The best of times, calls for a toast. So, Napa Valley, raises a glass to the big box. Kicking it up a notch. There’s a new sommelier in the house, and you’ll never guess who.
What a job Bob Paulinski has. This master of wine hunts the globe for good stuff. Who’s he buying wine for? Sam’s Club.
“I actually wrote a letter to the CEO of Sam’s Club and I said I thought I could bring something to the program,” said Paulinski. "A few weeks later, I had the job."
That was three years ago. Sam’s Club is the $40 billion dollar division of Wal-Mart that requires a membership and runs on a different business model, including luxury values. Wine here is usually 20 to 30 percent below retail. But, when Paulinski made his first wine buying trip a few years ago to Napa, he raised a few eyebrows.
Paulinski sold the idea that people who never go into wine shops or wineries would be willing to drop $100 on a bottle in a big retailer. Wine consumption is up, thanks in part to the movies.
“It’s a growing part of the entire wine industry and those who are really forward thinkers in that regard wanna be on the cutting edge of that trend,” said Paulinski. "Are there still some who won’t open the door? Of course."
One winery that’s always had its door open to him is Domaine Drouhin in Oregon. Nestled in the Willammette Valley with a view of Mt. Hood, known for its Pinot Noir, but experimenting with Chardonnay.
Drouhin’s gone from selling Sam’s Club a couple dozen cases to a couple hundred a year.
Sam’s Club tries to differentiate itself from Costco, which has had great success with wine. For example, no two Sam’s Clubs have the same selection. Also helping the business, a global grape glut and increased competition that has wineries looking for every available avenue to reach consumers.
Perhaps the idea just needed to age a while.