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Jan 7, 2010 06:37 AM

THE WINE SCHOOL of Phila - could use lessons in customer service

While I am not a frequent poster to this board, I am not posting something as a competitor but rather someone who attended an event where I had a less than perfect experience and my questions to the owner were received not with a thank you but rather a haughty type response.

As a birthday present my daughters bought my husband and I two tickets to a Wine School event at Alison 2. This event was called a Sommelier Smackdown and involved the pairing of food with cocktails and wine tasting and the goal was to see which beverage complemented the food better. It was sponsored by the Wine School with Alison 2 participating in terms of providing the setting, the food, and the cocktails. The tickets were at least $60 each, and while participants were told not to expect a complete dinner, I assumed a reasonable amount of food would be provided and it was.

What was unexpected was that only 4 bottles of wine were available for a total of 24 people or basically 1 ounce per person of each of the 4 wines. This assumed no spillage. I have been to a number of wine and food events at the Dilworthtown Inn as well as a place on the Outer Banks and I don't recall the tastings ever being just 1 ounce each. There have always been the opportunity for second tastes and in addition I believe the tastes were closer to 2 ounces. Compounding this was that 1 of the 4 bottles was corked and thus no good. Therefore our tasting consisted of a net of 3 ounces.

Admittedly, there were cocktails and they were generous as well as usually coming back for seconds. Therefore, I have nothing but nice things to say about the restaurant. The food and beverages were very good.

When I commented to the person from the Wine School about why they didn't have a back-up for the spoiled bottle of wine or why they couldn't have purchased a bottle from the restaurant, I was told this was a learning experience and the restaurant didn't have any similar wines.

So I sent an email to the head of the school, and was told in so many words that it was our privilege to have such well known people be at the event and that in itself was worth the $60 per person. Would you pay $60 just to hear George Perrier (he wasn't there but someone like him) talk? I also asked the head of the school several times about whether he brings an extra bottle of wine to a BYOB in case one is spoiled but I never had that question answered.

Maybe I initially was looking for some type of partial credit to a future course or something at least an apology but I never received one My daughter posted a review to Yelp (I don't belong to that) and basically was asked to remove it since she didn't have first hand experience. I am not that familiar with Yelp so I don't want my first review to be super negative, but at the same time, wanted to post my experience somewhere. So here it is. Be aware. Not what I call good customer serviice.

If you are interested in wine and food events, I suggest those held at the Chef's Kitchen at the Dilworthtown Inn. They have always been excellent.

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  1. Hi everyone, (disclaimer, I am the daughter of FayeD and thus the person who purchased the gift certificate),

    Regardless of the fact that The Wine School didn't do as they had advertised, in that they only served three of four wines because one of them was bad, and regardless of the fact that the amount of wine that was served was incredibly small, I think the main issue that I had with them was their attitude. If the person running the event had said, "I'm sorry, I should have brought an extra bottle of wine," or if the head of the wine school had said, "we're sorry this event wasn't what you expected, and we are sorry that one of our wines was bad," that would have been sufficient. Instead, though, neither of these people apologized or even hinted at fault, and instead exhibited arrogance and treated us in a condescending way. Even if the apology was for show only, in a customer-centric industry like theirs that apology should be the first thing delivered and not something that needs to begged for. And, to echo the above recommendation for Dilworthtown Inn, I have bought my parents tickets to at least 5 events there and found that not only does one get a much better value for the money, but the staff, both at the event itself and during the ordering process, couldn't be kinder. Thanks!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Laura D.

      I've been to a couple classes at the Wine School (one wine and one beer class) and don't think I'll be going back. I had never before been to a wine tasting or wine class that was actually uncomfortable. These kinds of things should be interactive, but instead, the teachers here lectured the whole time and then, as above, poured incredibly small pours. The director of the school, who taught our wine class, seems to be the kind of person that makes people think that you have to have a certain level of sophistication to enjoy wine and that you can't appreciate it unless you can pick up 6 different flavors from a glass.

