Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How To Be Less Of A Wank At Wine Classes

The other night after some milling about here at home I sprung to my cell phone and fired off a text to my opening coworker, “Please get another bottle of each of the Blanc de Blancs in the fridge when you get there in the morning”. Knew I had just enough in the fridge chilling overnight but what if something was corked or off in some other fashion? Wouldn’t have enough wine to pour the sold out crowd and as much as I firmly believe you should never serve great Champagne icy cold, room temp bubbles are hugely unpleasant.  I then began the mind fuck that is trying to piece together a, well a peaceful, seating chart for my Blanc de Blancs Champagne class taking place the following evening. 

This is something I find, along with order and staging, consumes the hallows of my oft empty brain right before I drift off to sleep the night before an event, and happens to be the thing that wakes me from my slumber the following morning, way too early by making laps round and round and back again. The maybes slamming like clumsy twins wrestling and thudding along the hall. My, “Shush you!” howl just loud enough to ensure I am not getting back to sleep again. Frankly I obsess a little. These classes are wicked important to me and to the shop I love. I need them to be as successful as possible, in terms of sales and customer satisfaction so trying to balance that along with making sure my wines show their absolute best, and keeping in mind the…um, delicate nature of dealing with humans and their…erm, fragility or perceptions, well it might explain why I drink so damn much, and why I drive myself, (not to mention my trying to sleep coworkers) batshit crazy in the wee hours before my events.

I’m normally quite confident in the wines. Call it ego if you will, but I am pretty dogmatic about the quality level of the wines I acquire for the shop and our customers. They may not, (are often not in fact) always my style, or things I’d take home but I almost never bring in a wine that I don’t stand behind 100% and know that is worth what we are charging. I’ve done a favor here or there and once or twice been coaxed into bringing in a branded item, always under the guise that it will make the consumer feel comfortable and almost every damn time I end up staring at a row or stack of wine I cannot in good faith recommend, or worse, talk people out of. I don’t for one second think I’m a big deal in the world of wine so all I really have is my word, if I misrepresent, pawn off or start bullshitting our customers it is a lose-lose. I lose customers, and the one thing I am proud of myself for, my integrity. So walking into these events other than the proper order and temperature of the wines, I’m pretty damn sure they are going to be wickedly delicious. In the case of my Champagne nights I am exceedingly assured they will be…and insanely excited to taste them again too. Not everyone will love everything, least not every time, but the wines themselves will be solid and there will be something for everyone. So like I said, the wines tend to be the least of my concern. The people however…..oy. 

Working retail as long as I have I’ve been privy to some pretty remarkable behavior. Not as bad as restaurants or bars I’d assume but people are nothing if not magical to watch at times. For the most part our customers are a freaking cakewalk. We’ve built up enough trust in the community and it’s not like people are there shopping for like crunders or rash cream, we sell wine so people, for the most part, are already in a great mood when they walk through the door. Sure we get the rude folks from time to time. The snap their fingers types that demand to be “serviced” in whichever way they see fit. We also get the other side of that, the ones so afraid that we are going to be snooty that they walk through the door with a giant ass boulder on their shoulders and anything we say can, or will be taken as a slight. Both kind of suck but they happen, luckily, pretty infrequently for us. It’s not those kind of people I am talking about. No, I’m talking about the ones that don’t, can’t or won’t see the whole picture and focus so tightly on their little tunnel of vision that they kind of lose sight of the rest of the folks in attendance, not to mention the poor nervous chick standing on trembling legs, trying to croak out information over a jumble of tummy quakes and flop sweats. The Unitended Peevers I like to call them. 

Not bad people in the least, (well, mostly) but not so much mindful of the entirety of a wine class. Classes being a whole other thing than tastings and or wine bars, please keep that in mind. My staff and I have talked about these people and the series of events that follow in their wake. So hard to be mad at people that fork over cash and show up to an event like the classes we do but….there might be a thing or two to keep in mind. Not for us, we can recover and rally like champs. This is for you, your guests and sea of faces that are now glaring at you and you can’t quite figure out why.

Lemme help you out. 

