Sunday, June 11, 2023

“Take heed” - Random thoughts about the professional climate change in the wine trade

Ok, here goes. I’ve been in a quandary lately. Don’t know why. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe the state of the country. Or the world. In any event, I’m thinking about these things. Think of it as a “take heed” list.

No. 1

If you are in the wine business, you have absolutely no business wearing cologne or perfume to a wine dinner, wine presentation or any interaction in which a bottle of wine is opened, to enjoy or assess. I say this because recently I went to a wine dinner, and the last person to show up at the dinner (late) came in reeking of perfume, and spoiled any attempt by myself to evaluate or enjoy the wines we opened up. I was pissed. But I didn’t say anything until now.

It also happened a few years ago. At the time, my boss’s boss thought it was a brilliant idea to hire one of the hot new somm’s making the circuit around all the tony spots. When I first met her, she showed up to a luncheon, on time, but she was encased in a cloud of Creed Aventus or J’adore from Dior. It was great if you were at a perfume lunch. But it was a wine lunch. So, we all had to make polite conversation and ignore the 800-pound olfactory gorilla in the room.

Someone later said she did this to cover the smell of something else. I said that was what patchouli was for, once upon a time.

Bottom line, for anyone reading this and taking advice: Please, do not wear perfume or cologne when you are in a wine trade setting. Or risk being seen as a rank amateur who doesn’t know the first thing about wine even though your Instagram feed likes to portray you as an expert.  

No. 2

If you are running a retail shop or a wine list, make sure there are wines on it for all of your clients. Skewing a list to a majority of Orange/Amber wine or the Tried-and-True Commercial successes are a strategy that will ensure that your tenure in your present position will be short-lived. Learn how to take your personal preferences out of the equation and think like a businessperson who wants their business to be around for awhile..

Again, I was talking with a trades person and they told me about a wine buyer (a she/her) who was bragging that their wine list showcased orange and natural wines. Forget that it was a list for a clientele mainly of business people (average age 46) who entertained their business associates. Maybe Duckhorn or Belle Glos is more up their alley, which is the other end of the spectrum. But there are plenty of good wines, in the middle, that will work for the majority of people. We have become this society of extremes, with our vinous virtue signaling and Instagramming, that the customer at the table (or the check-out counter) is somehow forgotten.

Yeah, I know you’ve been told to follow your passion. But what about the passion of the people that are making your paycheck possible? How about figuring them into your equation? Open up your world a little more, eh? Something to think about, before you flip over to your next job. Which leads into…


There once was this guy from Nantucket. A wine buyer. And he’d go from job to job, following his passion, which seemed to change every time he changed jobs. At one store, he was madly in love with upper end Australian reds, high octane, oaky, alcoholic and very pricey wines. The shoppers didn’t not follow him over that cliff. And those wines remained on the store shelves, months (maybe years) after he jumped to the next lily pad.

And wherever he went, there followed these wine sets that were reflections of his enthusiasm (at the moment) but which, unfortunately sat on the shelves and gathered dust. And the white wines were especially disastrous. Alsatian Rieslings ($50 and up), Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs ($30+), Burgundies from less than stellar vintages, which were also going through pre-mox. It was a mess. He eventually got out of that business (following his other passions) and saved us all years of chasing rabbits down infinite holes in which there was no bottom.

The lesson here? If you have a passion, try it out as a hobby first, and don’t muss up your workplace. When you get good, and maybe even great, then bring out the passion play. But don’t confuse your love with what the rest of the world might be loving. In the first place, who knows what that is for everyone? But we do know how to find a good Chianti for under $20 that will go with a steak tonight. Keep it simple. Or even simpler.

And finally,

No. 4

You think you’re an expert because you have a DipWSET or several letters after your name. CSW? MS? You know the litany. But, no matter what you think you know, there will always be someone out there who knows more than you. And they can run faster and farther and remember better and get their point across more succinctly and clearer than you or I ever will be able to. I recently read a piece about a revered Barolo producer in Verduno, and I was so humbled that the writer had such a depth of knowledge and information and insight and was able to put it all together in such a way that when I finished reading his piece, (thanks to him) I realized I knew more about the subject after I read his piece. But I would never, ever be able to catch up with him. He was already 500 miles in front and moving faster than the speed of light.

I say this to you because it will relieve you of the burden of having to be “the expert” in the room. Yes, you can be knowledgeable. But there will always be someone better and more advanced. This is meant to give you less stress in your own expectations. Learn to enjoy the wine and the people around you. And the experience.

And please, please, please remember to not wear a body fragrance, so the rest of us can also enjoy the experience.

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