Follow-Up File: Albertsons gets the sweet success of tastes

Names and Jobs: Marty Compston, Atascadero store director; Linda Cooks, Paso Robles liquor supervisor; Nic Doyle, Morro Bay liquor supervisor

Business: Albertsons

What they said then: In June 2009, The Tribune’s Biz Buzz reported that the Atascadero Albertsons store would begin holding monthly wine tastings.

The chain’s Paso Robles store started those three years before, inviting customers to pay a couple of dollars for three half-ounce tastes.

“It’s not just tasting,” said Linda Cooks, the Paso Robles store’s liquor supervisor who organizes the events there. “It’s more of an educational process here.”

What they say now: The Atascadero tastings have become a near-weekly event, said store director Marty Compston. They’re held most Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m.

“It depends on how busy the wineries are,” Compston said. “We do them at least twice a month.”

The Albertsons in Morro Bay also began selling tastes in October. There the events are held more frequently.

Liquor supervisor Nic Doyle oversees Morro Bay’s in-store wine tastings most Friday and Saturday afternoons from 2:30 to 5:30. Before major holidays, he schedules them other days of the week as well.

“I’ve got regulars who come in weekly,” Doyle said. “It’s a great location for me to do the wine tastings.”

In Paso Robles, Cooks holds the events three times a week, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

To comply with California Alcoholic Beverage Control regulations, the stores must charge customers to sample the local vintages. Fees range from $1 for a single taste to $3 for several.

In Atascadero, Compston said, the proceeds are donated to the North County Women’s Shelter and Resource Center.Tastings are generally led by a winemaker or another representative of the featured producer.

In addition to learning more than they could from a label, customers can try unfamiliar wines they might not otherwise take a chance on. For example, those who typically drink white wine may discover a red they enjoy.

“Price might scare people off,” Compston added. “If they get a chance to taste a variety they might not have tasted, they might like it.”

Recently, the Atascadero store featured Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards, which poured some wines blending juice from apples and grapes.

“Some customers wouldn’t have touched it if they saw it for sale on the shelves,” said Compston.

While many in the wine industry have seen a drop in sales for higher-priced categories, that hasn’t been true at these stores, Albertsons employees said.

Only Doyle reported a slight decrease in sales of bottles priced over $60, though he added that 2010 sales are about even with 2009.

“Even in trying times, people still like what they like when it comes to wine, I guess,” said Compston. “Every category is still going strong.”