Friday, April 25, 2008

Back In The Saddle

The best thing about this very moment is that I am in my own bed. Finally. After camping out for five days at Vinitaly and then taking to the road for another week in northern Italy, I came home exhuasted and relieved. Airplanes filled with sick children coughing for eleven hours must have broken down my resistance. A week in the office trying to put together a series of wine seminars across Texas and then a very important dinner for an important Italian winemaker, almost broke me. I spent a weekend alternating between duties at wine dinners and laying on my couch trying to prevent getting any sicker. But come Monday I was stung. Maybe it was a little flu, or a cold or allergies, whatever it was, I should have sat the week out. Instead I took to the road. Dallas on Monday, Houston on Tuesday, Austin on Wednesday and San Antonio on Thursday, with a quick flight back to Dallas for a private and very upscale event for Riccardo Cotarella at the home of a friend in Highland Park and sixty of his closest friends and family.

Last Sunday I knew I was sunk. I had driven off the wine trail onto a shoulder, and it was leading me straight into the gates of hell. But what could I do? I was scheduled to work all week with my colleague and friend the Master Sommelier, Guy Stout. Four days, four cities. The show must go on.

I had no voice. I emailed a friend whose wife is an opera singer, a coloratura soprano. She is very protective of her voice. So I asked him to have her send me her remedy for a sore throat with no voice and the need to perform. Her email was priceless, and someday I must reprint her remedy, for it is alchemy and genius.

I proceeded to go forward. Monday was upon me. Our meeting with salespeople went well enough. That lasted for an hour and was fairly low impact. The challenge would come in the afternoon when we would be doing a ninety minute presentation and a lot of talking.

Time out. I don’t usually talk about these things. I call these kinds of posts “mommy blogs.” See what I did, see who I talked to, see my wonderful life. I usually stick to topic. But lately I have heard from a lot of folks about how wonderful my profession and life is. And it is. But not without some downsides as well. Many hours, lots of work and when one wears themselves out, burn on through it. Don’t stop. Not very glamorous.

So I was suited up and sounding like Barry White. Dallas went well, plenty of folks showed up; it was an SRO(standing room only) kind of day. Around 5:30 I was dragging and someone suggested I go home. One stop first. A friend with MS needed some wine for her MS charity event planning meeting. So I rounded up some bottles and took them to her penthouse. And then home and straight to bed.

8 PM and it is still light out. But in eight hours I must get up and catch a plane. So I forced myself down and hoped when I awoke I would feel better.

No chance. But I'm on a 6:30 AM plane, anyway. If I wanted to feel bad about my plight I saw two other colleagues at the airport who had come from way out in the suburbs to catch their flights as well. So no tears for me.

I have a friend who I rarely see, but it seems lately we are on the same plane to Houston. We both started out about the same time in the wine biz and we took different paths. But it is always interesting talking to him about the big Napa Valley wine business. Lots of correlations.

Houston. 7:30 AM. 80°F and 90% humidity. I should have brought more shirts. On to the morning meeting.

First one went well. The afternoon one started later and I found myself on a hotel room laid out trying to regain some strength. I was taking a mixture of antihistamines, zinc, aspirin, nose spray, cough drops and cough syrup. I was up, down, soft boiled, poached and rendered. I felt like crap. Thirty minutes to showtime.

Seventy folks filed in and my spirits were raised. I talked as long as my voice held out and then I handed the program over to Guy. A friend in the audience told me later that he saw my voice trail off and disappear as I handed the program over to my colleague.

2 days down – 2 to go

After flying to Houston and doing a full days worth of program we loaded up the car and headed to Austin. I have taken that Houston to Austin road three times this year and I am beginning to really like it in a country and western song writing kind of way. As we headed into Austin, missing dinner with any number of Italian winemakers who had descended upon the capital, we rolled into the hotel and bagged it for the night.

Austin. We had two great days and we got cocky. A decent enough session with our staff and then on to the trade function.

Austin isn’t like anywhere else. There’s no predicting what will or won’t work. We set up the room, decorated the tables for 50 and opened up scores of great Italian wines. And then we waited. And waited.

Earlier we had rolled out for a quick lunch of tacos, chased with a bottle of Kerner. In plastic glasses, over ice. Had we offended the wine gods? This was Austin, was that so wrong?

Finally we started. Seven brave souls made it to the event. Along with double that amount of wine suppliers and staff. I had no voice and my emotions weren't too high, but I belted out a program that was one of my best. I gave it 120%. Later one of my friends showed up and lifted my spirits. I was really down. Guy wasn’t feeling so masterfully wonderful either. But we soldiered on and packed up the car and headed to San Antonio.

A nice meal at Luca and a glass or two of wine and we were three days down and one to go.

San Antonio – Thursday 9 AM – there must have been 45 salespeople in the room. Guy and I did our thing and afterwards several salespeople came up and told us we had made a difference for them that day. One old boy brought tears to my eyes. Something that I said about just making a note to have an answer to the question, “what’s new?” really pushed his button, in a good way. Yes, they liked me, they really liked me. On to the afternoon seminar.

Meanwhile Guy drove us, on the way, to an aggie store where he returned some ridiculously expensive pesticide. I had been traveling in his car for two days with this ultra concentrated poison that cost $200 a gallon?

In the poison store that had these wonderful posters with detailed drawings of ants and bees and sharpshooters. Down to the hairy backs on the big headed ants. Weird, but wonderful, in a macabre way.

Finally we made it to the last venue in time to get a call that my alarm back home is on and the alarm company won't call the police because I haven’t updated my permit info. All this while my phone/blackberry is crashing every five minutes.

So I lose it. I call my son and neighbor to go over and check it out. Seems that Dallas was having some serious April weather and the power was out. Small favors.

The afternoon seminar, the last one before heading back to Dallas for the Cotarella event. The restaurant had set the room up as if only seven people were coming to this one. No, no, no. Eventually 15-20 people showed and we averted a disaster.

I started the event off knowing I would have to bow out early and get to the airport. Around ten minutes past the time I should have stopped, Giulio popped his head in and got me out to the car. Along the way he made conversation about things, trying to ease my worry.

Airport. In time. Phone dead. Catch plane. Ears clog up and stay clogged up. I’m never gonna get well.

A hard landing in Dallas and a quick dart to Highland Park to prepare for the Cotarella event. I am dead tired. I am grouchy. But the show must go on. Clouds were gathering. Would our wonderful Italian al fresco event be forced to move inside? Please, please, please, don’t rain.

Riccardo showed up looking tired too. We were the walking wounded in search of the illusive bella figura. But we grabbed each others arms and headed for the stage. Just like Bing and Bob. We killed ‘em. They loved it. Almost done.

Finally about 9 PM Riccardo looks like I feel. He stands up and says good night. Thank you, Riccardo, we can all go rest up and get ready to pitch our tent another day.

That’s a peek into a week of the glamorous wine life.


  1. So, how was your week? Amico, I don't know how you do it.

  2. Hope you get better! ;-)

  3. You must have caught 'la febbre' off all those isck italian kids on the plane. xx

  4. What a "FANTASTIC" evening. Great wine , great people , great food , wonderful wine "info".Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Tim Sambrano who were the "hosts with the mosts" for sure!And also to A. Cevola and the Winebow folks who really showed everobody "WHERE THE RUBBER GRIPPED THE ROAD " !
    Mr. and Mrs. Steve Silverman

  5. that bella figura you were chasing was with YOU all along, it was unfortunately elusive only to our austinites! i wish i could have been there...

    and don't you know that we all want to know what the hell you do all day, figlio fortunato?



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