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BevMo is not the enemy

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In San Francisco they’re having another turf war over whether to let a chain store open in one of the city’s neighborhoods. People out here in the Bay Area hate chain stores on the theory that they drive mom and pop indies out of business. I personally think you have to look at each case individually. You can’t just say “No to all chain stores” or “Yes to all chain stores.” Well, here’s a case where I think the “No on chain stores” side is seriously misguided.

It concerns Beverages, & More! (BevMo), a big box liquor outlet with scores of branches throughout California and Arizona. (Disclosure: A few years ago, BevMo was Wine Enthusiast’s Retailer of the Year, and BevMo’s cellarmaster, Wilfred Wong, is an old and good friend. But that’s not why I’m defending BevMo in this instance.)

There’s this blog, Booze Reviews, which over the weekend had a post called “Why you shouldn’t shop at Bevmo”. My problem with the post is that their reasons for opposing BevMo are illogical and/or just plain wrong. First of all is the argument that BevMo “sets out to crush” small liquor stores “in an effort to drive the small, locally-owned businesses out.” The author contends that “If there’s something you want that the corporate HQ [at BevMo] hasn’t approved,” you’re out of luck; BevMo handles just “popular booze makers [and] a ton of crap and some mass-produced good stuff.  But they’re not going to stock the small, boutique wineries and breweries that are really at the cutting edge.”

It may be true that you won’t find many smaller producers at BevMo. But — and please, memorize this, because there’s a quiz afterward — low production does not equal high quality!! Trust me on this one, folks. Besides, if people really were looking for these “boutique wineries,” they’d support the small indie shops that stock them. If the indies are going out of business, it’s because they’re not delivering what their local customers want.

One example the writer at Booze Reviews picked was Gary Farrell. As we all know, Gary sold the winery to Allied Domecq (it’s now owned by Ascentia) years ago. But the Booze Reviews writer didn’t know that, which is why he wrote: “I was also recently impressed when I found a bottle of Gary Farrell Russian River Pinot available at Bevmo online.  Until I found out that the Gary Farrell winery was recently bought out by some huge conglomerate.” The writer automatically made the assumption that Gary Farrell wines had suffered in quality merely because the brand was acquired by a big company. But I have news from him: I’ve reviewed Gary Farrell wines forever, and they’re better than they’ve ever been! The vineyard sources haven’t changed, and winemaker Susan Reed, who was mentored by the great Zelma Long, worked at Matanzas Creek, and was trained by Gary Farrell himself, would probably quit if her bosses forced her to compromise quality. So it’s a form of reverse snobbery to say a big company must ipso facto produce inferior wines.

As a final argument against BevMo, the writer says it’s better to spend your money “in a locally owned business” instead of a chain store. There may be some validity to this argument, but not much. For one thing, obviously, if BevMo opens in my neighborhood (and we do have one), it’s still a local store, even if it’s not owned by locals. It provides jobs and benefits to local people. I have no way of knowing if the register clerk at the little wine shop on the corner makes more or less money that the register clerk at BevMo, or has better or worse benefits. But if BevMo were truly a horrible place to work, people wouldn’t be lining up to get jobs there. And BevMo stocks some darned good wines at just about the best prices in town. So it’s not just about employees, it’s about all the local consumers who are looking for decent prices these days.

Let’s cut BevMo some slack!

And now, that quiz. Does low production equal high quality? Write down your answer on a $30 bill and send it to me care of Steve Heimoff, in Oakland.

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Here’s the URL for Tom Wark’s American Wine Blog Awards. If you like my blog, you might consider nominating it in one of these categories, or all three:

– Best writing wine blog
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  1. Be it the old Liquor Barn, Costco, BevMo, the Wine Club, Vino 100, Kermit Lynch or Larry Ruggani, they’re all good for the consumer and those wineries who seek and need broad distribution. Winery to retailer direct…even better. One perceived problem with BevMo may be that they are paying for numerical in-store wine ratings which are then displayed as objective. Not exactly forthright but, I guess, it’s not a lot different than the employee hand written shelf talkers in Trader Joe’s?

