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           Sydney Time



   Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009






I am too Busy to Serve You (9 January)


On Saturday night I opened up a bottle of Seppelt 2002 Original Sparkling Shiraz and it definitely wasn't right; it seemed to be mildly corked. The bouquet was flatter than expected, and the flavour was slightly stripped. I opened a second bottle and it was even worse. As this is my summertime quaffer, I know the wine well. I didn't have any more cold bottles, so it I opened up something else instead. The bottles were sealed and put back in the fridge. I left a small sample of each of the two bottles in glasses and after they'd been opened for a while, the cork taint, even in the mildly tainted bottle, became more obvious.

Late on Monday afternoon I went into
BWS at Moss Vale to return the wine and get them replaced. When I told the person who served me the wine were corked, she obviously had no idea what I was talking about and I explained that the wine was off and they normally just replaced the bottles. The staff member told me that she was new and didn't know the procedure, and I would have to come back the next day, or she would get the manager to ring me. I left my card (the TORBWine one) and expected a phone call sometime during the morning.

I must admit, I was not exactly happy that the wine had not been replaced on the spot, which is the normal procedure. I was going past the shop the next morning at about 10.45 and had not received a phone call, so I decide to call in. When I got out of my car in the car park, a staff member walked out with a forklift to unload some pallets of beer. She acknowledge my presence and said, “I know what it is about and be with you in a minute.” (The person who had served me the previous evening had pointed me out when I drove into the car park.)

I wandered around the store looking at the wines, and wandered, and wandered. The manager came back in wheeling a full load on the forklift, took it out the back, and unloaded it. I waited some more. She then took the forklift out for another load and repeated the process, only this time when she came back in, after I had been waiting for 11 minutes, she told the person who had served me the previous evening to replace the two bottles of wine.

If I wasn't happy when I walked in, after having been kept waiting for 11 minutes before the manager told the staffer to replace the wine, which could have been done immediately, I was not a "happy little vegemite now." There was no apology for keeping me waiting, or for making me comeback. In fact, the manager walked passed me a couple of times and basically ignored my presence. Unloading the truck was more important looking after customers.

I asked the staff member who was serving me if the manager had a chance to try the wines, and she told me that yes, she had sniffed them both and didn't think they were corked. I was now even less impressed.

I asked if I could speak to the manager and was told that she would be unloading the truck for some time, and then they had to reorganise some of the stock on the shelves. My response was short and to the point. “And that is obviously more important than talking to customers…..”

After a delay of about another five minutes (whilst she finished unloading the forklift), the manager came out, arranged for someone else to unload the truck and came back in to talk to me.

I asked her what she thought was wrong with the wines. She informed me that she didn't think they were corked and they smelt fine. She also stated that they may have had some other problem. I asked why she didn't think they were corked and was informed that the wines didn't smell of wet cardboard or mouldy.

By this stage things were starting to degenerate and I asked her what she thought may have been wrong with them. The first response was that the bottles may have been heat affected. (I had already explained that I had originally purchased two cartons, and had drunk a bottle the previous evening that was in perfect condition.) I asked her how only two bottles could have been heat affected when all the others had been fine. The response was, "I don't know how you have stored the wine.” I explained that the wine had been stored in an air-conditioned cellar and that it would be virtually impossible for two bottles to have been heat affected and the others to be fine. I then again asked if the wines were not corked, what else the problem could have been.

I was told it could have been any one of a number of winemaking faults. When I asked “like what,” the answer was less than specific; just that there were a lot of them.

We then started discussing the differences between corked, cooked and oxidised wine. I was informed, once again that corked wine smelt like wet cardboard or mouldy; cooked wine tasted bitter and oxidised wine was astringent.

The manager also told me and I quote, "I am not a checkout operator, I have been well trained. I know what corked wine is about ……. and I have worked at our Kingston ACT store where we did lots of tastings.”

Clearly, the manager was convinced that she knew a lot about wine and when I raised my voice in exasperation, I was told in no uncertain terms not to raise my voice to her.

