was wrong, or maybe the liquor store sold out, but they didn’t have any.
The funny thing is that the guy on the other end of the phone didn’t seem to have any idea what I was talking about. He kept punching things in his computer and actually confessed to having never even heard of the product. That man didn’t exactly fill me with confidence (although to be fair, I stopped into the store later in the day and couldn’t find the product on their shelves either).
Emperor’s is a big store, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to know all of their products from memory. But Harvest Spirits is our local distillery, and Rare Pear is their new limited edition offering. On the distillery’s website, the bottle is front and center. I would hope that in local quality liquor store circles this would be big news.
Next I gave a ring to All Star Wines & Spirits up road. A lovely lady picked the phone, and couldn’t find Rare Pear in her computer right away, but persisted until she found it. There were four bottles of the spirit left. Score. And as a result of All Star having the bottle I needed, they ended up getting a lot more business from me. At the end of my shopping day I came home with a bottle of Macallan 12 for my father-in-law, a large bottle of Evan Williams bourbon for mixed drinks, a large bottle of Raynal brandy for cocktail cherries, and a bottle of prosecco for dinner.
Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if it were an isolated incident. You may even feel inclined to defend Emperor because it is primarily a wine store that also carries a fairly comprehensive portfolio of spirits. But I was in the store last month to buy some wine for Thanksgiving and I encountered an employee with a similar lack of knowledge.
The two experiences together mark an unfortunate trend.
I knew I wanted Zinfandel, but from there I was fairly flexible. I had some idea about what I wanted. I was looking for two different bottles, under $20 each, from the same vintage and region (my preference was for Sonoma or Lodi). Naturally I was looking for something that paired well with food, which really means a wine with some good acidity and not too hot with alcohol. This last part especially can be challenging with Zin.
So I was perusing the varietal’s section, and a clerk asked if I could use some help. As soon as I told him I was looking for a Zinfandel (which should have been obvious given my placement in the store) he volunteers that Ravenswood is a good producer.
Now he was right. And I’ve recommended the Ravenswood county series as a good introduction to the varietal in the past. But I told him I was looking for something a little less mass-produced.
This totally shut the young man down.
He asked me to wait for a minute, and returned with a Zinfandel from a table of manager-approved Thanksgiving wines at the front of the store. This one happened to come from Napa, which wasn’t what I wanted. So he took his Napa Zin and left, never to be heard from again.
Here’s my thing.
Educating a staff is hard, especially during the busy holiday season when you bring in new people to help out on the floor. I get it. But maybe it would be wise to have some kind of hierarchy based on knowledge.
If you only have one recommendation up your sleeve, maybe you shouldn’t be on the floor helping people pick out bottles. And if you’ve never even heard of the newest product from the region’s only distillery, maybe you shouldn’t be answering the phones. Emperor has some great prices on wine and a pretty fantastic selection. So I’ll continue to shop there.
But it’s not a place where I would send a wine novice, because I just don’t have faith that they would be in good hands. And that’s unfortunate, because Emperor’s could be great.