Working in Wine Takes Lots of Concentration


You remember Concentration, don’t you? It’s the precursor of the fancier, boxed Memory game. In Concentration, the player spreads an entire deck of Mom or Dad’s playing cards faced-down on a table. Then, the object of the game is to turn over two cards that match.

I don’t remember being particularly good at Concentration when I was a kid. But one aspect of working in wine retail shares some qualities with the game. There are a lot of bottles and a lot of shelf locations to remember.

chicago-loop-liquor-store-metal-wine-rackingIt’s been two months on the (wine retail) job. Two months of following a dream, learning tons about my passion and working with a great group of people. It’s also been two months of lifting boxes, dusting bottles, nursing sore feet, and playing the craziest game of Concentration, aka, Hunt for the Bottle, I could imagine.

From what I’ve observed, there seems to be three main types of activities that involve this memory game:

1) Translate then Locate – This is Hunt for the Bottle with a twist. It is played by listening to someone (often hysterically) mispronounce the brand, grape variety or both of the wine of which they seek. The player must then translate the request, and lead the customer to the wine’s location – remembering to not act like a pretentious jerk along the way.

It goes a little like this:

“You guys got any of that Close to Boise Peanut War?”

It takes a moment for my brain to decipher that the customer is actually asking for Clos Du Bois Pinot Noir. For the first two weeks I corrected people on their pronunciations. Then somebody did it to me and I realized how obnoxious it sounded, so I stopped.

I now do a lot of nodding and smiling.

2) Pin the label on the Bottle – Wine prices change. Frequently. Multiply this by the 3,000 wines you have on the shelves and it’s a good thing I like to drink after work. Every week, someone in a tie decides that a 3% change in the prices for 30% of the inventory is the key ingredient to sales success. So the task at hand for us floor rats is to print out sales tags and then search for the bottles.


This is especially fun for the French wines because there is (almost) never a grape variety on the tag. French wines and their labels are organized by their geographical regions. And they’re written in French. And I took Spanish in high school.

3) Splitsville – When our store receives a wine shipment, most of it consists of full cases of wine (12 bottles of the same type). But often, the warehouse sends us cases that consist of a mix of several different wines in the same box. Since these cases are split between several different types, they are called “splits.”

On the shipment following the holidays, we received about 20 cases of splits with well over 300 different bottles.

wrist-supportAfter finding the shelf location and lifting the 100th or so bottle, one begins to fantasize about ibuprofen and epson salts.

But I’m not complaining. Really.

Somewhere between our hopes and fears (about working in wine) is a place called reality. Reality has been a whole heap of fun so far. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity. But the wine schools might consider adding a few more memory games to the curriculum.

Not just for passing the tests. But for preparing students for what comes after them.

The SWIRLosopher is Sean Trapani, a professor emeritus of advertising who - despite a degree in philosophy - has abandoned all reason and is trying to make a living in the wine business.

Ape Artwork (c) 2014 Walter Moore, used with permission.