Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Power Of Print

“Yeah, you guys got Champagne in there?” a rather brash and curt voice on the other end of the phone. “Yes we have Champagne” I answered. “Okay I’m looking for a French Champagne” insert my heavy sigh and crunched, “redundancy” brow here. “It’s called Boo Pecoche” the voice responded between insufferable snaps of her gum.

I sat there for a second literally hearing my eyelashes slam together as I ran through my mental list of Champagnes. “Snap-snap-snap” like little nails being shoved in my eardrums as I said the given name over and over again in my head trying to figure out what she was looking for. Boo Pecoche, (pronounced Boo Pea-Co-Shh) Boo Pecoche?! “Oh! Might you be looking for Veuve Clicquot?” I asked feeling kinda puffed up for figuring that one out. “Um, NO!” she snapped, she not her gum wad this time, “I told you the name is Boo Pecoche! Gawsh!” Now I was no longer puffy chested, now I was getting red faced and a little pissy my own self but I gave it one more shot. “Does the Champagne you’re looking for have an orange label?” I asked somewhat hesitantly. “I don’t know!” she barked, “I’ve never seen it! Either you have it or you don’t! Maybe you should ask someone there that knows something about Champagne….the French kind!!” spittle, I swear I could feel and smell her gum scented spittle as she snarled at me.
“Nope. Don’t have it but good luck with your search”…..grumble.

“Ungst-ungst-ungst” the thumping of techno music blaring through the front door of The Wine Country. I was stopped in my tracks by the level of the volume and moved a little closer to the front to see where the offensive blare was coming from. That was when I saw him. Silver convertible, slicked back Pat Riley type hairdo, sports coat over a vest and white button up, sockless feet stuffed into loafers, cell phone fused to his face and, now this part stuck my as funny as hell, a giant, white standard poodle sitting in the front seat of the car. The guy was mid to late sixties if he was a day and he was desperately trying to bring back the Don Johnson ala Miami Vice look. I let myself soak it in before getting back to helping customers on the floor.

I was back in my French department when I was jarred from my tasks once again by volume but this time it wasn’t my ears that were alarmed, it was my nostrils. Mr. Miami had completed his oh-so-urgent call and was now in the shop, the other side from where I was mind you, his voice bellowing requests of the staff was no competition for the noise that was wafting off of him. He was positively swimming in the most wretched, cheaply sweet smelling….can’t even call it cologne, it was just stank. His smelly junk vice was spreading across the store like mushroom cloud causing people to stop and make bug eyed face, saw a woman make a beeline for the register and I stood there feeling like my nose hairs were trying to reach down and pull in my nostrils like shudders. The whole time I’m thinking, “Dude. You drove here in a convertible and you still smell like that?!” shivering when imagining how saturated he must have been before the wind whipped some of the stink layer off.

I tried to just plug along but the sheer volume of his stank was now causing me to not only taste the sickly sweet crap in my mouth, it was inspiring a pain right between my eyebrows that was beginning to spread around my head like a….well like a vice. I kept as far away as I could, on top of the cloud he was also very demanding, asked for “free” glasses of wine and stood at the register after his sale was complete, munching on a baguette that he had purchased while speaking loudly on the phone. Once he left and the counter was brushed clean of his crumbs a woman walked up and while plunking her bottles on the counter she gave me, “Oh My Gawd” face and simply said, “That was awful” she didn’t know the half of it. The guy came back in three more times! Once for another “free” glass of wine, once because he needed a “cheap Cabernet” and the third, well I couldn’t tell you because when I saw him turn on his loafers and head back in I took one look at my coworker and said, “I’ll be out back” when asked why all I could do was nod my head towards the front door and say, “The Perfumigator”…Ewe.

As much as those two bugged there was one more. One more exchange that went beyond annoying for me, it sent me into a rant that I am still trying to recover from.

“Do you do beginning wine classes there?” Now normally I love this question, makes me light up to hear someone wants to begin learning about my beloved elixir, it was what followed that delivered a swift kick to my gut…..

“I’m a food and wine writer and I thought I better start learning about wine” she said with a chuckle. I felt my shoulders slumping as the comment was akin to poking me with a big pin, absolutely deflating.  After giving her a list of our upcoming classes and hearing, “Oh I better start with a beginning class. I drink wine but know nothing about it” again through chuckles, I started thinking about all the times I had some poor consumer come in, thrusting some glossy magazine or newspaper clipping in my face and taking that printed word as an ultimate authoritative voice. I kind of get that, I guess, the thought being that if they are paid to write about wine they must specialists but…..I wonder, how many are, like the woman that called, a paid writer and wine just so happens to be the beat they are given and they handle the topic as they would with any other? Research is one thing but having real talent when it comes to wine, well that is another and reading crap that other “writers” wrote does not a specialist make….need I remind you about the crank yankers at Food & Wine magazine?! 

