Beverage ace

Talking tannins with Chico’s venerable wine guy

Dave Mettler, Safeway’s “wine guy.”

Dave Mettler, Safeway’s “wine guy.”

Photo by Melissa Daugherty

Dave Mettler is a popular guy at the Safeway on Mangrove Avenue. That’s doubly true on Friday afternoons, as this reporter witnessed while trying to peel him away from the wine department for a brief interview. It was difficult to get a word in edgewise as Mettler helped customer after customer—including a woman who drove all the way from Williams to buy imported wine—choose just the right bottle (or bottles). Mettler eventually sat down with the CN&R to talk shop and share some insight into the man whom many locals affectionately call the “wine guy.”

Originally from the East Bay—and a “Raiders fan through and through”—Mettler moved to Chico when he was 14 years old. He became a “beverage steward”—his official title—a year after starting his career with the grocer back in 1987. At the time, the store on Mangrove was located across the parking lot (in the space now occupied by Sports LTD). In the early 1990s, Mettler moved over to the then-brand-new store on East Avenue, and in 1999 headed to Safeway in Bend, Ore. He’s been back in town since 2013. Two years later, based on his wine chops, Mettler was featured as an Editor’s Pick in the CN&R’s Best of Chico issue. Recently, he’s stepped things up by becoming a certified sommelier.

What is your job like on a day-to-day basis?

I just kind of keep in my mind what [customers’] likes and dislikes are and try to turn them onto something new or something that’s a little better clearance price or a special deal going on for them. Vintages are very important—the older the wine gets, the better it gets, especially if it was a special year and the winemaker nailed it.

Tell us about the professional development you receive.

We taste wines, spirits—I mean, we’ll taste bourbons, cognacs, scotch. We get the owners, we get the distillers … we get to taste their product, learn about their product, learn the history of the winery. It’s pretty amazing.

How do you help folks who are new to wine?

If you’re an entry-level person, I trade you into something a little nicer without making you spend more. … It’s an ongoing education for everyone, I think. And it’s good to have someone come back and say, “I never would have tried that, but that was amazing.”

How do you get people out of their comfort zone?

I let them know ahead of time … I’m taking you off the steps of the shallow end of the pool and I’m going to throw you a little deeper, so be ready, here it comes. … You educate them about letting the wine breathe. You don’t just pour and drink it, especially something bigger in structure.

What’s one of your best wine tips?

When you open your wine and don’t finish it, throw it in the fridge.

Even if it’s a red wine?

Yeah. Why? Because room temperature is not whatever your room is—it’s 59 to 66 degrees. Nobody’s house is that cold, especially with Chico summers. So, you want that wine to be cool. The warmer that wine gets, the wimpier the fruit and the bitterness is enhanced.

You recently were certified in wine by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (aka WSET). What is that and what was the process like?

It’s based out of London, England. It’s a world classification. It’s the real deal. … You’ve got 45 minutes to take the test, and it’s yea or nay. And 62 percent of us passed.

What’s the goal?

Maybe some fine dining restaurants will have sommeliers or cruise ships will have sommeliers—they’re experts in wine, so they can walk you through it or give you a presentation. It lets you connect with a customer with more authenticity of knowing what’s inside that bottle, instead of just putting it on the shelf and guessing what’s in the bottle.

How has it changed your job?

The confidence, maybe. … I’m still learning. If you think you know it all, you’re done. Your mind is like a parachute—it doesn’t work unless it’s open.

What are the latest wine trends?

Rosé, definitely. … Rosé is not just one style. It could be cabernet, it could be barbera, it could be a combination of syrahs, grenache, pinot noir, all these different grapes. There are a lot of different dynamics going on with rosé. It’s not just a one-hit wonder.

What’s your go-to wine?

I’m a red wine drinker. Cabernet was my first love. I’m all over the place, though. … Why would you eat your favorite dinner every night? It wouldn’t be your favorite dinner anymore.

What’s the best part of your job?

People and their satisfaction of what I’ve given them to try, especially something they’ve never tried before and they come back and they just love it. And just the interaction with people. I’ve always been a people person. That makes my job so interesting.