At this point, I asked if she knew what caused cork taint. I was informed with the utmost confidence that wine was corked when the cork failed to seal the bottle properly. I pointed out that that was in fact not the case, and it was caused by something called TCA which was actually in/on the cork, and that a cork that had failed to seal a bottle properly would cause oxidisation.

I asked if she had three standard tasting glasses as I would prove to her that the wines I had returned were corked, by opening, at my own expense, one of the replacement bottles and comparing the three samples. There was no way she was interested and was still convinced that the wines I had returned were not corked.

I was then again informed that she had done a lot of training, and had even been trained by Stuart Blackwell from St Hallett.

Needless to say, my blood pressure was rising! At some stage during the conversation, I had the temerity to raise my voice again, and was once again told in no uncertain circumstances not to raise my voice to her. It's not like I was shouting, but I did raise my voice, and she stated she couldn’t understand why I was upset when the wine had been replaced. The first point I wished to make (and there were others) was that I was not happy that I had to come back a second time because the staff member did not know the policies and procedures for replacing corked wine.

The manager responded with, “That’s not my fault; I have only been here four days.” I responded that the store had been there with a BWS sign on it for some years, and it is certainly was not my fault that the staff has not been trained in the basic procedures. There was no point in trying to take the conversation further and mention the other reasons why I was unhappy, so I left.

Let me be the first to admit that I was a difficult customer, but the customer service was abysmal. The staff did not know the policies and procedures of the organisation. Unloading trucks are more important than keeping customers waiting for extended periods of time, and management think they know a lot about wine, when they don't even know what causes cork taint.

All good reasons to support your local independent liquor retailer and give the chins that are owned by Coles and Woolworths a big miss.


Post Script: After I had written this article I had a look at the BWS web site. It states:

"Welcome to BWS, which stands for Beer, Wine and Spirits, Australia’s fastest growing liquor retailer, with over 600 stores.

At BWS we make sure we’re always Best With Service, so our staff will always help you get what you want quickly and easily."

I wonder if they believe their own marketing? 


Feel free to submit your comments!

From: Gary R

01/09/2007 04:51:29 Hi Ric, read your comments with interest. One could forgive the new staff member (notwithstanding the frustration of having to return a second time) but what was unforgivable was the 'manager' keeping you waiting when it seems she had clearly already decided to replace the bottles. What is the point keeping you waiting? In the circumstances I think you were very restrained. Cheers.

From: Mike

01/09/2007 12:49:10 Hi Ric

In some respects a comedy of errors. But then again the customer is (almost) always correct, and at least deserves polite and efficient service. I can see if its a hot day they will want to move their stock inside so that it can cook a little slower. Still with multiple staff to handle that job and still leaving you on the boil the manager sounds like she has a short career ahead of her.

The level of her knowledge is the real problem. Its why I buy 90 plus percent of my wine from one specialist wine shop. I know the staff, they know me (to the point that if someone comes in wanting to buy wine for me as a gift they know exactly what to pick), and they have prices and selection that rival any store (chain or otherwise) in the local area. It took a while to find them but the search was worth it.


From: BWS Employee

01/14/2007 12:35:50 I just wanted to post some comments regarding the experience you have had at BWS. I am currently working for BWS and have been working for the company for a number of years.

Working for a wine orientated store within the chain is good, but even so, they are changing and there is a constant decline of good quality wine in favour of brands. What you may or may not realise is that every time you walk into a BWS liquor store (and probably Coles-Myer chains too), is that the shelving space is controlled by head office; remote people telling us how we are to display our wines, space by space on the shelf. Wines can be automatically deleted from the system not allowing the particular store to carry it just like that, and god knows how they make these decisions, because I do not.

Sales have some part to do with it but not totally. Another thing to check out is the own brands that are coming on steam now. Most of these labels are imitations of high selling products, that are priced at a cheaper price point and to the everyday consumer look attractive and represent good value for money, but the majority are not that great so your better off spending a few dollars extra. After all life is too short to be drinking bad wine right?