So you have some editor hire a decent, (sometimes) writer to write about a topic that they have no knowledge or passion for and in the end you often end up with three things; a flaccid bit of puff article like perfume and wine pairings, another dull piece about the Argentine Malbec and worst of all, the end consumer either bored or more confused after sampling through, “Suggested Wines for Vegetable Pairings. Beets are perfect with Cabernet Franc as they have very earthy qualities” an actual pairing I saw in a magazine….dude, gross but consumers are heavily swayed when it comes to the printed word so they try it, even questioning their own palate because of it and in the end that does nothing, absolutely nothing to inspire more wine drinkers.

Two examples. We had a woman come in last week that sampled a wine on the bar, a Gunderloch Diva Riesling that she loved and asked us to help her find. We took her over and there rested upon the stack of wine was one of little pink signs that lets people know the sweetness level of our German Rieslings, said “Slightly Sweet”. “Oh I don’t like sweet wines” she protested, face all aghast and flustered. “It’s slightly sweet, just faintly” we told her and pointed out that it was in fact the same wine she had enjoyed on the bar. Didn’t matter, she saw those words, in print and now she no longer liked or wanted the wine. Crazy. Another is goddamn Zinfandel and barbeque! Ugh this is a constant nightmare for me during the summer.

 Now everyone that reads me knows that I loathe Zinfandel, just something about the flavors that do not set well on my palate. Goes beyond alcohol levels and acidity for me, it’s a taste thing. That being said I will always, always sell people Zinfandel when they want one or love it. The only time I will tussle with a customer is when they come in with some Zin & BBQ article looking for me to pick the best Zinfandel for their grilled meal and I ask a few more questions only to find they are doing something like chicken or pork marinated in citrus or vinegar….that they are then going to grill. ACK! Gag shiver. Big difference between ribs slathered with a heavy tomato and brown sugar based sauce and like pulled pork with mustard and cider vinegar but that damn article clutched in their hands makes my job, and goal twice as hard and that right there, well it pisses me off!

 Enjoy that plate of pickled beets and Chinon if you wish but when your palate gets all muddy maybe consider hitting up a retailer who can ask a few more questions and find you something, due to their years of tasting and reliance on your happiness, that will be far better suited to the dish, and YOU. We may not all be writers, in fact many of us are not but we aren’t just selling copy. A good retailer is passionate and absolutely vested in making sure that you have the best wine experience possible. We need you to in order to fill our geeky little hearts and to be able to continue doing what it is we love, turning people on to this vastly diverse and truly beautiful beverage that has the ability to seduce, astound, elevate your meal and soothe your soul. We are not paid to write about wine, we are compelled to do so.

There. Okay, I feel better.
Please Print……


Charlie Olken said...

Ah, customers. If we could only live in a world in which we could sell our wine and our publications without having customers.

The "talk dry, drink sweet" syndrome is with us to stay, I am afraid, unless we start fighting back.

You and I might differ(again) about the balance in certain wines, but we do agree that sweetness, per se, is not an automatic disqualifier. If we felt otherwise, we would not drink Champers and Riesling to name the most obvious examples.

Your customer who would not buy a Riesling she liked because of the words on a sign is missing out on a good thing.

So, today, I started fighting back with on my blog (your readers can find a link in the right hand column of your blog's home page). There are wines with sweetness in this world that gain their nobility from that sweetness.

Thanks for standing up for a more open attitude in wine choices. Your customers, at least some of them, will benefit from your patience and your guidance.

Unknown said...

I love this post. LOVE IT. Here's why:

1) Great storytelling (especially the description of "that" guy... we all know him). The "nosehairs wanting to close the nostrils" line was amazing.

2) This speaks volumes to the importance of trusting one's palate. I feel much better about ever wanting to get a food & wine writing job (but I ain't gettin' into any back-office shenanigans to get it). Folks need to trust what they like and be open to trying new things. The help of an expert retailer who *really* wants to help and not move the promo bottles is such an asset.

3) I'm glad you qualified your Zin + BBQ bugaboo. I do dig lower-alc Zin w/ pork ribs with a thick, sweet and spicy glaze of sauce carmelized into them. Pulled pork? Give me Tavel every time. And I should know; I'm from Georgia.

Great reads like this after I've had a hell of a day at the office are why I hope you want to continue writing. If you decide otherwise- though- I empathize completely!

Joe said...

Sorry, Sam. "marketing" is me. Was logged in under a work email. D'oh!

