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As I write this, snow is falling and I'm sipping on a Duckhorn 2007 Merlot - and believe me, when I tell you, it was worth holding onto it. I always find it amazing how shocked some people are when you tell them about old wine - some don't have the patience, the budget or the knowledge to hold wine. For those interested, it's not about budget, but it is about patience, and it's about trial and error; you can buy inexpensive wine, some of it ages quite well. My advice is to start when you are young - as you get older, you're just running out of time to experience them, unless you buy them pre-aged.
That all is the preamble to this week's column, I'd like to call it an article, but it is a story, a story of unbelievable incompetence. Maybe you have one of your own – feel free to share it with me, if it strikes your fancy.
As for what else follows is this week's newsletter: there are the usual wine reviews (it's all Chardonnay this month), plus video and podcast links and all the other good stuff you've come to expect.
Thanks for reading.
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Musings from a Wine Soaked Mind ...
An Eye-Popping Story of Incompetence
Enough time has passed that I feel I can relay this incident that happened to me at my local LCBO. I don't like to call people names, so I won’t; but I really find it unbelievably disheartening how some of the training is carried out at the LCBO; and how poorly managed some of the folks stocking the shelves and manning the cash registers are - and that goes for the managers as well, let’s dive into my story:
On a Tuesday afternoon, I had placed an order to pick up and a bottle to return. Not having returned anything in the past 2 years, due to the pandemic, I walked in a little confused, bottle in hand, and went to where I usually would go: the customer service counter, and waited. Finally, somebody noticed me and told me I should come down to her cash register, which I did. Apologizing for not knowing the new procedures.
When I got to the cash register, I told her the two things I needed and put my bottle on the counter. She took the bottle from me, a 2007 Masi Campofiorin, I told her it was “defective” (corked) ... She then looked at the label, walked over to the shelf, back to the bottle, then back at the shelf. She came back and told me she could not return the bottle because it was a 2007 vintage and the current vintage was a 2018. I again informed her that the bottle was “defective”, corked, and that means that the moment I bought it, it was bad because cork taint does not get better with age; so whether I drank it 2 minutes or 10 years after I bought it, it was still bad. I then informed her about the LCBO’s policy on faulted wines (which has been in place since forever, that I can recall): defective bottles are to be returned*. At this point she said she would need to get the manager involved.
Great, I thought, we’ll finally be able to get to the bottom of this problem… I was wrong.
The manager came out of his office a minute or so later, a chip already on his shoulder – how dare I question his policy, or his staff. He then informed me of the policy that the sales clerk had already shared with me: it had to be the current vintage only, not an older vintage. I asked him when the policy had changed; he said it had been in place for years.
He then asked incredulously, “You held this bottle for 11 years?”
I said, "I'm a wine collector, I collect wine, and hold it to drink later, that's what wine collectors do." He scoffed at my answer.
I told him about another bottle I returned a few years ago, a 2003 Quintarelli Amarone that was corked; to his very store. I had been issued a full refund, much to my surprise, of $500 (the cost of the bottle at the time). He looked at me askance and said flat out ‘that never happened’. I said ‘we can phone my wife right now if you like’; she too had been surprised I got a refund, in cash to boot. But, after 10-15 minutes on the phone the return was authorized by head office. Once again, he told me ‘it never happened’. Basically, he was calling me a liar. I told him he should call his head office to get some direction on this policy. He flat out refused, telling me he knew LCBO policy.
Now, I admit fully that this guy was getting under my skin. I knew I was right, and he was wrong - but his flat-out refusal, and being called a liar was more than I could handle that day. I grabbed my bottle back, and in a moment of annoyance and frustration said, ‘It's too bad I can't buy wine from somewhere else, because this place is f*****!".
I then told the original cashier that I also needed to pick up the wine I had ordered at the customer service desk. The manager told her he would take care of this and followed me on the other side of the cash registers.
It was on this walk over to customer service that I realized I should not have cursed. I arrived at the customer service area around the same time the manager did. He asked which one was mine. I pointed to a box with my name on it. He grabbed it out and put it on the counter; but before I could admit to my cursed wrongdoing, he said to me: "You ever curse at me or my staff again. I will refuse to serve you at this store." He used his index finger to poke repeatedly on the box of wine he had put on the counter in front of me. I immediately gave my apology for cursing and admitted I was out of line. He told me, ‘It's too late for an apology.’
I was now not only shocked by this manager's ignorance, but his arrogance as well. I said ‘What do you mean it's too late for an apology, it's never too late for an apology. The incident just happened 30 seconds ago, and I am apologizing now.’ The manager walked off in a huff. I once again apologized for cursing, this time louder and to his receding back, he waved his hand in the air as if to dismiss me.
Shaking and angry I emerge from the LCBO location - Even with my admitted bad behaviour I still had more to say to the manager. I didn’t want to let it drop so I called Hello LCBO, the customer service department for the LCBO, and spoke with a rep who knew the policy on corked wine. I recounted the above story in great detail. She then put me on hold for what felt like an hour, it was probably just a few minutes. When she returned she told me that I needed to wait another five minutes or so because she needed to contact the store to facilitate the return. After a long wait on hold I ended up with a commitment from her that my complaint would be escalated; but I told her I did not expect anything to happen.
I waited two days to hear back from the LCBO, and as expected, nothing progressed. I was impatient, so I took my bottle to a different LCBO location further up the highway - who happily exchanged the bottle - No Questions Asked!
My questions from this incident are twofold:
1) How does a manager not know LCBO return policies on defective bottles of wine?
2) Why was he so shocked that I had held a bottle of wine for 11 years?
3) Why was he unwilling to look up the policy that I quickly found with a google search while writing this article?
I eventually got my day in court. A week later, while driving, I got a call from an LCBO district manager. He informed me that he had heard about the incident and asked me again to recount it for him. I did. He said I was 100% correct and that he was very sorry for my experience. He then asked what he could do to make it better.
“I would like an apology from that manager,”
There was a pause on the line - “That will never happen” - (or something like that)
He then promised me that this type of error will never happen again. I wish I could believe him. This is not the first time this store has refused a corked bottle.
What I really find baffling is that I did not ask for money, a gift card, free wine, or anything else that would cost the LCBO money. All I wanted was an apology, and I got one, from the district manager; the store manager was saved from having to offer up one, even though he was in the wrong. There are times I walk back into that store in the hopes of seeing that manager - but he never seems to be there, or else maybe he’s locked in his office. I am sure managers are paid handsomely; I remember what I got paid as a part-time LCBO employee over twenty years ago, and I believe I was overpaid for what I did. I think an apology is a small price to pay, especially when you are wrong.
Click on any wine name to see the full review:
Cave Spring 2019 Chardonnay, Estate ... (****+)
De Simone Vineyards 2019 Chardonnay ... (****)
Lighthall Vineyards 2019 Chardonnay ... (****+)
Malivoire 2020 Chardonnay, Mottiar Vineyard ... (****)
Rosehall Run 2019 Chardonnay, JCR Vineyard (Re-taste) ... (****+)
The Non-Ontario Selection ...
Cavino 2021 Atelier Red ... (****) - Greece
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