Do SAQ employees really know anything about wine?

Do SAQ employees really know about wine?  

Of the approximately 5,000 employees at the SAQ, approximately 150 are wine consultants.

The role of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) is to manage the trade in alcoholic beverages throughout the province. Wine is therefore his business (literally!), but when it comes time to choose a bottle, do his employees really give good advice? Metrohas looked into the matter.  

Before judging the skills of those who work there, we must first understand that each branch has several types of employees who do not all have the same role. On the floor, there are mainly cashiers-salespersons who are there to welcome customers and hold the cash register, but also to receive the merchandise and place the bottles on the shelves.

Even if their role is not to make recommendations to customers, “all new recruits must undergo basic training,” explains Samuel Auger, training advisor at the SAQ.  

“We talk about sales ethics, health and safety at work, customer service, and we also present the products so that everyone has a minimum knowledge of the different types of alcohol, the appellations, their origin”, he specifies.

Ariane, who is a cashier and sales clerk at an SAQ branch in Montreal, took this training herself. “As far as wine is concerned, we go by country, by region, by grape variety and we also see the food and wine pairings, but it’s really the main lines,” she says. Thanks to this training and with experience, she says she is able to answer customers' questions, but she does not consider herself a wine expert.

Bet on the passionate

“As in any retail business, employees have different levels of knowledge. Some come to work at the SAQ because they are passionate about wine, but that is not the case for all,” admits Samuel Auger.

For those who wish to deepen their knowledge of wine and develop expertise, the SAQ very regularly organizes optional training and offers the possibility of participating in tasting fairs and meeting producers by visiting vineyards or cider houses.

After a few years of experience, the most motivated can even take a 120-hour training course, a program exclusively set up by the SAQ and the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec ( ITHQ) which will allow them – after three examinations, including a blind tasting – to become an accredited wine consultant.

Wine advisors are people who have really acquired expertise and who are very familiar with the products found in stores. They are neither sommeliers – they are not brought to serve wine or to manage the cellar of a restaurant – nor oenologists since they are not involved in the production of wine.

Samuel Auger, training advisor at the SAQ

Of the approximately 5,000 employees of the state-owned company, about 150 are wine consultants and they are found mainly in SAQ Sélection. In stores, it is therefore to these employees dressed in an apron that it is better to turn to receive sound advice.

Knowledge to share 

Their role is also to develop the curiosity and knowledge of their colleagues, emphasizes Samuel Auger. “They can encourage other employees to take part in the training activities we offer or suggest reading material for them,” he explains.  

“Every week, wine representatives come to make us taste the novelties, also testifies Ariane. And it is the wine advisors who lead the tastings. We can also turn to them at any time if we have questions.

Obviously, knowledge sharing is also done with customers. Sommelier Vincent Laniel (aka Vincent Sulfite on social networks) says he has developed ties with wine consultant Michel Beauchamp of the SAQ Sélection on rue Beaubien.  

“Today 'now i'm more the kind of customer who knows what he wants so i rarely ask for advice, but for a long time i always went to the same branch and i was really glad to have found someone who had quite the same tastes as me for wine. He told me what he had tasted recently and I also told him about my findings, it was really a great bilateral relationship, ”he explains.

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