In relation to your article it is a very sad case of inadequate training and just plain arrogance.

Unfortunately people with good wine skills in the liquor trade can be hit and miss with some people 'thinking they know a lot but not really knowing much at all'. In my experience when dealing with corked or off wines I take the customers word every time and exchange the bottles irrespective. (The reps do not really ask questions and will give you a replacement for it so there is no point in trying to one up people for ego sake). It seems like that manager thought she knew a lot but realistically did not know as much as she thought she did. It is a shame she had to resort to name dropping and mention Stuart Blackwell to try and reinforce her position.

If I was in your situation I would be driven out of my mind too and would complain to Woolies, believe me they treat complaints serious and would be talking to the manager. Maybe that would help her understand that; she was very wrong, rude and maybe encourage her to pull out some wine books and get it right next time!!!!!!

TORBS's Comment: The identity of this person is known to me but for obvious reasons has not been disclosed to readers.

From: David More

02/01/2007 18:43:57 Hi Ric,

Just to say that recently had some bad experiences with some d'Arenberg and some Peter Lehmann wines. Via e-mail both were fabulous about replacement etc. Could not be more pleased! Some companies are doing it right.



From: Steve Knight

02/02/2007 06:40:53 I was saddened to read the article about the BWS outlet.. First, it reflect a real lack of training by the chain concerned, and this is not specific to this particular group. The young lady obviously had had some training, but probably in-house; she probably had met the wine maker mentioned, and he probably did discuss wine with her, and she was probably very happy to have had the opportunity to meet him.

11 minutes out of a life time!! Hell, you really were robbed. And to think she did not recognise who you were. No wonder wine wankers get such a bad name!! With some care, a low voice and some patience, you,an industry professional(?) could have turned a negative into a positive. Did you offer quietly to do a little staff training, did you quietly explain that she might have been incorrect, and offer to lend a book or two? Obviously this is your local BWS.
Yes I know that the CHAINS invest little or nothing in real training, except for general retail stuff that suits baked beans and other but I find your attitude appalling, I hope the the staff members concerned meet someone, one day, who might try to mentor them instead of criticize. Someone, maybe, who who is not quite as self righteous as the writer of this article.

I wish the young lady a long and rewarding career.


TORB Responds: Steve, judging by your email address it looks like you may work in wine retail.

Firstly, what makes you think it is not my job, or even my moral responsibility to educate the staff of a retail wine chain that is owned by one of the largest retailers in the country? But that is exactly what I was trying to do when I offered to open the replacement bottle (at my expense) to show her the difference between a good bottle and a bottle that shows a mild or medium level of cork taint.

The problem was that she considered herself to be right, know a lot about wine and was not interested in learning from me. I also tried to explain the difference between TCA and oxidised wine, but once again, she was not interested. Why should I try and mentor someone who thinks so much of me as a customer that she keeps me waiting (unnecessarily) for 11 minutes to replace some wine?

Maybe you think it is acceptable to be kept waiting for 11 minutes at a retail store to get a bottle of wine replaced when there is no need, but frankly to me it is just plain piss poor service and reeks of an attitude problem.

Had I have not been kept waiting, for eleven minutes and then a further five, then there probably would have been no issue.

For what it is worth, when people treat me as a human being, which frequently happens at cellar doors and other wine shops, I am more than happy to try and help pass on knowledge, and as I have stated, even in this case when I (as a customer) received unacceptable customer service, I still tried to help educate but she was not interested.


From: Muzz

02/03/2007 06:03:07 Steve,
You are wrong. So wrong indeed, that if indeed you are in wine retail, you are like the ostrich, with your head buried in the sand!

Unfortunately it is the responsibility of the employer to train staff not the responsibility of customers to do so. I use the word 'unfortunately' as most employers see this as an unwarranted impost on their profits. This does not make it less true however.

I have many similar experiences to that which TORB was exposed - to the point that I no longer expend energy in attempting to 'train' someone else's staff. It is NOT my job. I simply become freezingly polite and walk away.

