Alice's beloved Scanavino. These are the ones I remember. We had other wines to sell as well, but these were amazing wines, then and now.
Today is December 1, 32 years later. It’s a Sunday, so tomorrow, Monday, might be the biggest billing day. I now work for a much larger company, so on any given day there will be thousands of cases leaving the many warehouses. I read in blogs that large companies, in the opinion of some bloggers, can be bad, because they monopolize what wines get to the market. Little producers, the mantra goes, don't have a chance. The rise of smaller companies is supposed to help that. In reality, the circumstances are these: Large or small, we all go out and try to get wine shops and restaurants to buy our wines. Period.Yes there are more wines being made and more people looking for them. But the situation is the same as it ever was.
The day after Thanksgiving I took my annual trek out to see an old client north of Dallas. He’s my age and has been in business as long or longer than I. He has an excellent feel for wine, and for years he has bought wine not just to sell right away. He fashioned a wine cellar in the back of his store and he put all kinds of things in it, only to pull out a wine when he thought it was ready to drink. There have been a few wines in the cellar that I sold him over the years, especially in the beginning of my career.
This last time when we went up there, I noticed his selection was sparse. “What’s up?” I asked my friend. “How’s the business?” He’s a calm fellow, easy-going, a good ‘ol boy. “The big box places have taken a lot of the traffic.” We hear that from the independent wine shops a lot. “What about your cellar, what have you got in there these days?” I asked him. His answer shocked me, “I sold most of it recently. Sotheby’s. That case of Heitz Martha’s '74, remember? It went for $10,000. Those Bordeaux wines, the ’82, and the others, they went for a pretty penny. I did alright.” There was a gleam in his eye but I also sensed a twinge of melancholy. Those were his babies. Our babies. And they went out into the greater world. New York, London, Hong Kong, after slumbering for three decades in "the cellar of a North Texas gentleman," as the Sotheby’s catalogue characterized it.
My takeaway in all of this is that I never thought of myself as a small distributor or a large one. I was one person with some wines made by people and often those people became my friends. Whether it was Gaja or Giacosa, Giacomo or Aldo Conterno, Antinori or Biondi-Santi, Illuminati or Valentini, they were and are living things made by (then and now) living beings. Nobody cares if they are in a large warehouse or a small one. Nobody cares if they are delivered in a 40-foot truck or a step van (as long as it is temperature controlled.) There is no scheme to rob people of wonderful wines. There is competition and economic challenges, just like there was 30 years ago. Fortunately now one can borrow money on a house for less than 4%, not 16%. And there is an even greater selection of wines available than there was in 1981.
I love the process of wine. I connect with the people who make the wine and try my best to transmit that energy to the people in the shops and restaurants that are willing to listen to me. I love all wine and know that I have to champion all the great wines from Italy (or anywhere). The god of wine has a canon, not a conspiracy. I enlisted in this happy crusade many years ago, willingly, and now I am a veteran.
Submitted for your approval by this happy warrior.
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