Costco's head wine buyer causes a stir with her remarks
Costco's wine buyer causes stir remarks
Annette Alvarez-Peters is the most powerful wine-industry person you've never heard of.
But any vintner can tell you exactly what she does: buys more wine than anyone in the world.
Alvarez-Peters is Costco's principal wine buyer. She helps them sell more than $1 billion worth of the stuff every year in 337 of the big-box stores in 34 states. Costco is the sixth largest retailer in the US and number seven in the world.
Alvarez-Peters' influence on the industry is profound – not just with winemakers but with other retailers as well. She is in charge of setting prices on wines, and those numbers largely determine the market value of that label. Other much smaller retailers are forced to match or come close to the company's price.
Alvarez-Peters heads a team of 17 national and foreign wine buyers, scouring the wine world for good value. Before becoming director of wine for Costco, she worked in the company's auto parts and electronics division. She had no previous knowledge of the wine and spirits business.
Costco is now the largest American importer of French wines, including some pretty impressive houses such as Château Mouton Rothshild and Château Pétrus. None are marked up more than 15 percent.
And Costco is fairly picky – no more than 200 different wines are available, though the list changes regularly.
Late last month, Alvarez-Peters made headlines for an interview she did as part of a CNBC special, "The Costco Craze: Inside the Warehouse Giant":
Alvarez-Peters: "Is (wine) more special than clothing, is it more special than televisions? I don't think so."
CNBC's Carl Quintanilla: "Certainly it's different than toilet paper? Or different that tin foil?"
Quintanilla: "Because it's personal."
Alvarez-Peters: "People can look at it that way. But at the end of the day, it's just a beverage."
The backlash from wine lovers was immediate and severe.
"This is upsetting. Wineries that are selling to Costco might as well be selling their soul," wrote Krispbacon in a comment to Eater's story about the CNBC special. "I see why (winemakers) do it: one big sale (then) out the door, close the winery then head to Mexico for the winter. But the winery just killed the romance that its wine provided."
Others came to Alvarez-Peters' defense:
"She heads a team, she doesn't choose every wine," wrote commenter Stephan Bendall. "And, I almost prefer a person with little bias and experience choosing the wines over someone who is self-important and believes they know it all."
Eater compares Alvarez-Peters unfavorably to Costco's former buyer, David Andrew, who is described in Eater as "a real wine lover." He left in 2003.
But a lot of wine consumers appreciate Costco's rock-bottom prices on quality wines and accuse Eater of snobbery.
"I'm a complete, dyed-in-the-wool wine geek. And the Costco model is far from useless," wrote Tracy Cervello in a response to the Eater story. "I buy wine there regularly – great wines from all over the world, at great prices. And so do a lot of my wine geek friends, who got into wine to begin with at Costco."
What do you think? Does Costco suffer from the tastes of a buyer who has no interest in or passion for wine? Or this just a case of wine snobs objecting to a hard-nosed realist in the world's most powerful wine-buying position?
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