Selling wine has some benefits

For the better part of 10 years, I’ve kept personal life out of Grape Sense, though personal opinions have been shared here.

Retirement last fall has given me the time to explore things a bit and enjoy a part-time job working in retail wine sales. Since I started writing in 2007, my interest and knowledge of wine have grown to the point I felt confident I could sell wine. The past eight months have proven that I can sell a bottle or two.

Today’s more personal column includes some simple observations about working on the retail side. Part of the job is just what it appears to be to many customers, part not. It’s fun to work on a Saturday and help educate customers and help them select wines for dinner, for sipping or as a gift. That’s the fun part of the job and what keeps me going back to work for three or four shifts a week.

The part customers don’t see are the Mondays and Tuesdays when the shop isn’t full of customers. A lot of things are happening that make those busy Friday and Saturdays come off without a hitch.

Stocking, oh, dreading stocking is one of the biggest chores. Wine comes in from our corporate warehouse and direct from distributors that must be accounted for upon delivery, priced and a descriptor written for the shelf.

My first few weeks, I wasn’t prepared to toss around 45-pound cases of wine for several hours. And champagne cases weigh more than that. But that has become much easier over time, as has the standing for five to seven hours a shift.

What exercise hasn’t done for me, working in the wine shop has accomplished. It’s not unusual to record 1.5 to 3 miles walking as recorded by my pedometer during the average shift. After spending most of my career sitting as a writer and reporter, standing all day was one of the toughest adjustments.

And yes, we do taste a fair amount of wine. Distributors are often stopping by with samples for us to taste, sometimes with an importer or winery owner in tow. That happens a day or three a week, and it can be a couple of bottles up to eight or 10.

It’s nice when my opinion has an impact or influences our wine buyer who doubles as our store manager. It’s fair to say any employee appreciates the boss asking for an opinion.

The knock on a lot of retail, including wine shops, is salespeople trying to upsell the product. We’ve all been in the position of wanting a $15 bottle of wine and the sales person really selling the merits of that $25 bottle.

I hate upselling as a customer and certainly didn’t want to sell that way once I joined the retail staff. What I like to do is find out the price point the customer is comfortable with and then find a bottle for them at that price. What I then do is show them a bottle for less and another bottle for more and try to point out the relative merits. Most customers seem to like that approach.

Go to the wine shop knowing what you’re willing to spend and ask for some advice. You’ll find a comfort level soon enough with your wine salespeople. They want you happy whether you’re buying a $10 or a $50 bottle of wine.

Howard W. Hewitt of Indianapolis writes every other week about wine for more than 20 Indiana newspapers and websites. Reach Howard at: [email protected]