Oh, in case you think this too, is being arrogant - yes it is - I've been in the wine industry since 1972.

And something also to remember Steve, when you've got your head in the sand, it leaves your feathery arse in the air, which another ostrich won't know if it's male or it's female, But it probably doesn't bloody well care.

From: Akilas

02/12/2007 23:12:18 Come on Ric, your buying wine from a place that is interested in selling UDL mixer drink cans and VB, not wine.

Ever since I got serious about my wine and by no means am I a big collector I have never entered a BWS, Safeway, Liquorland or anything remotely of any similarity. I am happy to say that I have found a great independent retailer who knows what they are talking about. They provide me with knowledge and opinions and in doing so they learn my tastes and preferences which helps to shape my collection according to what I want to buy. That is service Ric. Now, why would I do them the disservice of spending my hard earned on some chain that could not give a tish about what I am buying. I admit to buying a few bottles from Dan Murphy when the independents do not carry what I want to try. I do not hide it. But at least at Dan Murphy it is been my experience that there is someone there to offer real sensible wine advice and anyway I will only enter if I know exactly what I want and I am outtathere.

You think you got treated with disrespect. Try the e-tailer who also has a shop front who told me that his e-stor 'may not be for you' when I questioned him why he still wanted to charge me a surcharge of $20 on top of the cost of the bottle for me personally picking up a wine from the shopfront arm of his internet buisness. He tried to tell me that his small margins did not allow for the picking and processing of an order of one bottle. Margins my foot. Other independents are cheaper most times. And further more, I do not need some retailer educating me by quoting the comments of other experts in their newsletter. I do not need a Homer Simpson drone (sorry Homer) of Oooo! This is lovely wine. Halliday rated it 94/100. Oliver rated it 96/100. It is great, Halliday has it in his top 100. You must buy it......blah blah blah bullshit crap!!! If they think it is great and they feel they should rave about in subsequent issues of their newsletters then back it up. Put them on tasting for their loyal customers. See if their customer agrees. They should not only be interested in the dollar. I know what Halliday rated it, I get his very informative annual every Fathers Day. I do not need some rude, small minded and arrogant person shoving wine down my throat because Halliday said it is great. I can read!!!

My advice to any novice, find someone you trust and listen to what they have to say. Do not always agree blind. Keep your opinions and learn. Compare what they are saying to what you believe and discuss it with them. Ask plenty of questions and if they do not have time move on and find someone who does. Reward those who put in the effort. Not some chain who makes their money on UDL cans.

I too write a newsletter. It is called 'Sifting Through Wine Mediocrity' and the reason I started it was because of the bad experiences I too have had over my still young journey and the arrogant people who look down on others rather than welcome them and spread the beauty that is wine. I keep it only amongst a small group of close friends and their friends and I too try to educate them after they were the one's who initially introduced me to the wonders of wine. To show people that the stereotype of 'only rich, well to do and stuck up people drink wine' is incorrect. We are a friendly bunch (the greater majority of us anyway) who will talk to and educate anyone who cares to ask and listen. I know I do and that my friend, is service.

From: Lance

02/15/2007 10:02:58 Sure the manager was obviously uninformed about several wine faults and the new employee was unsure of her responsibilities and obligations. However, your over reaction at having to return the next day to replace your bottles and having to wait 11 minutes appeared typical of a customer who thinks the world revolves around you! Sure you should have received replacement bottles and definitely should have been apologised to, but get over yourself! Wow you know what cork taint is, you know how oxidation appears in wine and you are familiar with heat spoilage, big deal! You are right if you want pampering you should go to a specialty, independent retailer and I pray it is not one I work at! It is that typical arrogant attitude toward wine that puts the general public off drinking wine. My thought is you should relax and look from someone elses point of view. I do not think you are wrong it just sounds that you were far too righteous and agitated about the whole matter.

