The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2015

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1 18  /  the tasting panel  /  october 2015 by Jaime Lewis / photos by Josh Reynolds A s Alcohol Beverage Buyer for BJ's Wholesale Club, Gina Langone is often asked, "What are you drinking? What should I buy?" "My taste has evolved over the years," she says from her office in Westborough, Massachusetts. "When I started, I wanted fruit-forward, friendly- drinking wine–something accessible. Today, I'm much more about tasting the place in the wine. When I open a Riesling that smells like gasoline, that aroma blows off and the taste is all about the minerals; it's absolutely magical." Speaking with Langone, her passion for the industry is obvious. "The wines I've tasted, the people I've met, the places I've seen…I'm so lucky. People [at BJ's] tend to switch departments a lot, but I don't want a different category. I'm very happy where I am." Langone grew up in an Italian-American household whose only foray into wine was the occasional glass of Chianti, followed by college, where, she notes, wine was not the thing to drink. "I was very green when I started, but it was instantly exciting," she says of being hired at BJ's directly after graduating college in 1991. She became the Alcohol Beverage Buyer in 1998. Langone recalls how male-dominated the industry was then. "I was always taken seriously as a buyer for BJ's until I got into alcohol beverage," she says, mentioning that she worked in the frozen food, seasonal, jewelry, clothing and even fresh meat categories without encountering the same bias she encoun- tered in wine. "I was asked incredibly rude questions, like how old I was. Or [the people I met] would look around for someone else to talk to, like they were thinking 'It just can't be this person.'" In response, Langone developed the quality of trustworthiness. "Being dismissed almost instantly, it took a while to feel I could make partnerships with some of these people and get past early interactions. It's better today. I have more females around me, and I've aged up, so I'm not the youngest anymore!" The challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and being new to wine were compounded by the innate challenges of marketing and sell- ing wine to the consumer. Previously, as the buyer for bottled water, if Langone wanted to differentiate her product from the competition, she could opt to sell a 24-pack instead of a 12-pack, which all her competitors were selling. "I can't ask for an 850-milliliter bottle in wine. This business just doesn't work that way. So I often think of myself as a curator. The same way a restaurant puts together a wine list, that's how I approach serving my members. I have to tell the [wine's] story in a way that makes them want to shop with us, that gives them more." One way Langone gives members more is by finding that "other" item. "Right now, the number one item in the category is a certain Chardonnay. Everyone's going to sell it for the same retail, but I happen to know there are alternatives, maybe at an even better price point. Whether I try to save them money or ask Gina Langone, Alcohol Beverage Buyer for BJ's Wholesale Club in Westborough, MA. Gina Langone: A Woman of the Vine

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