Have You Ever Returned A Bottle Of Wine?



Over the weekend this lady came up to me at my stall and started telling me that a bottle of wine she’d bought from me was off when she opened it. I genuinely didn’t know how to react. She’d bought it three weeks previously, opened it, tried it, thought it was corked, and then poured it down the sink. She bought me the empty bottle back and after a bit of to’ing and fro’ing I got the general gist that she wanted it replaced. How should I have reacted here?

What is a corked wine?

So a corked wine is one of the most annoying things that can go wrong with wines. It is not, I repeat NOT, where the cork breaks and falls into the wine when you’re opening it. This is where the cork seal has at some point failed, let oxygen in, and ruined the wine during storage. It used to happen a lot, it happens a lot less now as cork manufacturers evolve their technology. But it still happens.

Not being helpful

So, how did I react? My first thought probably wasn’t very helpful. I wondered what the hell she wanted me to do about it?! It happens and it certainly wasn’t my bloody fault. The other thing being was it’d been a few weeks since she’d bought it, and she’d poured it all down the sink so I couldn’t check if it was or wasn’t corked. They were my first thoughts (I didn’t say them out loud!), so as I said, not very helpful!

Statutory rights

It’s the first time it’s happened to me, so I genuinely didn’t know what to do. So I got on the ol’ smart phone and searched for what other companies did. Nearly everyone offered a new bottle if the customer wasn’t satisfied, something to do with the rule of “fit for purpose” in the statutory rights. (Although I would point out that they all said the purchase had to have been within the last week.)

Stuck in the middle

So despite tiny margins, struggling to make money, and the fact it wasn’t my fault, I had to give away a free bottle. You think I can go back to the producer and say I had a corked bottle, can I have another one? They’ll laugh at me!

My biggest gripe was as it took me about five minutes to work out a response, she was genuinely pissed off with me, despite the free bottle.   Didn’t handle that one very well, did I?


19 thoughts on “Have You Ever Returned A Bottle Of Wine?”

  1. We have contacted wineries that we have purchased from to let them know the bottle was corked. (Of course we didn’t dump the wine down the sink). In one case they sent us the equivalent (new vintage) and one, since sold out, gave us credit towards our next purchase. Not sure what we would have done if purchased at a store knowing it was purchased through a distributor, but I would tend to think the winery would want to know. As a winery, We would want to know. I don’t want someone unhappy with my product.

  2. you’re having a right proper grumpy week aren’t you. but yes – I think the winery should know – and you were right to give her another bottle – perhaps you do a little sign somewhere on your stall that if people wonder if it is corked, they should return to you with the wine still in the bottle – you cd check, and even turn it into a little coaching exercise for the customer to explain how / why its gone wrong (and then give them another bottle if it is corked) (and then let the winery know). blah de blah.

  3. Hmm interesting to hear it from your perspective. The only time I returned a wine that I thought was corked was to Majestic. I returned it full (or near enough), and I did expect a refund although part of that is through Majestic promising your money back if you don’t like it.

    In hindsight, I don’t actually think the bottle was corked – when I opened a second bottle of the same wine, it tasted the same. I concluded it simply wasn’t to my taste (aka was disgusting, ha). So actually when I returned the wine to Majestic I would have appreciated being educated on how to tell if a wine is corked – and then I possibly could have exchanged my second bottle rather than wasted it.

    Would I expect a refund from you? Yes (or at least an exchange), but only if I returned the wine to you to check. I think a one week rule is unfair, as you wouldn’t necessarily drink it within the week. At the end of the day it’s not the consumer’s fault if the product was faulty – but you should be given the opportunity to inspect it. Taking parallels with clothing, if I bought a coat which I then believed to be faulty, I wouldn’t get a refund or a new coat without at least returning the original item.. so your customer was definitely unreasonable there.

    Just realised this is quite a long rambling comment..

