Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rolling Uphill

Tasting Notes From The Last Week:

Wine #1) Fairly ripe on the nose, some peach and honey. Medium weight on the palate, getting some acidity but I wish there were just a bit more fruit.

Wine #2) Lemon rind and a faint bit of butter. Plump on the palate but the fruit is rather lifeless. Good acidity, maybe too much as there is nothing but prickle on my palate.

Wine #3) Smells zippy almost like it has been acidified, green apple tartness but super soft and missing brightness.

Wine #4) Damn, wish the fruit was cleaner, getting lots of cream and not much else. Tastes tanky, like it has been sitting around too long. Muddy finish, clumsy.

Wine #5) Simple aromatics of cream and red apples. I would finish the glass but never go back for a second.

One appointment and five wines I would never even consider taking home to drink but do they have a place in the shop? The wines…

#1 Schlumberger Pinot Blanc
#2 Marc Bradif Vouvray
#3 Schlumberger Pinot Gris
#4 Louis Roederer Carte Blanche
#5 Louis Roederer Brut Premier

Randy had been talking to me not fifteen minutes before this appointment about the idea of bringing in some brands that might make people more comfortable. Now he had been talking more about the liquor department for the most part, but had mentioned that maybe we should consider a few wines with established names and reputations, well shit howdy how’s that for timing? So I ran through the wines, my boss’s words still bouncing around in my dome but my mind, my heart and my drive where so not on board. Sure I could put these “medium” wines on the shelf and hope that someone gets a warm fuzzy by seeing them and loads up their cart but….history has taught me something very different.

Our store is a destination, a place people have to make a special trip to come to. We are not in a mini mall and the nearest grocery store is blocks away. We are located in a somewhat industrial area across the street from a post office, no one is popping in for a bottle after enjoying a leisurely lunch at the restaurant down the street…dude aside from the post office and the bakery next door, (think cakes not crunchy baguettes) there is a gym and a gasoline refinery so not a lot of window shopping or unintentional foot traffic happening at The Wine Country.

So now what would make people walk past the wine department of their supermarket, get in their car and drive past the Cost Plus or BevMo that is located in the same center and drive all the way to our store to get that bottle of Roederer? Um, I tasted it and I wouldn’t walk to the other side of the room for it, it’s boring, flat, (not as in no bubbles as in no vibrancy) and inspired little more than a burp from me….and I LOVE Champagne. Tasting things like that, these big brand, well known, made in the millions of bottles, wines like those I tasted that afternoon left me passionless and kinda of wanting a cocktail.

I got home that night thinking about my conversation with Randy and how it coincided with a appointment where I tasted “comfort” wines and I found myself getting a little riled up…shocking I know. Now it wasn’t Randy that had me all prickly, he is a very smart man and he feels the same way I do about stuffing our shelves with bulk wines. Hell it was not too long ago, when the economy was just starting to take a dive that we listened to our suppliers…the bulk wine pushing suppliers…when they told us that people were going to be a lot more careful with their money. They were going to be looking for brands they knew, things they had seen before, brands they could trust. So we took a leap in the shallow end and brought in piles of big brand, inexpensive wines for our customer’s comfort. Yeah, they were comfortable alright, comfortable walking right past those stacks in search of something else. It was an amazing thing to watch and a very valuable and important lesson learned for us. We brought in a bunch of McWines, slashed our profit margin and the wines didn’t move. We ended up having to red tag the already cheap wines just to get them the hell out there. Randy took it in the shorts on that little lesson so he was in no way advocating that we do that again. He was talking about booze for the most part and maybe having a couple of offerings in each department for the brand conscience customer and he was right of course. And I know that he will do the same as I do when and if someone asks us what we think about them….offer another more exciting suggestion. Know why? We want them to come back.

When I taste wines like the ones I did that afternoon I am left feeling like Sisyphus, rolling my passion filled boulder uphill just to have some marketing department, restaurant wine list or glossy publication roll it right back down. When a consumer tastes a wine like that Bradif Vouvray or that Roederer, which are solid wines…not exciting but good, it isn’t going to inspire or ignite any kind of fire or passion for wine. Sure it will give them a buzz and I am all for that…not going to pretend to be one of those wine people that acts like the buzz in not part of the pleasure, bullshit, that is utter bullshit but you can just as easily get a buzz from a couple of shots of Vodka. I ache to have people taste things like H. Billiot Brut and Francois Chidaine Les Argiles Vouvray, wines that are not only brilliant but inspire people to explore, want to learn more and have the power to elevate a wine drinker to a truly passionate wine lover. That, that is why our customers drive past BevMo and Cost Plus, why they make the drive to The Wine Country and why they ignored our pile of McWines…it’s because of our Sisyphean efforts that they have been inspired to do so.

Proud, it makes me feel so proud each and every time a customer walks through that front door. I let that feeling of pride smooth my ruffled feathers, poured myself a glass of 2008 Chanteleuserie Cuvee Beauvais Bourgueil, marveled in its purity and expression…let the dark fruit and minerals remind me why I do this. So today is a new day and it is with great pleasure that I dig my feet (and palate) in, press my body against that boulder and begin my trek uphill again….


Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

In Greek mythology Sisyphus is the classic Trickster figure and his punishment after death is eternally rolling his boulder up and down the hill. So I'm guessing you were a Trickster in a previous life and your punishment is working in a retail wine shop and selling Rombauer Chardonnay.

Also, I always wonder, are there any domestic or Spanish sparkling wines you find palatable. Or any bloggers you find palatable, for that matter.

