Sunday, September 22, 2019

Oh, The People You’ll Meet! (at a wine media luncheon)

Since decamping from the day job, I’ve had more than my fair share of invites to wine media luncheons. For the most part these have been pleasurable social events. If lucky, we actually received information and inspiration. I’ve come to recognize some of the archetypal characters that populate these events. Here are a few that have stood out along the way.

The Journalist - Not a run-of-the-mill, bona fide member of the press. This person is the one who, when you are introduced, they hand you their business card. And right under their name is the title “journalist.” Not freelancer, blogger, not even writer. Journalist. And they’re damn proud of it.

When you ask them which publications they have written for, they mention online aggregate sites that “let” people contribute for free, lending them the aura of being on a team, a bunch of reporters sitting in the newspaper office grinding out reports from their “beat.”

Forget that they hardly know the difference between its and it’s, let alone knowing when to use that and when to use which (let’s not even bring up the then vs. than conundrum they are often faced with).

They’re a harmless type, usually they just want to be part of something bigger than the life that’s been handed to them. But they get a bit tripped up on the word “journalist.” They might be a blogger, or they might have a feed on Twitter or maybe even Redditt. But longform isn’t something they strive to create on a regular basis. They might even have a press pass to something like Prowein or Slow Wine. But they do not earn a penny writing. Heck, it’s hard enough for a dedicated freelancer to make enough dough to pay all the monthly bills.

The Drunk – He’s always ready for a “nuncheon.” It’s 12:30, lunch hasn’t even started, but this character has already downed three cups of Pét-Nat, claiming he forgot to take his daily dose of probiotics and he’s just priming the pump. TMI. Over the course of the 3-hour luncheon (promised initially to be no longer than 90 minutes, “in and out”) with a plethora of wines poured (12 at last count and we’re still only on the first main course dish, with two more “mains” coming), our table drunk starts to slur his words. He even fell asleep once and woke himself up snoring. The good news is he is relatively quiet, as if there is any air left in the room, between the “journalist” and our next guest. 

The Influencer – Usually never on time, we’re often kept waiting for this person before the host starts talking, because he just wants to say it once (we only have 90 minutes, after all). So, we wait, and we sip, and the drunk over there, he gets more inebriated (his edible has also just kicked in), and we wait some more. And then she shows up.

It’s as if the event had no energy until this one showed up. “I’m soooo sorry, but I was on a conference call with Toddy and Mariel B.” We’re supposed to know they are uber-influencers in the world of canned rosé wine. In any case, she lives a #VeryImportantLife, and a life filled with #VeryImportantThings to do, of which she is most often the fulcrum, the centerpiece, the raison d'être for this (or any other) gathering.

The thing you notice about this person is the use of simple, easy to understand words. Words like “I” “me” and “my” peppered in her short staccato Twitter-length phrases, usually describing something #Great about herself. She’s a one-woman P.R. machine, and you will know how many Twitter followers she has (15K) how many Instagram followers (18K) and that she doesn’t have any room left for followers on Facebook because she’s surpassed the limit. But Facebook is #So2009 anyway, nobody goes there anymore.

Oh, and she is a master of selfie photography and that’s pretty much all you see on her social media feed. But she is very, very #Influential. Dontcha know?
Our next guest is The Name-Dropper. He’s been everywhere, drunk everything. ’47 Haut-Brion? In magnums. ’31 Quinta do Noval Nacional? Multiple times. ’71 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Pugnane? He simply adores the rosé clone of Nebbiolo! He a walking encyclopedia of unicorn wines, and if the recent sarde in saor course hasn’t caused a minor upheaval in your digestive system, The Name-Dropper and his constant tink-tink-tink of names will eventually cause your personal house of cards to fold and fly away on the fairy-dust he’s been spreading around the table.

The Name-Dropper, you see, wants to be part of the secret society of wine connoisseurs, that virtual Illuminati of wine experts that are just beyond the reach of all us abecedarians sitting around the table. And he’ll let you know that you are not part of his clandestine cult. You can bet on it.

Seated next to the Name-dropper is The Naturalista. She just discovered natural wines; about the same time, she became a vegan. Right after she divorced her husband of 20 years, when he ran away with their daughter’s best friend. Now, she has a part time job, working for a professor, who, in his spare time, is attempting to get his Master Sommelier pin as well as passing the grueling Master of Wine exam. He was too busy to come, so he sent her in his place.

She’s actually quite pleasant, although she sometimes conflates her ardor for “those lovely little natty ones” with her lifestyle. Yes, she has the "flowing peasant dress" attire down pat. And the sandals, the Birkenstocks. She’s constantly pulling out disinfecting wipes (bleach free!) and cleaning her hands. A germophobe? As well, her hair color is Pantone Orange 021 C (supposably to seasonally match her Pantone Black C nails, perfectly mani-curated for the season), neither of which look like any hair color Mother Nature ever came up with. Especially in a person whose roots have been “graying” for the last few years. But she’s enthusiastic and not overly contentious, though she definitely has her opinions. If only she could get a word in edgewise between Mr. Name-Dropper and Ms. Influencer.

And finally, there’s The Nicest Person at the table. Thank God. She usually has another job, one where she makes plenty of money and has a modicum of authority. But her natural character is one of being kind and generous and compassionate. She’s the one passing the butter plate, while all the rest are too busy being glued to their devices and letting their social media followers in on what a #fantastic, #unbelievable and #epic event they’re “reporting” on. She listens, she asks questions that aren’t intended to make her appear to be the smartest person in the room (there are plenty of those here already). And she really, truly cares about the person pouring the wine, and the wine too. She’s influential, but you’ll never hear it from her. She’ll write it up on her blog, which has scores and scores of followers, who'll go out and buy the wines she writes about. Why? Because she transmits the joy and the passion and the happiness of all the good things about the wine business and because she is The Nicest Person. And we always are grateful for one like her at the table.

Press luncheons can be a hit-or-miss kind of thing. But one must taste, taste, taste regularly. So, if the price of admission is to sit at a table where you aren’t the smartest person in the room, or the most influential, or with the greatest experience in tasting the “old wines,” you won’t be alone. Pass the #butter, please.

written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
[Illustrations by Ben Shahn]
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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