Samantha’s Wine Class Pet Peeves 

The Dusters- These are people that either don’t believe or forget that your neighbor, they can smell your odor, be it a pretty or an un-pretty one. They didn’t pay a bunch of money to learn how Blanc de Blancs smells as it melds with your Eau de Tacosnack/Floweryjunk/Yogasweats. We have one guy that even applies his, very pungent man perfume in the bathroom before he walks over and plops his stink down at the table. Dude. I mean, dude. It smells, maybe nice to you but it is a smell and no one wants it when they are trying to evaluate wine. Not as bad in a bar, even a wine bar but in a class, I implore you, “Stop crop dusting us!”

The Players of Musical Chairs- We assign seating at the majority of our events. This goes down for several reasons. It started because it is simply human nature for people to leave a seat empty between them and the person next to them. Happens at bars, movie theaters and at our classes, I started the seating chart thing for precisely that reason. There are few things that will ruffle my feathers more than having to rearrange, everything that we’ve spent an hour setting up, than having to shift, slide and ask people to move down so a couple or party of three can sit together. We often have groups and to ensure they were accommodated, (part of that making sure they are satisfied thing) I began assigning seating.

 I also like to have my husband, should he be attending, right up front and at my side. It isn’t a treat for him I assure you, it is to settle my nerves, that some folks saw/see being seated near him as a reward, I sleep next to the man, I promise you, that closeness in often NOT a reward, seeing it as such was a mistake in their thinking and I’ve given up worrying about that noise. There is NOTHING personal in where you are placed at a table, (unless of course, you are a known Duster) it is numbers and now putting groups of friends together, as per their request. 

Which brings me to, Please stop playing musical chairs, you don’t know the playlist. We get people that come in and freaking move the place cards, all the damn time. Quit that. Just because you see a setting for a 2 here and figure it can’t hurt to swap them as you’d prefer to sit in that spot, there are a series of things that may have attributed as to why that party of 2 was there, like they are joining another party and have pre-requested to be seated next to their group. You don’t know these things and I shan’t assume you’re plucking up this name and replacing it with yours is malicious or mean spirited, you just don’t have all the information, which is why I ask again, Please stop playing musical chairs. If you are meeting people let us know when you sign up, we will do our best to make sure that happens. We want all our guests to be as happy as possible. 

The Court Tester- This is the person that is feverishly fingering their apps checking and double checking our information, as if in some way it would behoove us to try bullshit you. If we say it it’s because it is what we were either told or what we believed. Not purposely trying to give you the wrong information. 

The Tortoise & Or The Hare- The one or two people among a group of 45-50 that are trying to control the pace or timing of the pours. This is where I would like to once again remind folks, you aren’t alone here. Nor is this a bar for doing shots or a wine bar where you can sip and savor as long as you like. We are here to taste and learn, experience these wines in a studious setting, not a party or lounging on your couch one. This is where the inexperience of having so many plates spinning isn’t one that the average customer even thinks of….another reason to write this post. We, the teachers and pouring support, have more than your one pour or pours on our mind. We have to keep the crowd engaged, be two steps ahead and working our behind the scenes dance of having the next flight ready and the next, and the next. Having to wait or being snapped at to move along is simply a distraction for us, thus a stumble in the flow of how the event goes for everyone else.  

The Then Again Maybe I Won’ts- These are the people that sign up, confirm and then no-show. This may not sound like a big deal to you but I assure you, you have just given a fairly good sized blow to your local wine shop. If you can’t make it just give them/us a call and let us know, no harm no foul, but if you tell us you are coming chances are we have not only turned away a guest that would have happily attended, we’ve opened wines in accordance with the number of people we have paying to come. If your three party no show has set us into a second or third bottle, we’ve lost money and are wasting wine. Tough pill swallowing that. 

The Picnicers- This is where I once again point out, this is a class, one that people have paid to come and learn from, you brining out your picnic dinner, complete with the distractions of flailing forks, napkin ruffling and the cacophony of competing food aromas, it’s rude. Both to the event givers and to the people sitting next to you. No sir, we don’t wish to smell your cologne soaked fingers as they plunge into an oily container of rosemary sous vide poached sardines. I personally won’t allow it at my classes. With a few exceptions, one being a long time couple that comes to most my Champagne events, have for over a decade, that learned Champagne and fried chicken is a thing. Like a really good fucking thing and not only do they practice this time honored pairing at home monthly, they are once in a while compelled to stop and surprise the entire group, (the last time over 50!) with the treat of dinner, (a pre-ordained marvelous and not too disruptive one)  

You buy some snacks and pick at those along with the bread and cheeses we provide, that’s fine but full on meals? No way. Plus if you are busy dining you aren’t paying attention and then I have to wonder, why are you signed up for a class in the first place? Go to a wine bar and snack, munch, chat and sip and leave a nice tip for the kind people that are there to pick up your emptied plates as that is exactly what those places are made for. Food stinks are just another form of Dusting, believe that. 