  2. Ray, BevMo’s wine ratings are a totally different story, and one I may take up in the future.

  3. Wow, I had no idea anyone was even reading our blog.

    First off, we are not to be taken seriously. It says so all over our site. The boozereviews.net blog is nothing more than a forum in which a few friends/family who live far apart try to make each other laugh while keeping some semblance of a catalog of wine and beer that we’ve enjoyed. Apparently it’s now been found… which sort of takes the fun out of it.

    Second, since several people apparently did take my BevMo post seriously, I’ve pulled it down. It’s clear that, if I want to fight that fight (which I really don’t), I’ll have to do some homework and better back up what I say. I may come back around and publish a serious piece on the matter… but I doubt it, that’s not in the spirit of the blog we’ve created.

  4. Thanks Steve. A voice of reason. Refreshing!

  5. “The writer automatically made the assumption that Gary Farrell wines had suffered in quality merely because the brand was acquired by a big company.”

    This is How the World Works, so it is a very natural assumption.

    I stopped going into BevMo as they have a really boring selection of wines. (Just like Chain restaurants have a boring selection comprised mostly of “Industrial” wine.)

    “Please consider voting for my blog

    Here’s the URL for Tom Wark’s American Wine Blog Awards. If you like my blog, you might consider nominating it in one of these categories, or all three:

    – Best writing wine blog
    – Best industry/business-oriented wine blog
    – Best overall wine blog”

    Gee, the voting already ended before this 3rd request of yours was posted. It seems like you and that Southern Wine dude are the two who are the most.

    Finally, you can say No to all Chain stores. They do put local businesses under whilst lowering local wages. All in the name of “convenience” and corporate greed. Which Chain is not like that?

  6. Our wine has been carried at Bevmo stores since the beginning, when we made less then 5,000 cases. We are a little larger now (avg. of 70,000 cases annually, but still family-owned and operated) My experiences there is they are very friendly to local markets and carry different products in different stores.

    For example, the San Jose, Mountain View and a few other stores in the South Bay area carry a lot of small Santa Cruz Mountains producers. The Mountain View store’s manager is very involved with the Association does a ton of tastings and invites producers to come meet his customers. He acts like a small retailer with his customer service and knowledge.

    I think there is a place for both the small retailer and the Bev Mo’s of the world. Unfortunately with overhead as it is, smaller retailers have to charge more margin then the bigger box stores…and can’t order in quantity (to get distributor discounts) due to storage constraints. And in these economic times, price is everything.

  7. Cheers to THAT, Steve. Blogs that simply rant without valid info do us all a disservice. They DON’T present information that contributes to better overall awareness of issues at hand and they DO cast a bad light on other bloggers.

  8. Good on ya, Steve! I hate ‘knee jerk’ reactions in any industry, ESPECIALLY in the wine industry! I don’t shop at BevMo because there is not one close by, but when there was one near where I used to live, I would go in from time to time and usually ended up purchasing SOMETHING.

    They are not my go-to store for ‘harder to find’ wines . . . but they do not market themselves as such . . . NOR do they market themselves as low priced leaders . . . or anything other than a retailer trying to offer consumers a wide variety of wines at different price points.

    I can use the same analogy with supermarkets – there are some that I go to for ‘staple’ items because they are normally cheaper than other places. There are some I go to for produce – better quality / fresher . . . and there are some I go to for already prepared foods – for when it’s my turn to ‘cook’ and I don’t have time!

    Are they trying to crush all other wine retailers? Well, in most businesses, isn’t the desired end result to be successful? And most of the time, success is looked upon in dollars and sense terms . . . So if they decide to open, my guess is that they have done their research and feel that there is a big enough wine maket there to be successful – be it at the expense of current stores, or, HOLD ON TO YOUR HAT, by increasing awareness of wines in general and bringing in new customers . . .

    Keep up the good fight – and keep trying to help the industry (and those even peripherally associated with it) honest!

    Cheers!

