Pavilions stores in Orange County are adding fancy in-store wine shops

When you enter Pavilions on Antonio Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita, you might stop and wonder if your eyes are deceiving you. Close to the front door of the supermarket stands a huge refrigerated display case filled with champagne and sparkling wine.

Behind it is a 500-bottle walk-in cooler stocked with some of California’s most prestigious wine labels: Pahlmeyer, Daou, Paul Hobbs, Grgich. They’re surrounded by row after row of wine, beer and spirits — more than 4,000 items in all, making this Pavilions’ inventory roughly the size of a mid-size standalone liquor retailer.

Bringing an expanded selection of alcoholic beverages to the front of the store is a concept that’s going big soon. Orange County is home to the first two: the Antonio Parkway location, which officially opened on Wednesday, and Pavilions store No. 1911 on Newport Coast Drive in Newport Beach, which will bow on Wednesday.

Then the plan is to take it to more than 50 of the 354 Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores in Southern California.

“The bubbly display was put there to make a statement that we’re serious about this,” said Phil Markert, sales manager for liquor at Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions’ Southern California division. He added that the company plans to match the impressive selection with expertise.

“We have 100 wine stewards on staff throughout the division. We do training every eight weeks with wine sommeliers and whiskey ambassadors. We have a vibrant training program.”

His company aims to train and inform its customers too, Markert said. “We do winemaker dinners throughout Southern California to educate our consumers on wine. They’re very popular.”

Jenna Watkinson, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions’ director of public affairs for Southern California, said her company has done its homework, matching inventory in each store with the preferences of its community. Markert showed what that means for the Rancho Santa Margarita…

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