One doesn’t think of Kroger for its inventory of top-shelf Bordeaux and magnums of rose Champagne, but just off the intersection of Piedmont and Peachtree, one Kroger has got the cru.
I found the cellar by accident during a quick errand to buy batteries. Unlike at other Krogers around town, the aisles of wine are situated near the store's entrance, so I quickly eyed the sections like any good enthusiast would. Curiously high-end bottles were the first clue that this wasn’t an ordinary selection. Among bottles of the usual Cupcake and Rex Goliath labels, I noted a Barolo here, a respectable California Cab there.
That’s when I noticed the closed glass doors behind me. I peered through into a dark room where the outline of a wine cellar became clear. Locked doors? A wine cellar? In a Kroger? Let me in.
The moment the attendant opened the doors and flipped on the lights, I saw it: a magnum of 1995 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes, the French king of sweet wine shining bright like liquid gold. The rest all happened so fast—Shafer Hillside Select, Pahlmeyer, 2002 Palmes d'Or Champagne, Chassagne-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne, Gaja Barbaresco, vintage Madeira from 1934, Pape Clement. These are just a few examples of the kind of selection that any wine store would love to have, and yet here it all was, available for purchase with a Kroger Plus Card.
I spoke with Inus Engelbrecht, the store's wine steward (yes, Kroger employs wine stewards) to learn more about their selection.
For a Kroger, you have a shockingly impressive wine selection. What’s the deal?
At the end of the day, we’re a business. Our selection has a lot to do with our customers and where we’re located. Kroger is very interested in appealing to its customers’ needs, and Buckhead is a very business-minded area. It’s funny how things change. Buckhead wasn’t this way fifteen years ago. It was the party area for the city, and this use to be a very slummy Kroger. It’s very interesting how things change. The cellar became a priority when we remodeled in 2008.
What is your background in wine?
I grew up in Stellenbosch, South Africa, which is just outside of Cape Town, in wine country. This is our Napa valley. My family was friends with winemakers, and when I was seventeen, I started tasting beer and wine with them. It became more of a lifestyle. Coming to the United States, I was in the hospitality industry for a while. I’m currently working on more certifications in a more professional capacity.
My official title here is wine steward. Not all Kroger stores have a wine steward. There are maybe twelve in the state of Georgia.
What’s the most expensive bottle you’ve ever sold?
Personally, I’ve sold a couple of $400 and $500 bottles of Champagne, bottles like Cristal Rose. The most expensive bottle the store has ever sold is probably a $1000 magnum of Champagne.
What would it take to get these kinds of wines stocked in other Kroger locations, or, at least, in the Kroger by my house?
If a Kroger starts moving enough quantity of items, corporate will get interested in making those investments. So, just get really rich and start buying expensive wine.
3330 Piedmont Rd NE