“....I did wine… in Wilmington! Yay! If only they (DE) could get wine in the grocery store.”
Her comment got me thinking. Would it really be a good thing if wine were available in grocery stores in Delaware? Or more precisely, is it a good thing for wine to be available in grocery stores in general? I’m not thinking of the small, gourmet oriented shops that like to play things down by putting “grocery” in their name. I’m talking about the big guys: Acme, Giant, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, Food Lion and their equivalents throughout the rest of the country and the world. And yes, I’m also thinking of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, two big players that market themselves as small guys that care.
My real point is this: to what extent are people willing to sacrifice quality for the sake of convenience? I’m all for being able to walk into the super market, grab a cart and slalom the aisles for a quart of motor oil, some laundry detergent, a couple of pounds of dried pasta and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. When it comes to meat, fruit, vegetables and cheese however, I’ve become increasingly unwilling, over the years, to settle for what’s available at the grocery store. Produce is worth going the extra mile: to the local farmers markets for seasonal veggies and fruit, to a quality butcher or fishmonger for meat and seafood, to great shops like Downtown Cheese, Murray’s or Talula’s Table to satisfy a cheese craving.
I look at wine in the same way. At its best, wine is a natural, living thing. It’s an agricultural product. It’s produce. And I don’t want to buy my produce from a shop that treats it like just another SKU on the shelf. I want it to come from a purveyor who knows and cares about what they’re selling. That’s just not going to happen at the local Safeway. Nor is it going to happen at the grocers and discounters like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Costco that have developed some reputation for their wine selections. Even if there’s a certified “wine expert” in the home office somewhere, their purchasing decisions will still be driven by cost-per-unit, brand recognition or “Can I put a 92-point shelf talker on it?” decisions. And even in a world where a new wine blog pops up every day, where wine courses are offered at every community center and where Robert Parker has become a household name, it’ll be a long time before we can expect to see a sommelier working the floor at every grocery store.
So, support your local, independent wine shop. Better yet, find a few shops that have good selections, care about what they sell and how they choose it, and employ knowledgeable and helpful staff. Then go out of your way to support them. It’ll be worth the inconvenience.