    2. I can't comment on their procedure if one of the bottles is corked. But that said. . .

      Isn't there a law on the books in PA that limits pours at tasting events to 1 ounce? That's why they and pourers at wineries and other events use the special spout. (Can anyone comment on the size of the pours at Tria's fermentation school, which is the only other wine class that I can think of in Philadelphia other than the Temple class with McNulty, which is a total free for all where people do show up with the expectation of leaving with a buzz.) IMHO, the point of wine classes is to taste the wine, learn how to discern the 6 different flavors in the glass, and learn information about the wines, regions and foods in a presentation/lecture format, not to drink wine and socialize. If you go in with the wrong expectation, I can see how there might be confusion or disappointment.

      That said, I've done the 101, Italian wine and corked/forked class at WSOP and found everyone -- guests and staff-- to be lovely and polite, and went out of their way to be kind and accommodating to a singleton. Also, I've never had a class at WSOP that didn';t involve flights, rather than the singles you describe. Admittedly, though, I've never been to a Smackdown event, though I would pay $60 to attend a chef's presentation (though, not GP, as I sort of think he's a smacked a** -- no flames for that please. . . .)

      1 Reply
      1. re: MLTimes

        Thank you for commenting about the purpose of a wine class. I think you are definitely correct--the purpose is to discern the flavors, learn about the wines, etc., and not to drink oneself under the table or even to dwell on a single wine for too long. And, in his email response to us the owner of the wine school basically alluded to the fact that perhaps my parents were disappointed in the experience because they didn't understand the purpose of such an event, which I don't believe to be the case given their experience with events like this. That being said, my response to his suggestion would be that this event wasn't a traditional wine tasting but instead like an iron chef type of event. Sure, the judges on iron chef shouldn't lick their plates clean and beg for more of their first dish, because they might become too satiated to give fair consideration to the upcoming dishes or they might find their palates dulled, but having a single bite of a dish probably wouldn't be enough for them to make a fair assessment of it. Additionally, while I can't comment on the issue of whether it is illegal for a pour at a tasting event to be more than 1 ounce (I'm not sure why this would be the case but I know we have crazy liquor laws here so perhaps this is one of them), I do think it is irresponsible to bring just exactly enough to allow for that 1 ounce pour. When I worked for a caterer we didn't show up to an event with exactly as many steaks as were ordered but instead allowed for the fact that a steak might be dropped, burned, spoiled, etc, and we'd need to have extra to cover for that. The wine school did not allow for any extra which seems surprising given how long they have been in this business. Anyway, thanks again for your comment.

      2. I had a great experience with the Wine School about a year ago. Got a pair of tickets for my parents, and we were in the basement classroom of Pinot (on Market Street). The class size was comfortable and cozy, the instructor was great (can't for the life of me remember his name, but I know he writes for some local magazines), the pours were very generous, and we often would receive 2nds or 3rds of a particular wine. There were about 8 different wines poured. I certainly don't consider myself a wine pro, but I do know more about it than the average person. The experience was really for my parents, and we all enjoyed and learned quite a few things. Not to mention we walked out pretty tipsy from all the extra wine pourings:) Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience however. I wonder if the experience varies with the instructors or where the event was held.

        3 Replies
        1. re: micreynolds

          It's actually funny you mention walking out tipsy because when I spoke with the wine school, via phone, before ordering the tickets, the gentleman on the phone advised me to have my parents eat ahead of time, basically saying they should have a good amount of food in their stomachs to cushion the heavy amount of alcohol they'd be served. While they were by no means looking to get drunk, it seemed ironic that such a statement would be made when such a small amount was being served (though in all fairness there was enough alcohol in the cocktails that perhaps one would get tipsy).

          1. re: Laura D.

            Well, it IS supposed to be a wine TASTING, not a wine DRINKING, right...?

            1. re: 94Bravo

              Well yes and no. I don't think it is a wine tasting in the traditional sense. On the website it is listed under wine tastings (as I think all of their events/classes pretty much are) but in the description it is called a food and wine pairing event, which seems to be slightly different. Sure, it is probably an issue of verbiage and each can interpret things differently. But, I personally didn't feel as if the event was sold on the idea that one would basically get about 2 sips of each wine and be able to decide from that small amount whether the wine paired better with the food than the cocktail.

        2. The original comment has been removed