Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Sunset Somm – Tinkering Forever with Chance

“Start as a dishwasher. Become a salesman. Exit as an accountant. Sunset as ambassador. QED” – Joseph Spellman, M.S.

I read the quote above, from a most distinguished Silverback in the wine/sommelier world, and experienced déjà vécu. No, it wasn’t an allergic reaction to some Grands Vins sans sulfite or the newest, petulant Pét-Nat. It was the mirror of time – sans Dorian Gray. And it was strikingly accurate. So many of us who started out in the wine trade took this path. The progression was very much like a well-executed double play, performed once-upon-a-time, on a field of dreams. Loving wine, selling wine, mastering wine. Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Sunset – a very romantic notion. Lovers post their imminent and very Instagrammable selfies hundreds of thousands of times per day with the sun setting behind them. Lots of warm colors, with possibly a picture-perfect Irish setter along for dearness and irony. All very wonderful. But what does the sun feel, heading into that abyss?

All those years of learning, of plying one’s trade, only to be, at the end, relegated to the role of an ambassador, as if it were a political perk given by a thankful president for having gotten him or her elected. “Go to Rome, be my envoy,” the king edicts. “Go to Omaha, spread the word about Paso Robles Cabernet or Barbera d’Alba,” the omnipotent (and invisible) god of the wine trade prescribes. Yes, let’s go to Siberia and do a Soave wine dinner in the September of one’s years.

That is how some of the young ones look at the Hollow Men of wine – no more bang, just a whimper. But when you ask those men (and women) in the gray flannel body bags (as the arc of their careers heads towards the abyss), they bellow the boomer anthem, “Hell no – we won’t go!” Yes, the stronger ones resist. And insist that it isn’t futile. But is it? Isn’t it the most natural thing? The elephants do it – so do the shamans of Australia. They just walk out into the savannah and disappear. There is no shame for these venerated souls. So why do some old pros fight the inevitable?

Well, for one, it took a hell of a long time to get here, whether clawing through the many academic programs available, or free-climbing our own personal Half Domes, without ropes or pitons. Time, for those of us locked into the carbon cycle of life on this planet, is finite, even for 20-year-olds ̶̶ but ever so much more urgently for the senior spokesmen (and women) of the wine trade.

Here’s the deal, and I’ve said this before: When you are young – let’s say 30 – you’ve been young all your life. You don’t know anything else (unless you are Zachary Sussman, who is really an old soul ensnared in a young man’s body – and good for him). No one likes to hear about anyone’s history; the young guns hate to hear about the “way things were.” I feel likewise. When my 102-year-old friend tells me about his memories of 100 years ago (for real!), I have a hard time figuring out how this relates to my life. But I listen, because he deserves the respect. Contrast that with bar-talk I recently audited, “Respect is so…1967.”

So here’s how it goes down. If you’re 25, the world is your oyster. Everything is there for the taking. If you’re 45, you’re on top of the world. And if you’re 65, you better keep your dark glasses on in the sky boxes. Do not stare directly into the sun, whether it is setting or not.

If you’re 25, it’s pretty much useless for the rest of us to talk to you. You’re the new crop, the “Suited Somm.” Figure it out – survive or die. Experience is the teacher. Godspeed.

If you’re 45, you are the Gen-Expert. There is really nothing you need from anyone. You are a God unto Yourself – a “Supreme Somm.” Carry on – and good luck. Tempus fugit.

If you’re 65, you’re a “Sunset Somm.” Go back to your cave and leave the young ones alone. They aren’t going to learn from your mistakes (btw, did you?). They don’t care what it was like in 1983. You’re done. You’re the walking dead. Goodbye, you have been sunsetted. #GTFOH.

In the meantime, Ron and I will be waiting here in the bardo, where the next 25 years for us will seem like 10 minutes. Oh, it will for you as well. You just don’t know it yet.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Anonymous said...

Wunnerful wunnerful wunnerful. You can start the bubble machine now.

Marco Scostumato said...

Your words and images dovetail with a reunion of 3 friends this week in Troy NY, the city of our alma mater RPI. Time and age was always in the conversation no matter what we were talking about. It was 50 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper Taught His Band To Play...

Francesco Gullino said...

Ahhhhhh, yes. We are at that point in life......with the wisdom of our age.

But what happened to respect for the experience and the wisdom that age bequeaths us? The antiquarians used to be looked up to. Now we are an anachronism. Someone to be stowed in the hold of an old persons home or housing for the geriatric.

I am maintaining respect for myself the same way you are: Keeping informed, loving our work, participating in education, and practicing our crafts. The most important aspect at this point is to teach. Bring the young'ns up with a foundation of experience and history of the craft. I am a pastry chef, very much old school, and I love the history, but also I respect the "now" and the future. Whilst I work, there is the most important aspect: teaching. The new school has it's place, but it must be based on us old timers and the history from whence we come.

The key for me is to keep going, never stop with my own intellectual movement forward in my craft. Got to be moving, always.......

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