I hadn't planned to be drinking at noon. My ten-minute errand at BevMo turned into a three-hour detour. I had gone in only to replenish a few favorites, the Napa Smith Lost Dog Red Ale, a couple of different Allegash Belgians, and a bottle of what I call my working girl's cognac, the Pierre Ferrand Amber. A friendly pair of employees--one manning a cheese and cracker cart, another a lineup of California reds--invited me into the tasting area. I took a small plastic glass of the first wine in the lineup, a Gnarly Head Zinfandel that pleasantly surprised me. For only $12 ($9 with a ClubBev card!), it was an absolutely drinkable wine--the kind I might serve to either my friends or my father without embarrassment. I put two bottles into my shopping cart, and followed the growing crowd to the next wine in the tasting.
The crowd was anything but predictable. In Los Angeles, where folks tend to bemoan the difficulty of meeting new people in a sprawling landscape dominated by cars, people were stopping simply to hang out. A woman in her fifties or sixties, a regular that the BevMo employees called by name, had come with her own stemmed glass and was telling us all about past tasting highlights. A pair of gay men in their late twenties stood around comparing acidity levels and teaching us how to do spitting tests. A French expat and her boyfriend passed out cheese in between tastings for those of us who couldn't get close enough to the cart.
Though we all focused on the task at hand, following our host's instructions to sniff and swirl and drink slowly, we were really having an improptu party in the middle of BevMo. We were chatting and lingering, exchanging email addresses and phone numbers. We shared recommendations for the best tacos in the city, the best Korean BBQ. We made plans to meet for happy hour across town the following week.
But was BevMo caught holding the losing end of the bargain? Were we wrong to take advantage of the store's hospitality? Surely we'd each gone beyond whatever the store budgets per taster. Our host was pouring us seconds and thirds of our favorites in the lineup.
My guess is that BevMo actually made money on us. We were tipsy and delighted with everything the store had to offer. We were recommending wines to passing customers, and we each bought multiple bottles of the wines we preferred in the tasting. Some of us doubled back and added a few more items we hadn't considered before when we were merely rushing through the store on a direct errand. I took a chance on half a case of an amber ale out of San Francisco that I'd never seen. My new French expat friend grabbed the Bear Republic IPA I suggested. At the end of the tasting, I left BevMo having spent twice more than I intended. I was a satisfied drinker, and I'm pretty sure BevMo was a satisfied retailer.
Lisa P. Sutton earned an MFA in writing from University of California, Irvine and a JD from Boston University School of Law. She lives and drinks in Los Angeles.