Sunday, November 21, 2021

A Cautionary Tale - The Insolent Sommelier Pt. III

“Ah, how the seeds of cockiness blossom when soiled in ignorance.”― Steve Alten, The Loch

Back from a working trip to Italy, I invited Segundo to a wine tasting. We had a winemaker in town and I was told he liked to rub shoulders with celebrity vintners. He accepted.

I knew enough to leave him alone when he was tasting. He usually brought a consort with him, to provide cover. I observed they liked to keep to themselves, to draw little attention to any observations they made about the wine, the venue or the other wine buyers in the crowd. Segundo’s lack of confidence saw to it that he was duly shielded from anyone who might know more about Italian wine, or wine in general. He usually avoided me in those situations. I would ease the sail in order to provide him with ample room for his maneuvering comfort.

But there was a moment when we were both tasting with the winemaker. Segundo seemed to be enjoying the wine and the rapport the winemaker was having with him. So, I said, “Let me ask you, Segundo, have you ever been to Italy?” Segundo shook his head and cast his eyes down, as if he were embarrassed. “Well,” I said, “We need to do something about that, take you to Italy. What do you think?” He was noncommittal. Which I thought a bit odd. Who wouldn’t want a Platinum tour of Italian vineyards with yours truly? (Don’t answer that)

I found out that his wife kept him on a short leash. I didn’t know the dynamics of their relationship, or their history, but one would think if you were in the wine trade and someone with a lot of keys to open a lot of doors invited you to Italy, all expenses paid, that one would jump at it. But he didn’t. I wondered why.

Later in the week, I was talking to a colleague, Feliz Zorillo, who I had worked with in the past, and told him that story. “Oh, Rosie would never let him out of her zip code, let alone go to Italy.” “Why?” I asked.

Feliz took a deep pull from his Macanudo and told me a little story. “Do you remember when I worked with that large French importer and I had a huge entertaining budget? Well, one Saturday night, at 11:30, Segundo texted me and told me he wanted me to meet him at the Landing Strip, the gentlemen’s club near the airport. His words, and I can remember them as if it happened yesterday, ‘Meet me there Feliz, and bring your expense account. You want a by-the-glass feature? I need a lap dance. You want the house champagne? You know what I'll need for that.’ I’ll never forget it. But that was the price one had to pay if you wanted Segundo’s business. Italy? He doesn’t need to go to Italy, and his wife won’t let him go anyway. But buffing the knob, after hours, from a pole dancer? That was the way in, my friend.”

I’d heard about those kinds of arrangements in our business, especially on the liquor side. Even though we were still a few years away from the #MeToo era, I was in disbelief.

I thought to myself, “That cocky little bastard. How dare he conflate his carnal needs with his professional duties. He is obligated to make the wine business profitable for his employer, not as a scenario for his self-aggrandizement.” I told Brad, my boss, we wouldn’t be taking Segundo to Italy, ever. Period. Brad caught my drift.

Look, it’s one thing to compete for the Chianti by-the-glass business. It should come down to taste, availability, price and potential for profit. But if it is contingent on getting out on a Saturday for a midnight run to find some loser a knob-slob, then I’m out of the running for that business.

When I started down on the wine trail in Italy, I didn't foresee things like this. I loved Italy and Italian wine, everything about it. I thought others saw it that way. Boy, was I wrong. I was finding out some people used their power and position as an access point for their social network, and beyond. This was not in the manual I was given (and yes, I was given a manual). But it seemed, the lay of the land, and the rules, had changed. Had they ever!

to be continued...

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Roger Bissell said...

Such a great story!! And true as I have seen so mamy people like this much to my chagrin!

Michael Vickery said...

Three segments in and you are painting a very detailed description of this little puttana! 🙃

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