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Why is Wine Different from Toilet Paper?

Imagine my dismay when I read the initial headlines of the recent story…

Costco’s Wine Buyer Doesn’t Think Wine Is Different Than Toilet Paper

The wine buyer in question is Annette Alvarez-Peters, a long time Costco employee, WSET graduate and fellow MW student.  While I disagree with the tone of the article that seems to hint that Alvarez-Peters doesn’t really know what she’s talking about (which she does and has put the educational time in to be treated as a respected wine professional) I also disagree with the thought that wine is no different from toilet paper.

1)      Toilet Paper is Not a Controlled Substance!

The biggest issue here is that wine is a controlled substance.  While I’m sure that the state of Pennsylvania would have no problem with me shipping toilet paper to friends living there they sure do have a problem if you try to ship wine.  Likewise if you’re an 8 year old I guarantee no one is going to prevent you from buying a small package of toilet paper (larger quantities will probably be questioned due to toilet papering houses) but you must be able to prove you’re over 21 to buy wine in any size or quantity.

2)      There are a ton of choices with wine.  Not so many with Toilet Paper!

I understand the comparison that wine and toilet paper are both consumer goods however I would be willing to bet that Costco only sells a few skus of toilet paper but close to 200 skus of wine.  Even that paired down number is just a small fraction of what is available to the wine consumer today.  What are the choices for toilet paper?  White or tinted? Plain or scented? Quilted or regular? Organic? Recycled?  All the small random changes you can think of and they probably only add up to the choices of wines available from one of the smallest wine producing countries in the world.  I would imagine that people only have one favorite type of Toilet paper but many types of wine that they enjoy.

3)      You don’t expect differences in Toilet Paper due to the year it was produced or where it was produced!

When I buy a package of BRAND X Toilet Paper I expect that to be the exact same as the last time I bought it and as the next time I’m going to buy it.  Granted I know there are a large number of customers out there that want their wine the same way but for those of us who are excited about wine and really geek out with it, this is a key difference!  Toilet Paper needs consistency.  Wine should reflect its origin.

4)      I Have Yet to Hear of a Moral, Religious, or Political Objection to Toilet Paper!

Wine (and alcohol in general) is polarizing.  There are people who believe that drinking is a sin or that it is immoral.  There are countries that have banned alcohol completely.  Prohibition itself is a huge example of why wine is different from Toilet Paper.  I have never heard anyone say toilet paper has ruined lives or corrupted society.  In fact, if you ask most civilized folks I would imagine that toilet paper is among the most universally liked and used consumer goods regardless of race, religion, national origin, or political affiliation.  Everyone can agree on toilet paper being a good thing!  Maybe we’ve just stumbled upon the key to world peace?

5)      The Use of Toilet Paper Will Not Inhibit Your Ability to Operate Machinery!

When it comes down to brass tacks, wine contains alcohol, which is a drug.  We can have an entirely different debate about the harmfulness of alcohol versus other drugs but for the purposes of this argument, it is.  I never worry about being on the road with people who have been using toilet paper.  I do, however, worry about people who have been wine tasting too much.  Napa is particularly prone to this on the weekends and I’ve already seen more than my share of cars weaving up and down highway 29 this season.  Everyone feel free to continue to drive after using toilet paper but for all of our sakes, find a designated driver if you’ve been drinking wine!

6)      Collectors don’t pay big money for old toilet paper

I’d love to see someone go to Sotheby’s and say they found a secret room in their cellar and within they found a pristine stash of 1800 era toilet paper (ok I’m sure SOMEONE out there would be interested but stay with me here) and ask how much it would be worth on the auction market.  I guarantee it wouldn’t be worth as much as a pristine stash of wine would be.  What’s my point here? Fine wine holds its value over time and the only reason it does hold and increase in value is because someone is willing to pay big money for it.  Will I buy old wine? If I can afford it, absolutely!  Will I buy old toilet paper? No.

While I agree with Alvarez-Peters trying to say wine is just another consumer beverage and everyone should stop acting like it is so special I don’t agree that it is the same as toilet paper or tin foil.  Granted anything above general food, water, and shelter is not really a need but a consumer product but I categorize wine as a luxury good and toilet paper as more a basic household necessity.  There are absolutely different levels of consumer goods and I think this is what was lost in the conversation.

5 Responses

  1. Having worked for Costco for 12 years the attitude of the article was not suprising. Every department is treated as the same animal.
    It is interesting that Costco does not mention on their magzines or flyers (or whatever they call them) Mrs. Alvarez’s background. I did wonder what her qualifications were that she would succeed to fill Mr. Andrews big shoes. I also notice that there are less French wines being offered as there was in the past when Mr. Andrews ran the show. I don’t know if that is a bad or good thing.

  2. Wine is not a drug as it has caloric content. It has cloric content but is not really a food either. Very little of what goes in either remains or is changed during the winemaking process. So ingredients for the most part mean absolutely nothing as they would in food. Also, the caloric content of wine (alcohol) is not represented in food. It is neither a carb, a protein, nor a fat. A diebetic diet has it as a fat replacement only because the liver will metabolize alcohol before it will fat. Wine is a unique living ingested product for the most part, unlike any thing else. To have it lumped in with either drugs or food is a big mistake of thought process.

  3. As a Wine steward in a retail store with close to 3000 sku’s of wine I have another big difference. I am sure no one says no you cannot carry that type of toilet paper becuase it is resturant quanity only or that the winery does not want it in a retail venue nor do you need to have a 3 teir system (I’m in Oregon) of muliple vendors so that you can offer what your customers are looking for.

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About Nova Cadamatre

Nova Cadamatre has become one of the most versatile and experienced winemakers in the industry. She holds a Bachelors from Cornell University in Viticulture.  In 2017 she achieved the title of Master of Wine and was the first female winemaker in the US to do so. 

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