Questions re "the Customer is always right:...

Some scenarios for the “Customer’s always right” crowd:

Customer walks in and, without assistance, buys 1963 Graham Porto. Calls at 8:30pm complaining that we have “totally embarrassed” her because, when she opened it and poured it with a steak dinner for someone born in 1963, “It had crystals on the cork, lots of stuff floating around in it and was SWEET! You ruined my husband’s birthday!”

David Rosengarten writes this in The Rosengarten Report: “One of the things that has me jumping up and down about WINE EXPO…is that they sell dry red fizzy Italian wine! These wines can be mighty at the table, sometimes the ideal mates to local pasta dishes (we’ll insert here that they also ROCK with Mexican and spicy Asian foods, ed.).”

Guy in Kentucky buys a mixed case of the wines he then recommends and then calls us and says, “All of these wines are Fizzy, what’s up with that?” We read him the copy on the wines and he says “I didn’t think he meant that LITERALLY! I thought they were just gonna be bright and zesty…”

Serious wine guy (collects Barolo & Burgundy, goes to VinItaly often) reads about Orange Wines and comes in and buys Gravner, Lispida, Radikon and Tiberini for a tasting. Comes back a week later saying that they were ALL bad, that there is no WAY that is the way they are supposed to look and taste like that and says he had to raid his cellar for some Barolo to serve his guests. He wants a refund on the whites and he wants us to REIMBURSE him for the Barolo.


You almost have to have a waiver for these folks to sign before they leave the store.

Had a guy once buy a '70 port, only to return it to the store saying it “tasted old.” We credited him.

You can always refund the customer, then politely tell them that perhaps your shop isn’t the right place for them to shop, and that there’s a Safeway down the street.

A big problem re guys like Mr. Barolo is that they ONLY drink a quite narrow window of wine and don’t actually BELIEVE it when they read about a white that will be the color of orange KoolAide. They think that’s hyperbole on the part of the writer.

With Sans Dosage Champagne we put this sign on every one and ASK people if they’ve read and understood it:

“Ok, you want dry? You can’t handle DRY!
This is so dry and crisp and citrusy it will take the enamel right off your expensive little yuppy capped teeth! Go along now and buy a nice fruity bottle of Prosecco and leave this to the professionals, ok?”

Sorry, we saw “A Few Good Men” again last night on cable while drinking some of this and were channelling Jack Nicholson for a moment there… But seriously, this is THE thing for Sushi, Smoked Salmon or Spicy Stirfries if you open it today OR you could age it for a decade and tame it into a rich and nutty thing of beauty. Better take two…

Dealing with the reality-challenged is a cost of doing business.

Not to be picky but very confused - why would you sell orange white wines and why would someone buy them in the first place after it had been pointed out to them that the white wine mightn’t be white?

As to the first part, they are all the rage now in certain circles and even entering the mainstream bit by bit:" onclick=";return false;

An orange wine ante litteram | Do Bianchi" onclick=";return false;

Re the customer, as I said, some people just really don’t BELIEVE you when you say a wine is orange or so dry it makes Cakebread Chard taste like white zin.

these customers are wrong. as a business, you cannot be expected to subsidize the stupidity of your customers.

i am curious to hear about the further interactions you’ve had with these customers – the guy in kentucky seems to present the most boring story, but the woman who buys a '63 port that, by her account, sounds like it was in great shape and the “serious” wine collector who doesn’t know what the hell orange wine is and then asks to be reimbursed for another bottle he opened when he didn’t like the orange wine – those folks present pretty interesting stories.

i’d tell the port woman “that’s how they are supposed to taste. Is it your contention that my employees and I are supposed to ask every single customer if they fully understand the type of wine they are buying?” I suppose she could answer, “yes,” but hopefully she will pause after you ask the question and realize the ridiculousness of her position on the matter.

the “serious” wine guy i would deal with differently: I would ask him if a store should reimburse someone who, never having tasted a Barolo, buys 4 bottles of Barolo, goes home and opens them, and claims they are “all bad” because they taste like rose petals and tar and then had to open a CA Syrah instead. I still don’t understand the “serious” wine guy’s position, really.