  9. Dear Juanote, thanks for stepping up to the plate. This is a good illustration that we all must be very careful what we write on the Internet, because people take it literally, and it’s there forever!

  10. Hi Steve.

    First, I find it interesting that you are commenting about Boozereviews. If you read our intro, you would see that the Bevmo rant was quite a departure from our modus operandi. We are a fun loving, often vulgar bunch. Not much in common with a blog like yours. We pride ourselves on our sophomoric rhetoric and no holds barred opinions.

    Second, I think your response to “Why you shouldn’t shop at Bevmo” reeks of digging for a story where there isn’t one. Please explain how/where author Juanote contends that low production equals high quality? He doesn’t. He contends that you won’t find producers like Carlisle, Rivers Marie, or Ketcham (wine); You won’t find Russian River Brewing Co or Alpine Beer Co (beer) there. I find those labels at my local shop, the shop often holds them for me out of respect for the support I give them. You don’t establish a relationship with your local Bevmo, I guess unless you happen to pal around with Wilfred Wong himself. Juanote would rather support his local place, knowing his dollars aren’t going to continue to fatten the already fat cat. His dollars support a family that shares the same community as he does. Come on philosophy guy, you know this line of rhetoric. Maybe some of the points weren’t sufficiently elaborated, but I would not say they are “just plain wrong” as you contend.

    Out of curiousity, how much wine do you buy at Bevmo? I would guess close to none, despite your ties there. Who wants to spend their money on a bottle that has been improperly stored? I don’t have the bank roll to waste money on cooked wines. The standing joke every time I went in Bevmo was that this would be the time I purchased the DRC Grands Échézeaux that had been there for 5+ years (2000 vintage) at room temp (room temp at my local La Mesa Bevmo is often 80+ degrees during August).

    You also falsely contend that Bevmo doesn’t try to “crush” its competition. Really? They are a big corporation. They didn’t become one by looking out for the little guy. A little Kant maybe? Some Categorical imperative? What happens if we all shop at Bevmo?

    Do not give your dollars to the Walmart of the booze world. Shop local, establish a relationship with your friendly wine/beer/booze shop owner- they will take care of you.

  11. Dear J. David, please let me reply to a couple of your points. First, it wasn’t clear to me at all that Juanote’s post was “fun-loving” or “not to be taken seriously,” as Juanote wrote me. it read like a very serious accusation, and I interpreted it accordingly. Secondly, as Larry Schaffer noted in his comment, BevMo does not market itself as a “rare wine” shop. It’s more like USA Today newspaper than the Huffington Post (and I enjoy reading both of them). Where I agree with you is on the issue of improper storage, but that’s hardly limited to BevMo. There are “boutique” wine shops in my neighborhood where I see expensive bottles of wine in the window getting hit with direct sunlight, and in the summertime, the temperature inside some of these stores can be baking. Anyhow, without meaning to pick a quarrel with you, I’d say you’re politically opposed to big chain stores, and I’m not. An argument can be made on both sides.

  12. Yet, you have not made your point other than opining that Juanote was wrong. What good is Bevmo? What is your argument? They do a really great job of trying to dress up a turd? Of buying up wine at a low price that is not selling and having their house wine guru give it an “objective” 90 points so they can make a huge profit?

    @ Schaffer: I enjoy your posts at erob, but come on. I know your ties to Fess Parker and therefore, Foley Wine Group. You happen to be employed by someone who sells a whole lot of wine through Bevmo. Aside from giving you shi* here, I would love to try your own Tercero line, as long as Foley doesn’t have an interest there too.

    @Courtney: Read our blog BEFORE you lambast us. Do you even know what our blog is about? Heimoff decided to draw us in with the big, serious boys when he took exception to an opinion about Bevmo. Lovely that you assume we are a bunch of schmucks. The four main contributors to Boozereviews hold college degrees and have professional careers, yet happen to have fun writing ridiculous posts about wine, beer, and booze in our spare time. Good job on taking yourself too seriously.

