Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sampling Wine at Sam's Club?

  I know it's been a long time since I've updated this blog. Very little in the way of wine has happened since the holidays. Mostly, I've been trying to figure out how to get rid of the 6 pounds that found their way to my gut thanks to all the Bitch Creek I've been downing in place of wine. No solution so far, as Suzy Q market still has a few cases of that frothy goodness left, and I am not quite broke yet. It's the best beer bargain on the planet. But I digress.

  WalMart is the Devil. Satan incarnate. Killer of local businesses and abuser of employees world wide. We all know that, yet we shop there anyhow. Go figure. Cheap is cheap. Principles be damned when the price is right. I stumbled into a gig working for a nationwide product promotion outfit and was offered the chance to sample some wines at the Prescott Valley Sam's Club. What the heck? Twenty bucks an hour plus mileage there and back. A big nationwide day before the Stupor Bowl promotion. First place winner in bottle sales for each state gets a hundred dollar Sam's Club gift card. Who knew they sampled wine at warehouse stores? Curiosity got the better of me and so I said yes.

In order to work for this outfit, I had to complete the Arizona Dept. of Liquor License and Control's alcohol server's certification. The company paid the 35 dollar fee, and I took the course online. It took half an hour and included such thrilling topics as how to recognize a drunk person, how to spot a fake I.D., how to cut someone off who's had too much, and how to handle an aggressive drunk. (call the cops, duh). The questions were multiple choice and tough. Here's an actual example which I am not making up:

You have refused service to a customer who has clearly had too much to drink. The customer becomes aggressive and argumentative. Your best response in this situation is:
A. Threaten the customer with a club or other scary weapon.
B. Acquiesce and give the customer another drink strong enough to make him pass out and be harmless.
C. Agree to serve the customer but slip him club soda with lemon instead of alcohol.
D. Notify management for help and then call law enforcement without confronting the customer.

It reminded me of the military test I saw during the Viet Nam war that had a picture of a flower, a cow, a hammer and asked "Which picture best illustrates a tool?"

Anyway, I was somehow able to pass with flying colors and now have a cool certificate. I also have one for the state of Texas, because the company initially sent me the wrong log in information and NOWHERE in the lessons and text did the word 'Texas' appear until I'd passed and had my certification.  For the record, Texas' course is a whole lot easier than Arizona's. Now I can bartend in private dry-county clubs in the Texas hill country. I feel ever so much more financially secure. When things get real bad here, "There's always Texas".

Next came a half hour conference call with the company to "train" me in how to contact the manager at Sam's club and arrange for set up of my sampling table. It also covered how to pour a half ounce sample and dire warnings about leaving open bottles unattended, and strict instructions on how to dispose of unused product at the end of the shift. No, I didn't get to take the half consumed bottles with me. They had to be poured down a drain with the manager on duty watching and I had to do it, for some reason. What they didn't cover is what to do if you arrive at your Sam's Club and NOBODY knows you're supposed to be there.

Me: "Hi Ms. Manager Person, I'm here for the Prestige-Trincheros Nationwide SuperBowl Wine Demo"

Ms. Manager Person: "The what?"

Me: "The Prestige-Trincheros Nationwide SuperBowl Wine Demo, it's going on at Sam's Clubs across this land of ours. They told me you'd know all about it."

Ms. Manager Person: "Huh. So you want us to set up a table or something?"

Me: "That'd be great, or just tell me where the tables are and I'll do it."

Ms. Manager Person: "That's OK, I'll get Eddie to do it, hang on a few minutes."

I hung on for half an hour until Eddie, who turned out to be a really funny and helpful guy could be found and got me set up. Thank goodness for the Eddies who work at Sam's Club, the managers are clueless. In this day and age, this little episode sure begs the security question. The kit bag I was lugging into that store coulda been loaded with ten or twenty pounds of plastique or a Glock with a few 30 round clips and nobody would have known the difference. Kinda scary.

The Prescott Valley Sam's is really nice. Spotlessly clean and has a great product selection and, apparently, almost no customers. We're used to going to Costco there, and on a typical Saturday it's packed. I figured this Sam's would be too, what with it being the day before High Holy Day. I fully expected to see hordes buying giant bags of fozen cocktail weenies, pizza bites, huge plastic barrels of "cheese" puffs and other savory delights for the big day parties. They weren't there. The majority of those who were there apparently go to Sam's for lunch. There are people handing out samples on almost every aisle. Shrimp cocktail with BIG shrimp, Fettucine Alfredo, beautiful pizza, all sorts of tasty looking stuff. I lost count of the number of people I saw pushing around empty carts that had the kid seat part folded out so it could hold a veritable smorgasboard of samples. Munching happily, they didn't appear to be actually buying anything. I commented to the guy handing out the shrimp that it looked to me like a lot of people just show up for the free food. He said "yup, 40 bucks a year and you can eat lunch here every day free." Apparently, nobody cares. Who knew?

The wines I poured were largely forgettable. A pretty good German Reisling in a cutesy trick bottle that has a 3D label, a puckeringly dry Italian sparkling Prosecco, which you'll definitely want to have on hand if you follow Giada Dilaurentis' cleavage recipes on Food Network, and two reds. One, Barrel Box Cabernet, I can't even find a link for online, and the last and only decent one was The Show Malbec; an Argentine import. We've had this one before as well as The Show Cabernet, and they are both quite tasty. The Malbec has really heavy tannins and oak and desperately needs to breathe in order to open up and mellow out. Out of the bottle there's only one word for it; bitter. Given a little air, it's great. I had been given strict instructions NOT to pre-pour samples for security reasons. Wouldn't want some wino or pimply teenager stealing a teaspoon of wine and getting all cranked up. After watching customers screw their faces up into knots and hearing "boy is that stuff BITTER" about a dozen times, I threw the pre-pour rule out the window and let The Show air out a bit. Afterwards, I sold 5 bottles of it. There are some wines that really do need some elbow room.

Altogether, my experience sampling cheap wine at Sam's was interesting and fun, albeit a bit demeaning. Will I do it again? Sure. Easy money is easy money.

On the way back home, I decided on a whim to stop in at Casey's Corner, now renamed "Desert Market" for some beer. Mike Anderson, the owner was there just concluding his Saturday wine and beer sampling. I told him what I'd been doing and we got to talking and it turned out he's going to hire me to do his tastings periodically. I'll also be doing a custom private sampling for a wedding in April. Some horsey couple is getting married at the Dancing Apache Ranch and then bringing their entire guest list to Desert Market for a private tasting. I get to pour. That's another story though, and I'll report on it later. Salud!


John Parsons said...

It's worth the long wait between blog posts. Why? Well, this blog author has a unique "way with words" that one simply can't find any place else in cyberspace...or in print, for that matter. We love his writing: Always have, always will, so I guess it's like waiting for wine to age...we just have to be patient. Thanks Goatherder, "ya dun good" once again. Keep on swingin' and swillin' and slingin'. We can hardly wait for your next installment.
Cheers, jm

Marti Spudboater said...

Goatherder, I can see that there is clearly an opportunity here in Idaho I've been missing, and that would be getting licensed as an alcohol server. I wonder if all states have an online course? By the way, what was the correct answer to the multiple choice question? I'm guessing D, though that would clearly be my last choice. I rather liked C. I've also seen B. employed on some dumber than dumb and then a cab called to take them home.

I'll look for the Show Malbec at our look food Co-op and makes sure I let it breathe.

If you're interested in security issues, go to my blog and check out my post from August or September about flying from Zagreb to Split and the airport security.

Cheers, Marti