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Yeah, but without your parade of annoying customers, how many posts would you be short?

And, really, you want to know what's best for a nose hair problem? Drink some Zin and snork it out your nostrils. Works for me, though it's best to use the high-test, dangerously flammable, Lodi Zins. Warning: May remove moustache as well. Happened to my grandmother.

Beets and Cabernet Franc! Wow! What music goes with that? "Baby, You Can Drive My Cab" by the Beetles. I don't hate Zin with BBQ at all, though clearly it depends on what you're barbecuing. Doesn't really work with barbecued linguini.

Nobody's missing me now.

I love you!
Your HoseMaster

Michael Hughes said...

I think we are the same person

webb said...

Way over my except the customers. have seen (and smelled) them lots of places. But am glad you will let me drink what I like - including sweet Riesling! Rant away. You are often at your best when you rant. Happy weekend.

Samantha Dugan said...

Sir Charles,
I've been trying to fight back against the anti-sweet and anti-white wine folks for years. I want people to drink wine and I think those bullshit "All real wine is red" people are just as bad as those editors that hire "wine writers" that know nothing about wine...doing far more damage than good and frankly, they look pretty stoopid to those in the know. Cheesedicks...

I did check out your post and encourage others to do the same, great points...aside from that balanced Rombauer Chardonnay malarkey. Thanks as always for taking time to sift through my silly drivel darlin', I love you.

Joe Marketer,
Why thank you sweetheart! Wasn't sure if the nose hair shudders was gonna read well but it sure as hell made me snicker. Can't believe no one said anything about the Boo Pecoche! This is to be a Wine Country classic and we have already re-named that vile orange labeled crud.

I am flattered by your support and you are one of the handful of folks that I have shared my concerns about continuing this blog with, so that was very sweet.

Micheal My Sweet,
No fair! You got the dangley bits. Oh well, turning 40 in a few months and after laying on the couch the other day, sans bra my boobs might just qualify as dangley.....sigh. Was like trying to herd pudding...

Ron My Love,
I MISS YOU! Never forget that. I still go back like once a week and pick random HoseMaster pieces to read....junkie, I am a total Ron Washam junkie.

We are so lucky most of the time, our customers are for the most part very cool and happy folks and hell that "writer" person was friendly and all but damn, was that a swift kick in groin. Okay maybe I'm glad now that Michael got the dangley parts.

Zin and BBQ is as vague as wine and cheese. There are so many things to factor in that I think it is wholly irresponsible to just throw out shit like, "Zinfandel goes with BBQ" lame, lame, lame and it cheeses me off.

Oh lady you can always drink what you like when I'm around. No snobbery here, I just want you to drink it and let it please you. This was a bit of a geeky wine post so thanks for hanging in there...

Joe said...

Ron HMW - ease off... I credit Lodi Zin with the conception of my daughter.

Sam - stay tuned on Boo Pecoche...

John M. Kelly said...

I plan to be throwing the salami down the hallway well into my 90s like the Magyar rulers did from drinking Tokaji Essencia.

Sam I love you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Saw your awesome Pecoche gift on Facebook, now if I could just figure out how to get it here for everyone to see. Freaking sweet dude.

John My Bunk Mate,
Not sure what the hell you are saying but I have to suspect, from you, this is some rare and little know Germanic or Roman saying for which I should feel honored and flattered. I am. Oh and by the way kid, I love you too...

Charlie Olken said...

John Kelly writes: "I plan to be throwing the salami down the hallway well into my 90s".

Deep thought, that, John. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Val said...

If I had a nickel for every time I heard:
-I only drink sweet wines;
-I don't drink red wines;
-Chianti & Sangiovese are the 'same grape';
-No thank you, I brought my own (Aunt, New Year's Eve with purse-sized bottle of Lambrusco);
-California Champagne.

BTW - I may be out your way in August - I swear, I'm to be the one that walks into the store and asks for Boo Pecoche. Will try to trim my nose hairs before then...

Hugs! The French kind!

Thomas said...

Never will forget the tasting room customer who told me that the only wine she drinks is Riesling, and she drinks it with anything that she eats.

Ten minutes into my dissertation I had a revelation about the possibility of trying to discuss it with her; I just shut up!

na cica de vino said...

nice samantha, this post sounded similar to my last post...haha must be that time

Anonymous said...

The power of print... that, my brilliantly gifted Sam, is why the wine world needs you. The passion you have -not just for wine,but for life- is something that puts F&W writers to shame (or should!)


Do Bianchi said...

all I can add to a great post like this (and WE'VE ALL BEEN THERE, no?) is THANK GOODNESS FOR SAMANTHA SANS DOSAGE!!!!

bacione j