Brian, here is an old sign of ours that STILL did not deter someone from doing exactly what you said:

A special appeal from the Anti-Infanticide League:

These wines are about as Old School as Barolo gets theses days and will not even begin to show their true potential for at LEAST ten years from their respective vintages (twenty would be better!). So, if you need a truly great bottle of Nebbiolo based wine to open in the near future, may we recommend the Mamete Prevostini, Fay and Nino Negri Sforzatos. If, on the other hand, you have both patience and good storage facilities, THESE are the Merde, the whole Merde and nothing but the freakin’ Merde! VERY LIMITED, not cheap, worth it:

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 1997
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 1998
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva “Montfortino” 1995

Re the porto lady, I told her the following: “We asked if you needed help and you said no and went right to the porto section and bought that bottle. We could only assume you knew what it was, try it after dinner with some cheese.” She calmed down and bit the bullet. Maybe six months later she came in with a friend and told HER the story, laughed and asked us to match wines to a menu for her. She’s been back.

Mr. Barolo shops mostly at Wally’s. You can’t make everyone happy and we’ll be a lot happier if he drives THEM nuts. We did NOT give him his money back or pay for the Barolo.

I like a lot of orange wines, but I feel like they need a disclaimer for the general public. They stretch boundaries of what a lot of people think of as sound wine… I had some 01 Damijan open at a party on Sun, and a few unsuspecting folks poured themselves big glasses and then looked as if they just drank poison… “Does it taste bad?” I asked- “No, it just doesn’t taste like wine!” (which I’m assuming meant typical RRV Chard)

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when he was opening those… I imagine him grabbing his throat while screaming for a 2007 Barolo to wash it down…


that sign has me laughing – literally — i love it!! (and you guys really ARE doing your customers a service by having it)

i’m glad porto lady came around – i hope she considers it a valuable learning experience (i.e.: don’t assume your assumptions are correct), and it appears she does.

re: “serious” wine guy: good! i’m glad you didn’t give him his money back … orange wine or no orange wine. fact is, he came in LOOKING FOR orange wine and is a “serious” wine guy — he should’ve done his homework, plain and simple. as far as his shopping at wally’s – well, they probably deserve eachother.

I’ve never been a believer in the “customer is always right” scenario -

But you do have to play with them with with kid gloves -

20 year ago, no consumer in the world had ever heard of bret - and I don’t remember ever getting a bottle back that was tainted with bret - today - every single bottle that doesn’t smell like Hershey’s frickin chocolate is Bretty -

And if I hear this one more time “I have a very sensitive nose to bret.” - I will scream - then sell them a bottle of Chateau Beaucastel or a 20 year old bottle of Coturri Zin -

Now a bottle purchased and brought back should always be replaced or credited - IF IT IS BAD - that means corked or too old. Not because it affected their sensitive nose, or they just didn’t like the wine -

CORKED or TOO OLD. Period.

If they didn’t ask for a suggestion - that is their fault -

Where you have to be sensitive is with the false information most consumers walk around with -

I’ve always felt it was in bad taste to correct pronunciations - it’s always better to repeat the word they messed up properly in a followup statement rather than correct them - they usually get the point -

The other thing is - THE DRY SCALE -

One of the first things I teach a wine staff is, how to explain to consumers what the dry scale is - most people drinking Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay think it’s dry - when you explain to them that your typical crisp Riesling has less sugar than the KJ - they look astonished - but it is the staff’s duty to make sure that the consumer walks out of the door with a wine THEY want - not what you want to sell them - once you have their confidence - then give them that rip snorting young Sancerre to really show them what dry is -

I love it when you talk dirty.

Send 'em to Marty’s, they know customer service.

“The customer always thinks s/he’s right.” The rest isn’t that hard to deal with

Definitely! Send them my way!

I’m guessing this was a sarcastic jab on your part, if so, cool, who are you?
If it wasn’t, I’ll take it as a compliment since we do know customer service.

Thomas, when people mispronounce wine regions you don’t kick them in the shin and steal their kids’ candy? Dangit! I’ve been doing it incorrectly all these years!
(See, that was sarcastic humor)

I think you handled both situations perfectly. These people should not get any money back. Mr. Barolo sounds like someone you’re better off not having shop there. The port lady has probably become a better wine consumer (maybe she’ll learn to ask questions when she has no idea what a product is).