  13. J.

    Just to clarify – I DO work for Fess Parker Winery and Epiphany Cellars as the Asst. Winemaker. I am clear to note this wherever and whenever possible because not only am I quite proud of the products I work on, but these products are well received in the marketplace. I would not, nor will I, hide this fact.

    Second, Fess Parker is wholly owned by the Parker family, NOT be Bill Foley – he owns Firestone, now Sebastiani, and some others – and is well liked in the area.

    Third, just because I work for a specific winery, I’ve worked hard, and will continue to, NOT sell the Fess Parker products when I blog at ebob or anywhere else – I truly and honestly believe in OBJECTIVE blogging it at all possible . . .

    Now when it comes to tercero – I’m all about pimping my own stuff (-: This is a label that was started by my wife and I and we are the only owners. Period. Drop me a line if you’d like!

    Cheers!

  14. Morton Leslie says:

    When everyone calms down, I think the subject “Does low production equal high quality?” would a great one to revisit. Given that we all trade on the idea, huge operations pretending to be small, smaller operations exaggerating their smallness and quaintness, we are all so “hands on”, it’s no wonder that most of the wine media and most consumers have a bias against “big”.

    I have mixed feelings about the myth. B.S. bothers me and this is one place where the B.S. has really piled up. On the other hand, I find delicious bottles of wine at great prices made by talented winemakers who have wonderful vineyards and first class facilities who would command much higher prices were it not for the idea of their wineries “size”.

  15. Morton, I agree. I could name names of wineries who make wonderful, rewarding wines at high production levels. And what is a “high” production level anyway? Lafite, Latour all make tens of thousands of cases annually of the main wine, if I’m not mistaken.

  16. Steve, I do feel I need to make a couple of points here:

    1.
    The purpose and subject of my blog post at boozereviews.net was not whether or not Gary Farrell makes good Pinot. You’ve taken me entirely out of context. It was also not about whether Gary Farrell is a big or small winery. I used the reference to GF wine to illustrate a very simple fact: I had previously thought the winery was still a small boutique operation, so when I saw the wine at BevMo I was pleasantly surprised, thinking maybe they were sourcing some harder-to-find product like the knowledgeable owner of a small bottle shop might. As you know, the winery is now part of a larger unit– which makes it less surprising that BevMo carries the brand. That’s all. My post was a short one and probably didn’t do a good enough job of making that point as obvious as it needed to be. But I do not assume that smaller=better; if you read on here, you will see that. Invoking Gary Farrell was an aside in a larger story about…

    2.
    The benefits of supporting locally-owned businesses, when it pertains to the buying of alcohol. Period. You make the statement that BevMo is a local business if it opens in your hometown. That is the only flat-out wrong statement in both our posts. Yes, a chain store will create jobs in your town– minimum wage jobs or close. The real money goes back to the corporate office. Do your homework before you accuse me of not doing mine: out of every $100 spent at a locally-owned business, $45 stays in the community. That same $100 spent in a chain store leaves $13 circulating in the community (2002 Austin study by Civic Economics). Illustrating this sentiment was the purpose of my original post.

    3.
    For the record– despite the fact that it’s irrelevant in the context of my original post– I absolutely love GF’s wines. I visited the winery recently and purchased a fair quantity of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Excellent stuff. I do not pretend that small production = high quality or that large production = low quality. I only maintain that one has a better chance of finding rare items (and having fun doing it) when able to communicate directly with an involved shop owner, or when purchasing direct from the maker (when possible).

    4.
    Depsite all of this, I’ve removed my original post because it’s really not in the spirit of my website. It’s too negative. You’re attacking a guy who has a site dedicated to (completely absurd) reviews, but has promised in several posts not to write another negative review unless the product is just a blatant rip-off: an “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” kind of review site. When it comes to wine (I don’t do beer reviews there), I only review wines that I find interesting and can say positive (if crude and altogether useless) things about. Wrap your brain around that for a second. If you’d have read any of the content on my site before reacting to that one post, you’d have noticed it’s a for-fun, very ridiculous project. It’s not worth your time or your interest, really. Trust me, I’ve done the research.