I love you,

Your HoseMaster

Samantha Dugan said...

As to Spanish or domestic sparklers, palatable yes...inspiring no. They lack texture, depth and anything that gets my juices flowing or fires up my passion. As to bloggers there are a few I very much enjoy, (yours obviously at the top of that list) but many of them, (and the people that respond or comment on them) are much like the wines I am shunning here...shallow, hollow and lacking life. Life is too short to drink bullshit wine and way too short to spend it reading benign empty words that leave me flat. I ache to be touched, by words, wines and the stories that swirl around both. I demand that anything I am going to put inside me; through any orifice, including my eyes first engage my mind....too much to ask?

John M. Kelly said...

Ron - seems to me Sam is a trickster in this life. And is surrounded by others like her. IMHO.

David McDuff said...

I totally feel your pain. The shop I work in is small enough and focused enough in its mostly Euro selections that bringing in "recognizable" brands hasn't become an issue (I say with fingers crossed). However, the fickle economy combined with the ability to manipulate margins without anyone being the wiser has led the owners to bring in more and more private label wines (mostly US) of late, which totally drives me crazy. Not only is there no there there, there's also no real, accountable person (farmer, winegrower as opposed to winemaker-for-hire) behind the wine I'm being asked/expected to sell. Grrr....

Charlie Olken said...

I used to believe that I had to keep my nose to the grindstone and my shoulder to the wheel in order to get ahead.

All I got was a wrenched shoulder and a scraped nose. What does one get by pushing boulders up and down hills?

Samantha Dugan said...

Sounds about right...

Thankfully my boss is NOT looking to change the face of what we are doing. He remains steadfast in his desire to create more wine drinkers and I love him for that. It was just a brief, "What if" conversation that happened right before a tasting of truly boring wines, just set my mind a spinning. Thanks for posting kid, been a while since I saw you!

Samantha Dugan said...


A customer that is not willing to settle for "Meh" and hopefully a fired up bunch of people willing to make the drive.

Thomas said...

2008 Chanteleuserie Cuvee Beauvais Bourgueil

Incredible: I just bought this to see what it's like. Will open soon, when I decide on the dish to pair with it. My first thought is calves liver in balsamic, Madeira, onions, garlic, and thyme.

Samantha Dugan said...

I think that wine is brilliant. I had passed on the past couple vintages, the wines were okay but lacked that nervy core that I so love about Cab Franc from the Loire. This vintage is as pretty as I have ever had, so expressive on the nose, floral and practically vibrating with life. Hard to imagine what it wouldn't go with but Madeira might rob the wine of its subtle fruit. I say this as someone that has tasted this vintage but as always I would defer to your experience. Let me know what you thought.

Thomas said...

The Madeira would be there as a subtle balance to the balsamic, not as an overpowering of the dish. A little stock and flour to thicken it too.

I found that cool climate C. Franc and calves liver have an affinity--at least in my warped palate. Although he dish is based on a Sicilian treatment that likely uses Marsala rather than Madeira.

Am I rambling???

Samantha Dugan said...

"Am I rambling?" not at all darlin' and I cannot wait to hear how it turns out.

Nancy Deprez said...

Wow, great post. I know you wrote this earlier, but I didn't read it till now, right after I wrote my Rant. So I feel ya. Since you were a main individual bringing me up in the wine biz, I of course feel the same way - icky non-descript wines are what I get elsewhere, never at The Wine Country.

Funny thing is that I recently tasted a "Champagne" which is that Pierre Jouet Grand Brut which I already thought was suspicious looking at the label, but when I taste it - yep, it was that blah taste that people dislike Champagne for - nothing like what I go to The Wine Country for.

It's for the cool stuff - that's why we are here.

Sara Louise said...

I can relate to this...
"inspired little more than a burp from me"
about so many things :-)

Samantha Dugan said...

Yeah PJ is pretty much crap and has not been at The Wine Country for like ten years. Just boring, boring, boring and as you said, the reason people think they don't like Champagne. You are a great supporter of my little Champagne department, you do loves you some Blanc de Blancs...so thank you. I read your rant about dry German wines on your blog lady...made me so proud of you.

Burp sounded slightly more dainty than gas...

vickibarkley said...

Now I know what that was! When I walked into the store that day, you were hunkered down with those guys, tasting wine, and there was none of the usual spark you radiate! You weren't even discussing it with them! Thanks for leaving me to my own devices, as I rummaged around the tasting bar for more interesting fare! So, that must be the part of your job that's not glamorous, huh? And, I'm getting into that Bourgueil, maybe this afternoon.

You're so awsome!

Samantha Dugan said...


Yup, that was the afternoon you came in and you are very astute...no sparkle indeed. Kind of started off on the wrong foot by begging me for the appointment then sitting there chattering at me in a over exaggerated French accent for like 15 minutes then asking me, "So what do you want to taste?" dude...you asked for the appointment, I didn't. Then to top it off the wines were weak and boring...no sparkle. I never want to insult anyone but when they look at me like I am crazy by not being blown away...by Roederer I have a hard time keeping my grin on. Not my favorite part of the job but I also never want to be one of those buyers that wont give a wine a chance because of what I think I remember about it. This time, well this time it was just as I remembered. Enjoy that Cab Franc girlie, it's lovely.

Nancy Deprez said...

Aww thanks Sam! Yes, I do love your Champagne department and I tried your new Blanc de Noirs and loved it! Forgot the name though. I'll have to go check the label again... I'll be by later today. :)