Sunday, November 14, 2010

There is No Truth ~ There are Only Stories

Non essiri duci sinno tu mancianu, non essiri amaru sinno ti futanu*

Those who know me know this has been a heck of a week. Those who read between the lines might have an idea, but don’t worry if it slipped past you. There is too much information in a world that is throwing things at us from every corner. I feel like I have been in a ring with Manny Pacquiao. My head hurts.

So where are we? We are half way in the notorious O-N-D selling season. Lackluster would be high praise. Business is good for the top 1% of the population. My son still doesn’t have health insurance. But I’m not boiling like a teakettle. I’m cool. Really.

I’m cool because I run across signs, all the time, that tell me we are making progress. Like yesterday, walking through the wine department of Whole Foods and seeing a white wine from Sicily for $6. No idea what the grapes are (Catarratto, Grillo or Inzolia would be my guess) but worth a chance. Progress, because we are going beyond a sweet Chardonnay/Semillon Aussie blend, or a German Riesling dumbed down for White Zinfandel tastes. Making progress, one day at a time.

Tough week, because we lost a young man in the business. His family and the 500 or so people who came to his funeral were saddened by his untimely and unexpected departure. A young child, a wife, a family and friends in shock. I sat in front of three women at the funeral; they must have been friends with the wife. They were all in their late 30’s – early 40’s. All married. They were weeping. Behind me a young man, a rep for Ruffino, the look on his eyes, the brick of mortality, it was heavy on their minds. Senseless loss.

It makes this quest to cram all the wine we can onto the shelves of the retailer and on wine lists, well let’s just say it puts things in perspective. Sure the show must go on. But how about the way we relate to people in getting what we want? There’s a game-changing kernel in there somewhere.


After my Whole Foods shopping and conversation, I got a call from a salesman, he was not far away, getting ready to taste and pitch a wine to a customer. A wine I suggested. “I’m down the street, I’ll stop buy if that's ok.”

When I got there the salesman was dressed in black. Not mourning like the day before when we went into the garage after the funeral so I could give him the bottle of wine.

No, he has a lot of children and he was going to night job. Service for a large dining /catering gig. He had to leave so I sat with the buyer and we tasted the wine.

Now, here is where I really kicked myself in the ass. I am all full-court press on this guy about the wine. And this guy, who I now really like a whole lot, because he was un-phased in my pitch, he was all about the relationship, the story. So. Man, I kicked into Italian wine guy on the wine trail mode, dialed it back, and we just talked. He talked. I did a lot of listening. And I am OK with that. I was thinking about the way this new wine store was put in a neighborhood, my old neighborhood. Only blocks away, some pretty important things had happened to me in my life. The place was charged. And here, all of a sudden, there are restaurants and wine stores opening up. The place is getting new life breathed into it. And here we have this young man, with a degree, a soccer lover, talking to me about stories. It was when he threw out the quote, “There is no truth, there are only stories,” soma ancient Samurai quote and he zinged me. And I thought ”we cannot lose another one.”

Right then I felt sorry for Robert Parker and Thomas Matthews. What? Why? They probably really like the stories, as much as any of us do. But they are tied to scores, to numbers, to “apps” and files and any number of guys strolling down the lane of his wine store with his Iphone in hand, looking for the perfect wine.

I’m rambling. I know. 700+ words in, really needing to wrap this thing up, and I’m letting all the string out on my kite. Soaring, in the wind.

All this to say I have nothing from the wine trail in Italy today. But the path of life, and death, that has been more important than any quest for the perfect wine. Young sommeliers, looking to taste all the vintages of Sassicaia or Haut-Brion, sit down. You can post your pretty pictures and brag about your prowess re: blind tasting; but when it’s all said and done, will this be something a friend of yours will want to talk about in front of 500 people in remembrance of you? Will that be your legacy?

It ain’t mine babe. I got more living to do, whether I taste another great wine or not.

I’m still standing, And I’m not gonna stand in front of this screen any longer. Yeah, yeah, yeah.







* Do not be sweet lest you be eaten, do not be too sour, lest you be shunned

6 comments:

TWG said...

Perspective, it's something I've been confronting lately.
Word verification : toolate.

Thomas said...

Alfonso,

1995--my last year on the street, thanks to an idiotic retailer who forced perspective on me.

Never made as much money again, but...

chris said...

Perfect piece.

Thanks for the gentle reminder to let "all the string out of our kites."

"TexaCali Ali" said...

Gil was a friend of mine at Baylor and last spoke with him at a Glazer's meeting in Dallas, a welcome friendly face in a sea of sales reps. My heart is heavy. Compassion on the Wine Trail is a must...

Anonymous said...

From a (relatively young) sommelier who also believes there is so much more to the wine life than tasting the greats and knowing the scores, thank you.

Also, sincere condolences.

Anonymous said...

Alfonso,

My condolences also on your loss, and to the family. I'm sure they will appreciate your thoughtful reflections.

But don't feel sorry for me. I spend much more time talking with the diverse, passionate people who work in the wine business than I do blind-tasting their products, and Wine Spectator devotes many more pages to stories than to reviews.

In my experience, nearly everyone I meet who is involved with wine loves to drink it, but even more, loves to talk with others who also appreciate its stories, and its truths. I imagine that's why you both sell wine and write about it; it's in the bottle, but it's also in our hearts and minds.

Thomas Matthews

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