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Wine shopping is a personal matter

March 10, 2004

Corie Brown's article on wine merchants who provide a high level of customized service ("Wanted: Personal Wine Wonk," March 3) generated 15 letters. While some applauded the story, most complained that one merchant, Robert Rogness from Wine Expo, was given short shrift. The letter that follows is representative of those.

My collection of favorite shops overlaps yours, so I enjoyed your article -- until I came to the gratuitous and utterly wrong-headed slur against Robert Rogness and Wine Expo, buried in one of your final graphs. How could you be so utterly off base and factually incorrect as to write "Rogness isn't the kind of merchant who tries to understand your particular tastes"? Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been buying wine at Wine Expo for 10 years, and I have never met a wine merchant more interested in, and attuned to, my personal taste than Robert Rogness. He not only goes out of his way to find me the stuff I like, he is equally adamant about warning me off other stuff -- often highly touted -- he knows would not hit my personal sweet spot.

I don't know what transpired when you visited Wine Expo, but let me assure you it was not business as usual.

Mark Rosner

Los Angeles

*

Your story was right on the mark in praising small, neighborhood merchants for providing just the right mix of knowledgeable and personalized advice about wine selection. In 1966, I was working as a cashier at a tiny store in Pacific Palisades. One day the boss handed out packages containing a "Wine Appreciation Correspondence Course." He said, "You have three weeks to read it, take the test and get your certificate." We did so and cleared away about 30 feet of shelf space for a stock of modestly priced California and European wines.

With enthusiasm, familiarity with our regular clientele and brazen salesmanship, we would study each customer's groceries and then suggest a bottle of wine to accompany a meal. Our sales were astonishing.

Within a year, the boss opened a new store in West Los Angeles devoted exclusively to wine and affordable gourmet food items. The boss was Joe Coulombe, and he called the new store Trader Joe's.

Don Ciaffardini

Long Beach

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