  4. Let’s go at it from a different perspective. The only time I’ve returned a bottle was at a major retailer. Here in the states, with the archaic 3-tier system, the shop gets their money back from the distributor, they from the importer, and do on down the line. The wine I returned was clearly oxidized from a faulty cork, and I brought the nasty juice back in the bottle. If I were to get a bad bottle from a small, independent winery or shop, where they are operating on a razor thin margin, I’d think twice about a return. I guess it would depend on price.

    I’d say you did the right thing, but I question the lady’a actions. Don’t dump it, and think about the impact a return may have on the vendor. As you say, it’s nobosy’s fault! It just happens. Good suggestion above about making this a teaching moment for your customers.

  5. Another thought just occurred to me. By having a friendly returns policy, you are building goodwill with your customers. You may lose some margin with a return, but create a repeat customer who will buy from you again and again, and tell their friends about you. Over time, you’ll more than make up for that one-off bottle.

  6. I am a wine professional, someone who also regularly buys (a lot of) wine. I acknowledge that her having poured the bottle down the sink is not exactly helpful from your perspective, and neither is the three week wait. However, let’s look at it from her perspective for a moment:

    1. She had opened a bottle of wine that was eagerly anticipated, and desired. It might be a special occasion, or a “because it’s Wednesday and it’s been a bloody bad one” bottle, but in any event, it was a bottle she had purchased in good faith, and was not ok.

    2. If she is a regular wine consumer, then she KNOWS it was not ok. If she is not, then it not being ok means it was probably REALLY not ok, because people who are less involved as consumers are less likely to complain and more likely to just decide never to do it again.

    3. It might not have been corked – it could have been bacterial spoilage, refermentation, brett, any of a number of faults, but it was not ok.

    4. She now needs to:
    – open another bottle, assuming she has one. It might not go as well with dinner, it might not be as good, or it might be too good for the company / situation. But it is, by definition, a bottle she was not planning to open that night
    – find a time to come back to see you and complain about the bottle. This might not be easy to do at a time you are open and she is free.

    5. If she needs to bring the bottle with her, well, then she needs to keep it in her kitchen, where there may not be room, and she needs to make sure no one else throws it down the sink, and then she needs to stick the open bottle (the cork of which might or might not have been kept) in her car or on the bus or even just walking down the street with an open bottle of wine…

    It’s deeply frustrating, but from my perspective, companies that handle this well have my undying loyalty. (The Wine Society stands out in a positive sense. Tesco in a very negative one – a non-drinker member of staff tried to tell me I was wrong about the cork taint on a wine because (of course) “there’s no cork floating in the wine”.)

    I can understand that small margins make this difficult, but – and I know this can be hard sometimes – you missed an opportunity. Good luck with the next one.

    1. Yeah I think it was just it was the first time it happened to me, I didn’t know what to say, and I was in a rough mood anyway because of what’s going on right now 🙁 As you said, think I’ve messed that situation up, but learned my lesson for next time! Thanks for the reply 🙂

  7. Friend of mine runs a few wine stores here in the US. I know that he will take back a corked bottle for a refund/exchange, and I know that he then returns it back to the wholesaler for the credit. I don’t know, however, how he deals with an empty bottle as in your case, as it becomes unverifiable – I will ask next time I see him.
    In many cases, you can contact the winery, and they would typically stand behind their product and take care of the spoiled bottles (have practical examples confirming that).
    But overall, this is a tough one. I think the rule is simple – “don’t be a jerk”. It applies on both sides. I never returned a corked bottle opened at home – it is what it is, things happen. I know “customer is always right”, but not sure how I would react if I would be in your place…

  8. I have never returned a bottle of wine, either in a wine shop or a restaurant, so I have been lucky. The only bad bottles that I have had were ones that I kept too long and that was my problem. I just opened a charming ’86 Chianti Classico Riserva about an hour ago and we were both amazed at the life that was there. Please don’t belabor the moment.

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