TORB Responds

Here we have another comment from someone who works in retail. Lance thinks it is perfectly acceptable to keep a customer waiting for 11 minutes when there is no absolutly need. That speaks volumes about what is wrong with much of retail in Australia to. It is a shame that people that work in retail do not understand that those mugs who walk in the door are the same mugs that are paying their wages.

As for my arragont attitude putting people off wine, this situation goes well beyond wine. My attitude about the piss poor servive would have been the same no matter what the product.

From: Tom Porter

02/25/2007 22:20:53 Hi Ric,

Some interesting feedback on this topic. As you know I am in retail, a small independent, and I hear these stories all of the time. It is all good for us small businesses in the industry. The more people that support the Independents and avoid the chains the better.

Our policy is that the customer is always right, (although a lot of the time they are not) and replace the bottle without an argument. After all, it costs me nothing. Last week a customer returned a bottle of 1996 Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, saying it was corked. If it was returned to me, I first would have explained to the customer the beauty of an aged Chardonnay, then asked them to choose something else in the shop of the same value. I had the bottle for lunch and it was beautiful! Although at the time of purchase I would have made sure that they knew what they were buying.

We do not as a rule get a lot of wine returned, although I send a lot back that I have found to be faulty.

Anyway, I believe that all wine lovers should find a bottle shop where the range is big, the staff are helpful and not owned by the Chains.

From: Mum

03/04/2007 20:29:41 \'All good reasons to support your local independent liquor retailer and give the chins that are owned by Coles and Woolworths a big miss.'

Thats not a fair remark at all. Just because one chain has led you to disappointment doesnt mean you have to state something like that. There is nothing wrong with coles or woolworths, its just impatient customers like yourself. Ive dealt with many complaining customers and you cannot understand what we go through to put up with people like that, perhaps you need a job in retail to note what it feels like! Having one customer like yourself raising voices just ruins the day for someone like me.

TORB Responds: Dimitri, I more than have a job in retail; I have owned a retail business for the last 15 years and if I treated all my customers the way BWS treated me (and had that sort of attitude,) I would have been out of business years ago.

One of the major issues in much of retail today is that staff think that its perfectly acceptable for them to ignore customers. Its these 'impatient and complaining customers' that are paying the staffs wages.

As far as Woolworths and Coles liquor outlets are concerned, I have had a number of poor experiences over the years, so my comments were not based on just one experience.

From: Sean VB

05/25/2007 07:13:04 At its most fundamental level, the aim of a business is to survive. This cannot occur without customers.

11 minutes can be a long time. Anyone who does not think so should stop everything, activate a stop watch, and not resume what they were doing for 11 minutes. That is 11 minutes of your life gone - you will never ever get that time back. A retail manager should appreciate that both time, and customers, are precious.

However, I do not necessarily believe that this scenario provides justification for supporting independents. I have previously received great service from the big boys (notably DM), and received terrible service from a prominent independent.

This scenario is not about independents vs. the big boys, it is about how one particular individual responded to a customer. You don't have to agree with a customer in order to establish a rapport and build loyalty. This scenario could have happened anywhere. The question is if your livelihood was dependant on the success of your business, and you employed a manager to safeguard you business interests, would this approach to customer service be of concern to you?

From: Jarrod

06/06/2007 23:22:01 This sort of experience is becoming all too common. I used to be a professional chef and am rabid about customer service both front and back of house. Some of these people working whether it be retail or any other business really need to take a good long hard look at themselves.

Service in this country really has gone out the window and everyone who has commented about ric being to gung ho should be ashamed of themselves because YOU are a big part of the problem.

I recently had an argument with my grandfather who thought it rude to send a meal back at a restaurant, I explained that I thought it was rude for a chef to send me a sub standard meal that I am paying for and expect me to eat it.

Sure there are people out there that just nit pick for the sake of it, and some I am sure are serial nit pickers, but the fact remains if I have a bad experience and I tell 50 people about it and they all tell 20 each and so on , it isnt good for business.

I suggest anyone who is employed in a customer service industry, do yourself a favour and get yourself a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People, and you will be surprised how many less hard to deal with customers you get.

