Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And This Is Why I Don't Do Private Tastings (4/1/09)

So as mentioned a few times here, I am terribly shy and seriously freak out when asked/forced to stand in front of even the smallest group of people, I even get twisted up when playing board games with friends that may require, standing up and drawing a picture or God forbid, acting something out….it is a serious fear of mine so I rarely do it. I have to do classes for The Wine Country but I always have someone with me that is able to lead, make the class flow, so I can just chime in from time to time with little bits of information, still wigs me out but with someone to lean on, it is at least manageable, and keeps this wine specialist from like barfing and junk.

I am often asked to do private tastings, you know, go into people’s homes and lead a tasting for a group of friends that want to learn more about French wine or Champagne, well you can only imagine how quickly this request is met with a, “Oh I’m sorry I can’t”. Most of the time I will site a conflict of scheduling but when pressed I have to give up the fact that I am a bit paralyzed by this fear of public speaking. Most people are surprised but understanding and just let it go…some are not.

So a customer I had seen a couple times, helped her with pairings, (that turned out to be pretty successful) assisted her in picking out gifts and with whom I had a pretty chill rapport, asked if I would be willing to lead a blind tasting in her home. I of course declined, saying that I was busy the weekend she wanted to do it, she said, “Oh, okay no problem” and that was it….until a phone call two weeks later. “We would still really like to have you over for a tasting” the voice on the other end cheerfully said, “we are more than willing to work with your schedule and we will of course pay you for your time” well, the jig was up so I had to tell her about my, “issue”. She asked that I think about it, explained that it would only be 3 couples and that everyone was very cool, not stuffy and they thought I would be perfect to lead an event for them, I listened but was pretty firm in my “No” stance, until…..

The emails started, sigh. I began getting an email every week requesting that I come for a tasting, it was at first annoying as I felt she was pushing me to do something I had told her is pretty debilitating for me but I also had to admire her persistence. Once she started throwing out what was in my opinion, an insane dollar amount, well, I had to at least think about it. I mean, if I had a bit of bubbly in my belly maybe I could pull it off….or at the very least hold off on the ol’ barfing until after the event.

I finally agreed, we picked a date and I chose the wines, went with and Old World and New World blind, (she asked specifically for a blind tasting) tasting, got the directions and headed out with a knot the size of a grapefruit in the pit of my stomach. Kept telling myself, “I’m sure they are really cool and it is only eight wines, how hard could this be. Buck up Sam, get through this” I was going all drill sergeant on myself, it appeared to be working until….shit, gated community.

I hate those! So closed off and exclusionary, they kind of skeeve me out, security buildings I understand, but communities, gated off from the rest of the houses around them? Shudder. I called the cell number I was given and as the big gate slid open in front of me, the grapefruit turned into a basketball and I felt like one of those people in a horror film, driving up some winding road, in the dark….I craned my neck looking out my car window, “If I see any freaking crows I am so outta here!”.

I pulled into the driveway of a pretty non descript dual level home, it was beige I think…as was every other house on the “block”, “well if I have to run for my life I’m sure as shit gonna get lost in this pale, all the same color place” I grumbled as I pulled the wines from my trunk. Grabbed the file that held the tasting sheets, rested it atop the box and made my way to the front door, before I could ring the bell the door opened and there was my persistent little “friend” wearing a big warm smile and yelling for her husband to come and “help her with this heavy box”.

I walked through the doorway now relieved of my heavy load and scanned the room, very clean, a mix of modern stainless fixtures and wild, brightly colored artwork. The crowd, (3 couples) were in their late forties to early fifties, nicely dressed with that, “I kind of still want to be a hippie” feel to them. I was greeted, welcomed and listened to their chatter as I set up for the tasting in a softly lit den area. I could tell these people were close friends, just the way they spoke to one another, the way they laughed was warm and there was just a “we really dig each other” vibe to the whole room.

I was feeling a bit less tense when we were ready to begin, the woman told me that they were going to do a throw down of sorts, “Girls against Boys” she cooed, “okay cool” I replied, handed everyone the sheet with the wines listed but not in order. I could feel the fierce competition bubbling in the room, there was just this energy that is difficult to describe. It took about 30 minutes to go through the wines, then came the “fun” part…the reveal.

So when I asked, “The first wine, is it the New World or Old World Chardonnay?” the room was split, the “girls” said New World, the “boys” guessed Old, the gentlemen were correct and you know, I didn’t even really notice that the girls had all slipped off their shoes…..”Wine number two, Old World or New World Pinot Noir” I asked from my oblivious bubble, again the room was split, this time the ladies were correct and this time I did notice that the gents slipped off their shoes, “weird” I thought but pressed on.

“So where are we on wine number three?” I lead, the ladies were wrong once again and as I pulled the wines from their paper sacks I look out into the crowd to see the ladies pulling their shirts above their heads….”What the hell?!” I blurted, less shy than I have ever been before. “C’mon Samantha, we thought you were cool” the event planner giggled. I stood there feeling the basketball climbing my esophagus, my brow so furrowed that I am sure that deep crease will be there forever, a permanent reminder of a night I’m not too likely to forget. My jaw wide open, eyes crunched into tiny slits as my eyebrows seemed to trying to burrow into my scull, I managed to utter, (in my most astonished voice at a level louder than the norm) “I am cool, do whatever the hell you want, but let someone in on” and before I could finish my sentence, (which was going to be “in on what you were planning. Give the option on if they are cool with this!”) one of the guys said, “Hey, you are more than welcome to….” My head snapped around so fast I felt like Linda Blair, “Hey Professor Pervis, shut up!” I snapped, grabbed my bag and stormed to my car….”They thought I would be perfect for this?” great….

As I made my way out of “light Brown Town” I mumbled, “And this is why I don’t do private tastings”

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