Who Is the Most Powerful Person in Wine?

When it comes to having the most clout, who are your candidates in the business?
Nov 3, 2011

I have a few thoughts on who wine's king of the hill is, and one clue about my choice as you consider yours: She is not a he.

When he was alive, Ernest Gallo was certainly king of the hill, heading up the world's largest wine company. Big distribution companies flex muscles in many states.

Robert Mondavi, at the height of his career, was the most influential, at least in this country.

For a long time, Ab Simon, when he ran Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., presided over the largest importer of classified-growth Bordeaux and many of France's and Europe's finest properties.

No, the person I'm thinking of is a petite young woman who heads up one of wine's biggest sellers. Annette Alvarez-Peters heads up Costco Wholesale Corp.'s alcohol sales, the nation's largest retailer of said products. Sales totaled $2.3 billion last year, and about half that is from wine.

Most wine lovers are keenly aware of Costco's approach to wine. Most of the stores are well-stocked with marquee names and high-quality wines. Markups are 15 percent above wholesale. Selection ranges from very good to astonishing at times. One thing the company does is gear its wine sales to its local clientele, including local wines that you might only find in a traditional wine shop. Each store's buyer is charged with mixing up the products so customers find new discoveries.

Alvarez-Peters, in an interview with Wine Spectator sister publication Market Watch, in which she is named retailer of the year, cites examples. The Santa Maria store features more Santa Barbara wines, while the Paso Robles store promotes wines from that area. Costco even has its own line of regional wines under the Kirkland Signature label. A few years ago Costco was the largest importer of classified-growth Bordeaux.

Sometimes what you find in different stores can be startling. This past month readers forwarded two links to rarities being sold at Costcos in different parts of the country. One showed a photo of a three pack of 2007 Screaming Eagle at a Redwood City, Calif., Costco, for $1,500 a bottle. Another showed a magnum of 2000 Pétrus for sale in Texas for $11,699.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about which person or people in the wine world have the most power or influence today. Alvarez-Peters is my candidate.

 

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