“If you take a box then you have to fill it up, that’s the rule,” he will often quip at an unsuspecting member rifling through the stack of empty wine boxes he’s set aside for them. Although Tony Pellegrini spends the majority of his mornings moving pallets of wine around the Costco warehouse (while most of us are still fast asleep in our beds), he always manages to put on an energetic smile for the members. You will usually hear him say things like “just taking the tour?” or “bottle of deliciousness” when interacting with various shoppers.
This laid-back approach to wine assistance and friendly demeanor has built a regular following of local wine lovers for his club. Not only can Tony discuss the subtle differences between two $50 bottles of Napa cab, but he can also recommend a good $8 blend from the “cheap seats” section (i.e. wines that are not displayed in wooden bins).
Just a short drive to the nearest Costco south, and you will meet Mac, a 10+ year Costco employee who now assists members in wine selection. He has a warm smile and is quite knowledgeable about fine wine. He also has a casual demeanor when discussing wine, and this seems to be a Costco theme. If you have ever payed attention while shopping in the warehouse, you would notice that most employees are wearing jeans and sneakers. Supervisors walk around with walkie-talkies blaring for all to hear, and nobody is afraid to drive a forklift through the aisles during peak business hours. There is a no-frills attitude about the Costco shopping experience, and this carries over into the wine departments. Obviously, this casual member environment has worked fantastically for the company.
Costco has not always had an employee stationed in the wine department, and not every store has one even now. I say “even now” because in recent years the company has become recognized as one of the largest retailers of wine. Next time you are shopping for wine at Costco, keep an eye out for an individual stocking and rotating wine as this could likely be a “Wine Advisor.” This is the individual who has all of the information. He or she knows what’s coming next Monday, what’s about to be gone forever, and what may just be the best wine deal you’ve ever seen.
We have mentioned before about wines being “deleted” (marked with an asterisk on the signs because they have not been reordered and may never be.) However, if you see a wine running low and there is no asterisk, something else could be happening. There may be a distribution issue, or there may be more in the “steel” (above the aisles where you will see inventory wrapped tightly in plastic wrap), etc. The Wine Advisor will know what’s going on- so if you love a wine and are concerned about future availability, or if you are searching for a wine and cannot locate it, it’s best to ask this specific employee.
In a perfect world, every Costco would have a Wine Advisor stationed in the wine department to answer any and all questions that their members have concerning wine. This is certainly something that I can imagine in Costco’s future, seeing as their main competitors are sole wine/liquor retailers who almost always have on-staff expertise to help shoppers. If you are lucky enough to shop in a Costco with a wine expert on the payroll, be sure to take full advantage of their presence. They are one of the many hidden gems you will find in the clubs.
We received the following note from a reader that I wanted to share too as it relates to this discussion: “Comment- according to the 2 advisors I’ve spoken with (Town Center and Dunwoody) I think the article would benefit to mention that advisors receive NO DISCOUNT on their wine purchases.”