Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Savvy Marketing Ploy Leads to Sweet Costco Wine Score

I recently found myself diverted from my typical Oregon wine tasting excursions to honor my mother-in-law who retired after 36 years of teaching high school English. We were having a big party for her and made a special trip to the Kennewick, Washington Costco to pick up some cheesecakes (as if you could just go to Costco for one thing). Since we had to pass through the wine section to get to the bakery, my eyes were browsing all the lovely local offerings along the way, with no intention of buying a thing. As I strolled past a certain bin, however, my eyes became locked… I was mesmerized by what I was seeing. Were all those bottles really hand signed? It was as if they were a hand written invitation, sent directly to me. I read all the different ways the winemaker had signed the bottles, “Cheers, Salut, Prost, Skal… ” and I knew I would be buying one. Fortunately, my mom-in-law saw my interest (or the puddle of drool pooling at the side of my mouth) and she bought it for me. So, cheers to you Marcie, both for your heartfelt dedication to your students and for supporting me as a writer/blogger/person. Congratulations, and I truly hope retirement rocks!!

The wine that caught my eye like a handsome man across the room at a boring party was a 2008 Tamarack Cellars Chardonnay; I was familiar with Tamarack Cellar's wine as they make some killer reds. I liked the name (or its similarity with my own anyway). The price point was extremely attractive—at $15, if it was good, it would be an affordable luxury. But, I have to tell you, what really sold me on that bottle was the personal touch—the autograph. I try to be a savvy consumer and not fall for clever gimmicks. Animals, sexy women and funny names don’t typically suck me in, but a signed bottle, well that’s obviously a whole other story. What a cool conversation piece.

Tamarack Cellars, founded in 1998 by Ron and Jamie Coleman, is located in Walla Walla Washington, though they source their fruit from premium vineyard sites located within several different Washington AVAs (American Viticultural Area). The winery must be a site, as it’s housed in a restored WWII fire station and barracks at the Walla Walla Airport Complex, which I sincerely hope to visit when I go to the Wine Bloggers Conference at the end of this month (woohoo!).

I admit to some trepidation purchasing this wine; I was afraid I was being suckered in by a silly signature that added a perceived value. That signature (which was actually that of the Assistant Winemaker—as opposed to the Head Winemaker and founder—so, feeling ever so slightly duped) was enough to change my expectation of that wine, after all, Danny Gordon put his name on it—it had to be good. I worked through my fear, brought the wine home, chilled that bad boy down and poured up a glass that didn’t make me imagine Mr. T saying he pitied the fool who fell sucker to a dumb marketing ploy. Until we sip again…



  1. Our local Costco (Wilsonville) regularly has winemakers or winery reps greeting and signing bottles. The 'leftover' signed bottles are added to the racks, looking unloved I always think.
    By the way, I have enjoyed Tamarack since visiting their airport tasting room years ago. Great value wine, and doesn't disappoint.

  2. Hi Pamela, Thanks for your comment and shedding light on the subject. I really thought it was done back at the winery, but I'm sure it's as you described (naive little me, I didn't even think of that). And those bottles didn't look unloved, in fact, quite the opposite. They screamed "Take me home!!!"

  3. while I haven't been in a costco in years ( I can't seem to leave there without spending at least 3-400 bucks every single time )... I have often been pleasantly surprised by their selection of 'odds and ends' in the wine dept.

    One such bargain I found was a 'clearance' of 1999 cakebread cabernet... for the unheard of price of $28/bottle.

    I of course snapped up all 5 of them and was a very happy drinker.

    This was when we first moved to Oregon in 2002, and I'm assuming that their wine buyers/sellers have become more knowledgable and sophisticated in that time, but in every one of my visits afterward, there were always a few bargains to be had.

    cheers.... sorry I missed you this weekend. raincheck party soon.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Todd. I too try to avoid Costco whenever possible, but damn if those few bargains don't always getcha! Looking forward to hanging out soon!!

  5. My wife is not allowed to go to Costco without me. When I go, I put on blinders and take a specific list containing ONLY the items I need. I add a shock color to buzz me when I divert to the TV, Electronic, or home decorations sections...the wine section can be enticing...but I wonder what kind of damage those bright lights do to some of the wine that sits out for months...


  6. Hi Pamela! I came across your blog a few weeks ago and really enjoy it! What a find at Costco! I often find I do the same...scan the wine isles to see what is being sold without an intention of buying. A signed bottle, however, is a great find and never expected at Costco. That personal touch really does justify a $15 price tag. even at $20 it would be a great deal. Cheers!

  7. I would so totally buy a bottle that *you* signed.
    You ARE famous, right?

  8. Josh, good point about the lights, though I delude myself with the assumption that their product is priced to move and that with the traffic the store sees, the wine can't spend too long on the shelf.

    Oh, and bring the shock collar to Walla Walla, would ya! ;)

    Hi Charlotte - glad to know there are others who appreciate that personal touch!

    Rachel, Thanks sweety!! I don't foresee bottle signing in my future, but I wouldn't rule out the book!! As for famous? You are swimming in infamy compared to me!

  9. Yeah, Costco can move some wine...biggest wine retailer in the world, I believe (or at least the U.S.). Those lights probably don't do much.

    I can't say an autograph draws my attention (unless it is Mr. T), but $15 does, especially if that wine out-punts its coverage.

  10. Joe, you're so right, autographed by Mr. T would have been so much cooler and probably would have saved it from the dark depths of my recycling bin!

  11. Recycling bin?!

    [somewhere, an Assistant Winemaker is weeping]