The It’s My Party & I’ll Wine If/When I Want To Set- These folks tend to come in groups, often of five, six or more. They have compiled a large collection of buddies to spend a Friday night with. I love that. I honestly do and if your whole group is into taking a moderated wine class, sign them all up! Find more.  We’d love to have them, we do it all the time and those are the folks we are looking to share our hearts, stories and passion with. No, I’m talking about the ones that have to cajole and call around looking for a way to fill their party, often with people that use words like “ are there going to be lots of soury ones” as I sweat turning people that would give anything to be there away for lack of seating. This one makes my tummy all wiggy as I wish there were a way to explain, diplomatically, that we need those seats filled with people that are interested in learning, sharing and being there.

Filling seats with your pals that don’t really want to be there, the ones that munch milk chocolate bars through my white Burgundy or Champagne events, and make fun of me when I coo and wax rhapsodic, mock my enthusiasm with eye rolls and blustery laughter? You have any idea how hard it is for this, diplomatic class leader to not snarl and threaten nut sack removal much like that of ripping off of a paper towel? The guy who challenges my comparison to Camille Saves as, “A librarian in fishnets, both sexy as hell and smart as fuck” with, “So what did you say? This is a pilot in high heels?” which inevitability causes me to cup his sweaty chin in the crux of my bent finger as I bend down and purr in his face, “Dude, whatever gets you off” in a way that I fear doesn’t encourage him to drop his milk chocolate bar as much as make him want to flee…and that is never, ever my intent.

 How standing over a cheesy toothed pack of gossipers, my own nerves knocking my innards against my ribcage, heart crawling up my throat as I try and stretch my raspy voice over decibels far louder and deeper than mine as you notice….through the bulging veins ripping up my neck like the splitting of a freeway on the San Andreas fault, that I’ve had about enough of trying to screech over your Friday night party and one of you try and soothe the situation by trying to ask a question, the one I just unsuccessfully bleated out the answer to, or tried to but no one could hear it over your unruly and uncompassionate sloppery of a “fun night”? Dude. Call 1 800 Wine Dude or something. And do this at your house. These people came to hear us not you and at the end of the night they want to walk out that door with a little more wine information in their back pocket, maybe a few bottles of their new favorite wine and not the gab on your coworker that is fucking the human resources guy in your office. 

Tastings are always fun and we encourage the same of our Friday classes. Tasting wine is a rare an lovely treat, one that 99.9% of our consumers get. We spend our days finding these wines and sharing them with you is what fires us up and pushes our weary legs forward. Our jobs rely on your involvement and engagement and we never ever forget that….just please, that 1%, could you please hold back on the douchery a little? Makes this planning, staging, arranging and trying to make the best for everyone thing just a little easier.




Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Things We Do For...

“Sam! What are you doing? Are you still fucking with those malt balls?” my mother’s voice echoing through the narrow hive-like caverns that were our “quarters” in the big, fancy, beautiful house full of betrayal and ugly. I was in the 2nd grade, a proud student at Burroughs’s K-3rd school and I was, tongue poking from between my determined lips, making the love of my life the Valentines gift I knew was going to sway him to leave Jennifer M for me.  I wasn’t as pretty…by like a lot, nor was I as popular as Jennifer M (we had three Jennifer’s in my 2nd grade class so each was a Jennifer something) but I could feel from the bowels of my starting to be feisty soul, I was better for the blonde haired, blue eyed heartthrob of Mrs. Heathrow’s class, Tyler. 