From: David Hull

06/12/2007 19:01:22 I currently run a small independent liquor outlet and love to hear stories like this. I actually printed it and handed it out to my staff.

Believe it or not, good day or bad, The Cuomer Is Always Right !

Chains employ checkout operators that are simply there to collect a paycheque, that do not quite understand who is actually paying it I will bend over backwards to serve my customers and staff are trained to do the same.

Stick with the Independent.

From: Gerry

06/13/2007 14:25:55 Ric, No one should expect bad service and the attitude of the manager is piss poor to say the least. I don't think anyone questions this!! What surprises me is your efforts and time you are spending on this one incident, both at the retailer and post writing up about it. It will have no impact on Woolies, will not communicate down to 99.99999% of people who shop there.

There overall strategies for growth (as noted by BWS employee is to target the mass market and maximize profits) far outstrip any impact these incidents have. These guys need to be fought far smarter rather than bitching about one poor service incident. P.S. I am also surprised that you would spend one dime at BWS

TORB Responds:

Hi Gerry,

What I write about on any wine topic does not filter down to 99.9999% of wine drinkers and this is no different.

You say, 'These guys need to be fought far smarter.' How would you do it?

From my perspective, as far as supporting Wollies (or Coles,) who are trying to own retailing in Oz, (and currently have about 80% of the grocery market between them,) I buy as little as possible from them. That means I go to the green grocer for fruit and veg, the chemist for vitamins, the health food shop for nuts etc.

With the wine I was returning, it was the only purchase I had made from Mac's or BWS etc in many years. I only made that single purchased as it was retailing for less than the independents could obtain it from Southcorp.

From: Gerry

06/13/2007 15:56:36 Hey Ric,

'With the wine I was returning, it was the only purchase I had made from Mac's or BWS etc in many years. I only made that single purchased as it was retailing for less than the independents could obtain it from Southcorp.' Ahhhh, you also lapse at times and are driven by what drives most people.....Price!!!

Smart idea;I am not that clever, but I just don't see the point in spending time bitching about one piss poor incident. I can tell you about a story that you may like. In Maleny Qld, Woolies bought land next to a creek (re-known for its local haven for the platypus's population) for their new shopping centre. Their was outrage and despite mass protests to the council by the community, sit ins outside the site they bullied their way through, cleared the site at night and put their new shopping centre up. The community has not given up and 2 years latter their car park remains empty as people refuse to shop there and the local IGA and other outlets are doing well. Good on the community of Maleny!!! The community understands the attack has to be at the profit level and long term you never know they may be successful and see the doors closed;.now wouldn't they be a great David vs. Goliath story. Cheers Gerry

TORB Responds: Gerry, you will be pleased to know the Manely story is frequently featured and updated down south.

From: Danielle Clarke

06/22/2007 03:50:04 I thoroughly agree with you, that these big chain stores while being very dollar competetive, simply offer wine like a generic product with little care or attention given to wine or consumer.
Support small passionate retailers or better still buy from the producer direct, as they do care if there are problems with their wines.

From: kirsty

08/08/2007 02:36:32 I went into a BWS store today, the one I regularly shop at. The store had just finished being refitted.

None of the regular helpful staff were working. A man in his forties & a woman around twenty years of age were crouched in front of the counter putting up tickets. I was holding a carton of beer & couldn't get to the counter to put it down. They both looked at me & smiled. I might add here I'm a small woman weighing only 56kg. They stayed where they were so I put the carton on the floor & went back to the fridge to pick up two bottles of wine.

After lining up & everyone having to dodge my floor carton I was served. I was then the only customer in the store. I was not offered a bag for the two bottles (I still expect a paper one)which I took to the car & returned for the carton.

The two staff members were blocking the counter again playing with tickets & watched me pick up my carton from the floor & take it to the car.

I do understand there are many self sufficient women in the world, but as a customer I like some assistance from shop assistants. A thank you, to start with let alone can I help you to the car would be nice in a store with no trolleys.

Copyright © Ric Einstein 2007