I love the signs you mentioned.

Bullshit. If I wander into a region where the wines rarely show Brett and grab a bottle only to find it smells like a pile of horse dung you’re taking it back unless it was made apparent that this particular winery has a thing for Brett. Brett’s not a stylistic choice - it’s a fault in the wine that can be controlled if they want to (witness the complete overhaul Beau did a couple of years ago).

Same thing with someone whose Cab is riddled with VA - you’re getting the wine back. Don’t tell me a Cali Cab with very high VA levels is some kind of new trend, it’s bad wine.

The difference between this and the orange colored white wines Roberto mentions is simple - he TOLD PEOPLE. If he hadn’t, he’d have been in the wrong - who picks up a white wine expecting something like a Radikon or a Gravner? If a wine merchant wants to carry offbeat stuff that’s very different from what people might expect (a Coturri Zin, for example, isn’t what most people would expect from a Zin) then it’s the wine merchant’s responsibility to inform the customer. If you can’t do that as the walk up to buy it (“You know this white is orange colored and rather different, right?”) then use signage.

OH and ‘too old’? Really? So you’re objecting to someone making a call on too much brett, but you don’t have an issue with them doing that on age?

“Oak or High Alcohol are not a stylistic choice - it’s a fault in the wine that can be controlled if they want to”


I dunno Roberto. Outside of champagne, most of the wines you carry are seriously off the beaten track. Additionally, you guys sell HARD. When I lived in santa monica I’d go to your store once every six months and buy a mixed case of wine that you guys would hand sell me on. During that three year period, I don’t know that I ever bought a bottle that I liked. Seriously. It’s not that they were bad (cooked, etc.), but they were not like any wine you’d buy at a Wine House or Wally’s. However, I’m a big boy and I knew what I was getting myself into when I went in to your store and I never complained (my wife complained to me plenty, however!). The flipside is the person that wanders in off the street to the generically named Wine Expo has no idea that they are walking into the land of wines that taste like dirt and rocks. So, I say you need to cut your customers some slack.

And to be clear, I’m not saying you guys are bad guys or anything, as it was always clear to me that you were really passionate about what you were selling and you guys all loved the wines. That’s what kept me going back.

So, what you are saying is that all the wines at Wally’s and the Wine House taste the same?

[rofl.gif] [rofl.gif] [rofl.gif]

“The flipside is the person that wanders in off the street to the generically named Wine Expo has no idea that they are walking into the land of wines that taste like dirt and rocks”

Except for POS like this all over the store:

Señorio de Sarria Tempranillo 2000, Navarra Spain A STEAL at just $7.99!
This wine was made at a very prestigious estate in Navarra in the last vintage BEFORE a gazillion dollars was invested to “improve” the wine for the “international market”. Five years ago on release The Wine Spectator gave it a nice review and said “drink now through 2005”.

Well, if you were interested in primary fruit and easy quaffability, that was good advice. BUT, those in the know know that quality Tempranillo from a good vintage turns into WINE (as opposed to fruit juice) with age and *this baby has recently taken the last exit off the Dirt Road and driven directly into downtown Meatville. **

If J.B. Lenoir
had been a Winemaker…
Some people just don’t like clean, antiseptic, “technically correct” production values. That’s why there are William Burroughs novels, Blues / Grunge / Psycho-Billy music, John Leslie videos and WIRED or Giant Robot magazines! And, in turn, many of us prefer the funkier side of the wine and beer spectrum where ancient wild yeast strains, field blends of unidentified old vine varieties, idiosyncratic production styles and/or less than fanatical hygiene result in beverages with flavors of stupefying complexity that can sometimes be “challenged” in the stability and consistency arena. Listen carefully, these delicious potations are not flawed, they just have personality in spades!

Lizzano “Il Taurus” VDT del Tarantino 1990 (Black, spicy, meaty, earthy, get some Jody Maroni’s and get down.)

*A great but possibly deranged Bluesman famous for having his horn section play out of tune (but with serious soul!), singing about his konk (“Fresh Process”) and being investigated by the Secret Service for his song “Eisenhower Blues”.

PS: both of of those are long sold out to grateful fans of wines that don’t taste like fruit juice.