    5.
    I hope you can see the humor in all of this. I think it’s an interesting and healthy discussion. This is what blogs are all about– open commentary. We likely have differences of opinion on the matter of BevMo, but those differences are bound together by a common love: fine wine.

  17. The West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast is not addressing the subject at hand. Morton throws him a bone by continuing to push the “Does low production equal high quality?” question. Sorry Mort, that was not the issue. What good is Bevmo? How many millions of dollars do they contribute to your magazine? You called us out, now why don’t you respond?

  18. Dear J. David, with all due respect, you are ranting. BevMo contributes nothing to my magazine so far as I know. For the entire duration of my career, I have envisioned myself as on the side of “the little guy,” i.e., not the rich collector but the average wine lover who, like me, does not have a lot of money and cannot afford to buy expensive bottles. If you think that everything in BevMo is “crap,” you are simply wrong.

  19. I think this blog has moved beyond the rational into the irrational. J. David, have you read Steve’s blogs in the past? If so, I think you’ll see that he’s not afraid to say things that others would find ‘controversial’ or ‘outside the box’.

    But that said, he does not do it in a confrontational way as you appear to be doing at this time. You are certainly free to have your opinions, but perhaps you should reread what you plan on writing before you press the ‘send’ key to make sure they will not be taken in an incorrect manner.

    As far as ‘what good is BevMo’, I guess I’ll go back to another question that was asked recently – what good is 2 buck chuck? My answer (and many others . . .) – an increased awareness of wine / a breaking down of the ‘wine is too expensive’ concept and increasing total wine purchasing.

    BevMo serves a purpose by bringing in people who would not normally try wine to try wine. They also offer many many different beers in house, party supplies, glasses . . . lots of different stuff. Yes, they are an easy target. Yes, they are not for everyone – and obviously not for you.

    Carry on . . . but let’s try to be a little more cordial if at all possible.

    Cheers!

  20. Steve, I am ranting. However I think it is fair that you answer to the questions raised in the context of Juanote’s post. Namely, what benefits does shopping/supporting Bevmo over the locally owned and operated place have? I have not said that everything IN Bevmo is crap. You chose to take the opposing viewpoint without providing evidence that refuted Juanote’s position.

    I am not trying to hound you here. Simply asking that you respond. Remember “we all must be very careful what we write on the Internet, because people take it literally, and it’s there forever!”

    My intent is not to disrespect you or your blog in any way. I respect you for things you have done in the industry, specifically your letter to Laube about TCA. I have even thumbed through your RRV book.

    Respectfully, J. David

  21. J. David, I don’t know how to be any clearer. BevMo and similar large liquor stores provide customers with shopping convenience, a large selection of merchandise, and reasonable prices — as well as wine accessories, food, etc.

  22. Cordiality would be prudent if it was being exercised by all parties.

    Steve, you stepped on a little guy (boozereviews) as a point of departure to make points that fit your own agenda but did not represent the content of the original post on boozereviews.

    Funny, then, that you comment in your post, “My problem with the post is that their reasons for opposing BevMo are illogical and/or just plain wrong.”

    Actually, it’s not funny. You don’t once provide evidence of ill logic or fallacy from the original post. Instead, you take quotes out of context from the original post and then use them to provide evidence for claims that Juanote never made.

    So if you don’t want people “ranting” (i.e. speaking up when they’ve been stepped on) on your site, then don’t (wrongfully) throw people under the bus and then proceed to do the very thing that you accused them of.

    Perhaps you should take your own advice: “This is a good illustration that we all must be very careful what we write on the Internet, because people take it literally, and it’s there forever!”

  23. BevMo is definitely not the enemy. I am in the wine business and have always found BevMo corporate to be very willing to taste and authorize smaller production wines ( depends on your definition of small production), especially imports.
    BevMo also has a very fair profit margin compared to some other retailers out there, which shall remain nameless here.

    Does appear that some comments from the original post on Booze reviews were taken out of context though.

  24. Amy, I’d like for you to tell me what comments from the original post I took out of context? I don’t think I did, but maybe I’m blind.

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