There were no added letters to mine or Tyler’s name. We stood out in that our names were just different enough, at the time, to afford us no plus-one status. We also had last names that started with D’s so we were seated by each other, for like the whole year and while Jennifer M, with her wavy, (and I swear to this day…no, I’m not damaged) highlighted, super bouncy and washed, (I was a vile wash liar. “Sam did you take a bath?” –“Yes, of course” as I used my tongue wetted thumb to try and scrape the mud from my been-a-week-or-so-since-I-washed face) hair was like four rows over. She was pretty but, well she’d get older and less so, least with me he was safe in that the deflation of value was going to be far less traumatic. Plus, I was always first to be picked for every P.E. game. Of course it was my thick girth and not so girly willingness to take a fucker out for the point but still, and as I sat there with a Buffums’ shirt box in front of me, brown, (not from dirt, well okay, a little from dirt but mostly from being out in the sun) legs folded Indian style beneath me, I poured my undying love for Tyler out in words, made from those chocolate covered malted balls. 

This my friends, was as brilliant a move as I’d ever dreamed of. How better to woo the man of your relentless dreams, while in the 2nd grade, than by professing your love spelled out on the bottom of a Fan C. Pants department store shirt box, in fucking chocolate?! Still I marvel in the fact that I came up with that. I spent hours, literally, perfectly aligning each bubbled looking word, “Tyler, I think you are cute. I love you. Sam”…doesn’t sound like much but think of how tiny my fingers, added with the bending a pudgy girl in half….there was huffing and stretching I assure you, and it was downright impressive. An hour and a half past my usual dragging myself to bed, (even then I had no bedtime) I nodded, proud and assured I was to win the heart of the man of my dreams as I, very gently slipped the top of the shirt box over my heartfelt and hard earned profession of true love. I was to make him feel as loved as he truly was and he would like hold my hand, and marry me of course. I didn’t sleep much that night, my tummy tight with anticipation and pride as I wide awake dreamed of My Tyler kissing me, (but not the yucky tongue kind) and making me his wife. 

“We’re late! Did you stay up too late again?!” my mother once again bellowing down the halls as I ran around looking for, “cleaner” crunders and wriggled into my tan corduroy pants and while slipping on my still untied sneakers buttoned my bright green and pink shirt. My heart was pounding. Both because mom was barking at me for being late again and because I was about to wear my heart on my green and pink sleeve and Tyler and I were to be married soon. Backpack thrown over my shoulder, water splashed on my still not clean face, matted hair pulled back into a tight ponytail to hide the big knot of tangled and I brightly, excited but nervously, reached for The Gift. Could hear my heart thumping in my ears even louder than my mom’s voice, my blood pulsing through my body at a rate normally reserved for skating down a steep hill, or teasing a boy until he wanted to touch me, I picked up the starkly white box, “Thump-thump-thumpity-thump” pudgy fingers gently picking it up as to not bend or ripple, or dirty the edges and just as I heard the final, I knew I was seconds from being murdered screech from my mother, I swung around and felt my jaw and heart drop and I heard, and felt, hundreds of heartfelt chocolate bubble letters slide around like marbles in the bottom of the box. 

So the actual transport of The Gift, the admission and profession of my true love full of raw emotion and processed sugar, like I was to make sure those, round, balls of chocolate didn’t move around when I picked it up to deliver it, didn’t once occur to me. Not once. Spent my saved up allowance and hours thinking about and making this “Gift” the one that was to change my life, FOREVER and not once did I think it completely through. I arrived at Mrs. Heathrow’s room 3 with a box full of what looked like hamster turds to profess my undying love…..I hope Tyler and Jennifer M are supremely happy to this day.

“Your assignment is to make a picnic box for your favorite friend here at camp. We will have a special dinner for you, your friend and your parents in the gym in four days from now! So think long and hard about your dinner choices. What are your friend’s most loved foods? Have you eaten these things together? Why do you want to share that with them? What does your picnic box say about you? So the twist is, you can’t tell your friend which box is yours! They have to select your box based on the items you’ve selected and how artfully you display them!” the counselor at YMCA camp overly cheerily and egging us on to join in the super fun festivities. I had a friend alright. I had Charlie. Thin, smallish, crazy handsome, greenish brown eyes, a full mouth and curly hair. Charlie was special alright, he was the boy I spent all summer with. The one that held my hand, picked up those oblong pods from the Honeylocust tress that grew around the pool area, snapped them in half and splayed their sticky insides as we both buried our noses in their lusty, almost minty scent, lost in curiosity and the comfort in finding another young soul just as, weird. 

