Jim Sinegal, founder and CEO of Issaquah-based Costco, speaks with Costco-sized frankness. It is with that candidness, consumer-centric focus and care for his employees that he has led the company to become the largest warehouse membership chain in the country and the largest wine retailer in the world.
He has an open door policy for his employees. He does not have a publicist, unusual for the leader of a Fortune 500 company, preferring to conduct media interviews directly. There are no layers of façade to the leader of the company he co-founded with Jeffrey Brotman. What you see is what you get.
So he was direct in reflecting on the passage of Initiative 1183, privatizing the sale of liquor in Washington state, after it passed with 60 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s general election. The initiative calls for liquor to be sold by private businesses by next June.
“Obviously, we are pleased that the mandate was clear,” Sinegal said. “It erases any questions about how the voters felt.”
When asked about complaints that Costco's state record $22 million contribution to the campaign selfishly benefited his company, or even bought a piece of law making, Sinegal answered with a forthright if apologetic, “We did, obviously,” before adding, “It would be disingenuous for me to say that we are not trying to improve our business. That's what business people do.”
Sinegal insists he pushed for the privatization of liquor sales with the consumer’s best interest squarely in mind, one of his core values since founding Costco in 1983 with a single store in Seattle.
“We try to do business in a straight-forward fashion,” Sinegal said. “The consumers are our friends. Consumers benefit (from passage of I-1183) because we bring prices down. Competition is healthy and it's good for the consumer.”
Sinegal also said he expects specialty retailers will thrive.
“There are things that small businesses do that Costco is not going to be able to do,” Sinegal said. “The personal service is something small businesses can provide. We don't provide a lot of selection. There's always going to be a place for the small business person.”
Sinegal expects Costco to sell a similar variety of wines, except they will sell more of each, a lot more.
“I don't think the number of SKUs (stocking keeping units, or unique product numbers) will change,” Sinegal explained. “I think we will be buying better. I think we will probably sell more units but it will be offset by lower prices. That's our business, selling in volume.”
Sinegal said Costco is interested in mitigating the loss of jobs for the state liquor employees who will be laid off once stores close. Sinegal said the company will grant job interviews to all former state liquor control employees who apply.
“There’s no guarantee they will be hired,” Sinegal said. “Anyone who applies will get an interview. That's the right thing to do.”
Critics point out that there has to be a job opening first before a single former state liquor store employee is hired.
Questions on if or how the law will be modified and implemented still remain.
Dan McCarthy, proprietor of McCarthy & Schiering on Queen Anne and Ravenna in Seattle, does not want specialty stores like his to be excluded from selling liquor because stores under 10,000 square feet are excluded from selling booze under I-1183. The limit by square footage was included to exclude convenience stores and minimarts.
“If you are selling wine all day you are not a convenience store. Our customers are not coming to buy Kleenex, I can tell you that,” said McCarthy, suggesting that the law should redefine eligible retailers to exclude convenience stores and minimarts and include specialty wine retailers.
About excluding convenience stores under I-1183, McCarthy ironically adds, “In reality, Costco is the convenience store.”
McCarthy and other specialty retailers want to sell wine and liquor from boutique producers that, by Sinegal’s own admission, Costco won’t sell.
“Costco is not going to be selling Armagnac and Calvados or liquor made by micro-distilleries,” McCarthy said. “That's up to us to do.
“We may have to reinvent ourselves. I may have to close both stores and open a 10,000 square foot store. I promise you, I am not going away. If I retire I am not going to know what to do.”
Italianissimo replaces Wine Wednesdays with monthlong promotions
in Woodinville has replaced its popular Wine Wednesdays with monthlong promotions featuring Washington wines.
Under the new promotion, Italianissimo will feature four red wines and four white wines each month, offering them in a tasting flight of 2-ounce pours each as well as by the glass and by the bottle.
In November the featured red wines are 2007 Rough House Red, 2009 Trust Cellars TATT Syrah, 2008 Sur La Mer Red and 2008 Phillip Leigh Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting flight is available for $17.
The featured white wines this month are 2010 Pearl Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Chenin Blanc, 2010 Big Sissy Chardonnay and 2010 . The white wine flight sells for $12.
Efeste fall release dinner at RN74
in Woodinville will be celebrating the fall release of its Rhone-style blends and Chardonnay with a winemaker dinner at RN74 in downtown Seattle on Nov. 14. Winemaker Brennon Leighton will lead guests through a four-course menu prepared by RN74 Chef Michelle Retallack. The dinner will be $125 (non-inclusive).
Featured wines include 2010 Lola Chardonnay and its four Rhone-style wines, 09 Jolie Bouche (100 percent Syrah from Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley), 09 Ceidleigh (100 percent Syrah from the Red Mountain AVA), 09 Eleni (100 percent Syrah from Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima Valley, the oldest Syrah plantings in Washington state) and 09 Emmy (a Mouvedre blend with some Grenache and Syrah).
The wines will also be available at the Efeste Fall Release for Efeste wine club members. To register for one of the Efeste wine clubs click here.
20 Something features some 20 local wineries
More than 70 wineries, including wineries based on the Eastside or those with tasting rooms in the area, will be pouring their wines at 20 Something: The New Vintage, a consumer event for young professionals on Nov. 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. at Fremont Studios in Seattle.
Tickets for $50 are available here.
Among the local wineries participating will be , , , , , , , , , , Rockwell Brown Wines, , , , Gard Vintners, , J. Bookwalter Wines, , and .
Wines will be paired with food samples from more than a dozen participating restaurants. DJ Darek Mazzone will be spinning music.
Wine Pick of the Week: 2010 Baer Winery Shard, Stillwater Creek Vineyard
The Shard Chardonnay is not your mother’s Chardonnay. It’s not the oaky, buttery Chardonnay made popular by California producers in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, the Baer Shard is unoaked. It’s not a Burgundian Chardonnay, either, where producers make some of the best wines in the world.
The Baer Shard is uniquely Baer. Unoaked, unfiltered and unfined, it’s a pure expression of Stillwater Creek fruit. This Chardonnay is juicy with notes of green apples, pears, pink grapefruit and a hint of Meyer lemon zest with a touch of creaminess. This wine has a surprisingly pleasant weight on the mid-palate for an unoaked wine. Stony minerality (imagine snowpack melting and caressing bedrock) and nice acidity complete this wine.
A crisp Chardonnay is a nice pairing with chicken. It is also a nice pairing with pesto. At in Sammamish, chicken and pesto live in harmony in one dish. A chicken breast is sautéed and served with a fresh basil pesto. The Baer Shard marries them seamlessly.
The wine is available at the Baer Winery tasting room in Woodinville’s Warehouse District, 19501 144th Ave. N.E., Suite F-100, open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 pm.