“Can I help you?”
“Um, yeah, hold on. I just texted my friend, her brother used to work at a fancy winery down in Temecula, seeing if she can ask him what I should buy”
“Good afternoon The Wine Country”
“Hi. Yeah, hi, do you have a minute?” and of course I didn’t but who tells a customer that they don’t have time? “My cousin is a sommelier and he says I can no longer buy my wine at the grocery store. So I’m calling to see if you can recommend a few things, pull them and I will come in later to pick them up?” I explain that it would be my pleasure to do that but I was going to need a little more information as to what kind of wines she likes. “I’m not an oaky Chard girl, I like steel barrel wines, so things like La Crema Chard. I also hate citrus in my wines, not sure why, just don’t like it at all, so maybe a couple Sauvignon Blancs”
These two conversations popped into my head last night as I was watching a stupid ass show called Miss Advised. I loves me some crap television but even I couldn’t stomach this inane brain cell killing pile of stupid. For those of you smart enough to not know what this particular program is, let me enlighten you. They take three, pretty attractive, (I mean come on, they have to be right?) relationship experts…and there should be these “ “ there, from three different cities that are desperately seeking love of their own, you know, in between their busy schedules of writing columns and doing radio shows telling other people how to find love. Sigh. No lie, true story. Oh and it’s not a sitcom, reality television.
So after a wonderfully long afternoon getting my sweet son settled into his old room, taking him by The Wine Country to pick up some beers where he was quickly offered and accepted a job, having a beer tasting and lesson from one of the area’s most informed and passionate beer lover, (an adorable member of my adopted family, Evan Shegina…and yes, we all give him shit about his last name, but it is actually pronounced Shag-a-nah) who walked us through Sours, how they’re made, the various styles and whatnot, I settle into my evening by watching this horrid program. I’m sitting there, my mouth agape as these chicks, these “relationship experts” traverse their love lives, or attempt at love lives, by getting sloppy drunk and begging for kisses and affection, hook up with a married bisexual swinger and grill a dude, on the second date, about why he waited three days to text her….and how it made her feel. Fucking brilliant. These chicks are single?! Get the fuck outta here! Assholes, complete assholes but then it struck me, the bigger assholes? The ones that take advice from these emotionally stunted and relationship retarded halfwits. Who the hell would listen to these idiots? Why would they? Oh, that’s right….they’re experts “ “…
Advice is tricky. For me there needs to be some level of respect or maybe even admiration for someone before I’m willing to take advice from them. I am constantly being offered dinning and, at times, wine advice or recommendations…even got me a letter in the email for this blog full of advice as to why it isn’t successful and all the “tweaks” I should make to turn that around. The thing is, I’m not so much willing to take those suggestions about where to eat by people that measure quality by how big the plate of food, (almost always the way that goes. “You get a plate like this big for $7.00! Always with arms outstretched and face lit up like they are getting away with something) is, not taking wine advice from someone that doesn’t know anything about my palate or worse, thinks a 16% red from the Languedoc is “Killer juice” and there isn’t a chance in hell I’d take blogging advice from someone that doesn’t have one but, “Reads a lot” of them. Have the same problem with sommeliers, and maybe I’ve just had crappy luck, but I’ve never had one, not one, ask me what I like to drink….ever. Nope, they just drip their wine knowledge all over me and suggest what they think will go with my meal without ever bothering to take my taste into consideration. They may be experts in their list, and there is real value in that…I guess, but to not take into account the preferences of the person to whom you are making a suggestion? Well that’s “expert” in my book and much like I’d never consult that, “Whhhhyyy didn’t you text me?” chick to fix my love life, I simply will not walk blindly into a bottle of wine without having some level of respect for the person that suggested it.
Now before anyone hops on my neck and thinks I’m calling out critics, let me just stop you right now. Wine critics taste, write up and often, (and no I’m not a fan) score wines. They aren’t telling you as an individual what to buy. If you read those notes, or are even driven by score, (and yeah, if you are a member of the “I only drink 90 points and above” wines, well you might just be a douchebag) then that is you making that call, not a critic and if you find one, or a couple even, that speak to your palate and keep you drinking happily then I think that is freaking awesome. Have no problem with critics. I do however have an issue with the term, or idea of expert….or “expert”. I mean, is that cat that worked in that “fancy Temecula winery” going to be able to consult that feverishly texting customer as to what to buy? Well maybe but, is it going to be what she likes? As I stood there, handed over cell phone in hand, scrolling through a list of dreadful Temeculain offerings with a side note of, “If they don’t have any of those grab a bottle of Sterling Merlot” I took a big chest-filling breath and asked, “What do you like to drink?” to which I heard, “I’m not sure really, but I like white wines and maybe a little sweet”….”expert” fail.
I hear it all the time, “This is my friend Sam, she’s a wine expert” and I find myself cringing each and every time. I’m not a wine expert, sure I now a lot about wine, drink a fuck-load of it and have made it not only my job but my passion, but I’m no wine expert. The only thing that I can say is that I’ve become somewhat skilled in knowing my consumer, figuring out my customer’s likes and dislikes. Doesn’t matter that I think Sherry and the wines of Jura are sexy as fuck and way, way under-appreciated, if I slip a bottle of either under the arm of a person that thinks 16% red from the Languedoc is killer juice, then I’m a megalomaniac impressed with my own level of geekdom, nothing more.
As retailers we are often faced with the inner strife of knowing what might be a good pairing and what the customer really likes to drink. Hell, even amongst ourselves we battle a little, I don’t care how many times my beloved Randy tells me that Spatlese is perfect for whatever it is I’m eating, I don’t like sweetness in my glass, find it off putting and no matter how harmonious the pairing I won’t be happy, therefore the pairing, not so much perfect right? The same is true for the Stella Rosa drinker that wants to know if their favorite, (and only in some cases) wine will “go” with their plate of pasta, or the Darioush Cabernet lover that is looking for “Something like this but for fish”. We teach, make suggestions, share our years of tried and true successful pairings, even suggest that they try two wines, one their favorite and the other something we think more in the scope of food pairing harmony. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t, even saw my own in-laws suck back a bottle of light Italian red with ravioli and when I popped a bottle of their adored Menage a Trois, a much sweeter and candied red, oh and ah over the supple sweet fruit, even though it didn’t at all go with the acidic and porky red sauce. They did however stop drinking wine until the food was cleared from their plate, a reaction to the bitter oak and sweet fruit that they didn’t catch but their full glasses, where the lighter red had been drained, telling a story, to me, but one they didn’t give a rat’s ass about. No gushing for the light red, even though they drank the hell out of it….so in my “expert” opinion, what would I suggest to them when they come in looking for a bottle of wine? Yup, stupid Menage a Trois, or something like it.
It is my job, and the job of any good retainer, to teach, maybe try and inspire but at the end of the day, I just want people to be happy drinking whatever wine floats their boat. If they want to learn, explore, try new things and are open to it, that’s freaking fantastic but imposing my will or “expertise” at the detriment of what gets them off? Just can’t imagine that would gain me much respect or admiration and in turn, can’t imagine how many folks are or would be, willing to listen or trust me and my recommendations.
Wine expert? No, but a great retailer will become a You expert and in the end, that’s all that matters.