Charlie was, much like my 2nd grade love, popular but he wore a sadness that spoke to me and maybe scared the others. He was, and I know this sounds crazy now, but he was sexy. Brooding. Dark. Dramatic looking and just as heart-stopping in his quirk. I was stricken the first time we sat together on the bus and he found my green eyes intriguing in a sea of blue ones, and my own brand of seeable heartache a draw. We were not only close, we were inseparable. I knew who I was packing dinner for, it was Charlie and Me, fuck our parents. Astoundingly arrogant for a ten year old, but I guess to those that know me now, probably not all that surprising. 

At the time my all-time favorite food was Carl’s Jr. Food was always a reward in my house, for my mother and ultimately for her children. Carl’s Jr was a real treat and I knew that my mom would kick down and spend the money we never had to buy me the meal to please and impress my beloved and his parents, if for no other reason she got to eat there too. I spent exactly three days coming up with my design and picking my foods, I simply needed a few hours to create my box in a way that would make me stand out and impress enough my special friend that he would be able to pick it out, and want to spend the early evening dinning with me, his family and mine.

Back then Carl’s Jr. made a Western type burger but it wasn’t round like the normal burgers, it was a long oval. Still charbroiled and served with onion rings, (although I don’t remember any BBQ sauce) but it came in an oblong box that both reminded me of a coffin, (and no, I wasn’t a goth or death obsessed kid) or those pods that Charlie and I would run off, away from the kids we didn’t fit in with, to snap in half, sniff and talk about. I thought of that food, those boxes and I, in my infinite wisdom…and wicked smooth love skills, built a box that looked exactly like a graveyard. 

“Charlie. Look at those pretty pink ruffles and cupcakes! You want those don’t you? This girl made sandwiches, that’s so sweet, and look how nicely she cut out all the hearts she glued on the box” Charlie’s parents, that looked nothing like him, walking their thin framed young son down the long line of waiting to be picked dinner boxes. Their eyes falling on this perfect one and the next, and the next. Charlie’s determined, beautiful eyes scanned the puffery and grandeur, walked the rows with his parents words pushing him….either along or deeper in search. My palms were sweaty as I looked at my mother’s face, her looks assuring me that my black painted Vans shoe box and coffin stuffed burgers were just another thing that made me less like her, and a reminder of why I was alone a lot and just then I heard, “No, Charlie, not that one” as my special friend reached out and grabbed the meal I had, in fact, selected for us. I felt my heart and eyes swell as Charlie marched up to the podium and handed the box to the woman with the microphone in the gym. “Charlie and his family have selected box number 12. Will the maker of this picnic box please stand and join them at table 6” my teeth dug deep in my lip I stood, grabbed my mom’s hand, gave her the tug this time and pulled her to the plastic table with the hard metal chairs….the finest dinner I’d ever known. I was heard, felt, understood and chosen….craveable that.

That night Charlie and I did what we often did. We silently slipped away from the crowd and let them revel in their loud speak while he and I explored the compelling striations of each others eyes. Felt at home in our oddity, held hands and that night, we pressed our lips together and said for the first time, or the first time I felt it bounce about in my tummy, “I love you”. Can’t say as I ever eat at Carl’s Jr. nowadays but there is not a time, ever, that I pass one and don’t think of my curly haired, handholding, Honeylocust pod loving, beautiful eyed Charlie. The one that picked me because he knew me and loved how I knew him. Charlie’s parents were neither charmed by my box, nor my mother’s conversation so at the end of that summer I never saw or heard from my Charlie again. Doesn’t matter, still a great love and one that reassures me, when I follow my heart I might hurt, fail, look profoundly stupid but….for that one second when a sweet face picks you, in spite of all that you are, or because of it, it feels fan-fucking-tastic. 

So tonight, on the eve of one love having to prepare to say goodbye to a quickly adored coworker/boss and another having to discuss hospice with regards to his aging and sadly ailing mother I find myself here….doing the one thing I can do, be me. Share my stories and my soul in the hope that one other person can feel and or hear me…..maybe choose me from time to time. I don’t speak wine like most people do. I used to wish I could but the older I get the less I crave it and the more I rather like the splashing about in the pond of less perfect.