Wide aisles, plenty of choices

I was prepared to hear about the massive inventory of wine, beer and spirits at the new Total Wine and More retail outlet in the Paddock Shops. During a press tour on Tuesday, district manager Matt Cardwell walked the group through 25,000 square feet that is, in some ways, like a lot of other liquor outlets in the market.

Yes, plenty of bourbon to choose from
Yes, plenty of bourbon to choose from

But then Cardwell began to explain the training process for employees, how they are rewarded for various certifications, go on company-sponsored educational trips to the places where wine and spirits are made, and how the store emphasizes education through events held at its classroom in the back of the store. A thick magazine, free to anyone, has pages and pages detailing the origin of wines from all over the world.

It became obvious that this 140-store chain has ingrained a philosophy that it really wants its customers to know what they’re drinking. Cardwell emphasized that the store’s 50 employees are highly trained and customer focused. So if you want to find someone to discuss the subtle differences in a couple of Chardonnays, you’ll find it easy to engage here.

The numbers in inventory are impressive — 8,000 wines, 3,000 spirits and 2,500 beers — including some that are hard-to-find (bourbon writers in the group lingered in the bourbon aisle, marveling at some harder-to-find brands) and some that are pricey ($3,799 for a Chateau Petrus Pomerol). And then there’s the “value” aisle, featuring the store’s own $3 bottle of wine.

You could find Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Small Batch for $89, a price well below the $129 you’ll see at most stores — that is until all four bottles were gone by 6:15 p.m. last night during a VIP opening. A Coppola Zinfandel that we’ve seen priced as high as $14 was available here for $8. An extensive web site allows visitors to see and price all the inventory online.

amazing selection of bourbons
an in-store tasting station

But you won’t be shopping here just for price — knowledge is the key commodity being marketed. Yes, there are some unique features, including a humidor (Cardwell said Total Wine sells more cigars than any retailer), a growler station for draft beer, an extensive refrigerated section and, of course, the classroom, where a regular schedule of tastings is offered for the general public and private groups.

The store is located in the former Earth Fare spot in the Paddock Shops. That means entering and exiting takes a bit more time than a roadside independent local liquor store. But Cardwell said the company thinks the location in a shopping center is ideal for its business model.

Its sales volume backs him up. Total Wine and More is a privately held company that has grown to $2.1 billion in annual revenue in its 25-year existence.

Photos by Steve Coomes