Interspersed within this post, which is essentially an update about my life (feel free to stop here; I won’t be offended), you’ll find photos of wines that have impressed me recently. There’s no theme, and no coherency; it’s a laundry list of wines that have blown my mind in the past few weeks. I’m cogitating over a more ambitious post having to do with branding, marketing, and the use of fat bottles with wax caps, increasingly ubiquitous in our world today, harmful to the environment, harmful to my body, adding nothing to the wine, but always something to its price … but I’ll save this for when I’ve gathered the data to make it an interesting piece.
It’s been a shamefully long time since my last post. I’d love to site lack of time as the reason, but it’s not. I’ve had pockets of free time, but have chosen to fill them with other activities: playing the piano, binge listening to an incredibly addictive podcast I’m sure most of you know called ‘Serial’ by the producers of ‘This American Life.’ My friends in Québec recommended this series, and it’s truly worth checking out. Season One tells the story of a high school murder that took place in Baltimore in 1999; Season Two tells the story of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was captured by the Taliban, and held in captivity for five years. The narratives are as different as the caste of characters, yet each series is powerful, and feels surprisingly germane to issues that flutter in the background of our experience of the world today, as Americans, as sentient, political creatures, etc …
I’ve also been reading a lot, as always. The New Yorker recommended High Dive, by Jonathan Lee, a British author living in Brooklyn. It’s a quasi-fictional rendering of an attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher in 1984. The writing is exquisite: at times serious, at times funny, at times complex and at others deliciously simple. One rides waves of both sympathy for, and frustration with the characters, wishing the dad would bloody well stop smoking, also hoping he’ll get laid, wishing the daughter would go to college, while relating intimately to her desire not to, getting to know the handsome, sullen, young IRA bomb technician. I highly recommend this book.
Another reason I haven’t been writing is that I haven’t been traveling to distant lands to visit vineyards, and tell the stories of winemakers. Travel always inspires the most exciting posts; the posts that I imagine people actually want to read. The good news is that I’m leaving for France a week from tomorrow for the rest of the month: Champagne and Loire. So, there will be more writing to come, once I’ve got something to write about.
The final reason I haven’t been writing is sort of abstract and psychologically complex, but I’m going to delve into it anyhow.
I used to be a buyer at Chambers Street Wines; I bought there for a long time, and I loved it, sending email blasts, curating a section. As many of you know, I loved my Champagne section as though it were my child (that’s extreme, maybe more like a pet … ). I say this from experience: being a wine buyer (shop or restaurant) is all about ego. This isn’t to say buyers are egotistical, rather that the act of curation of a shelf or a list, requires that one say “my palate is informed; my palate is good; you, dear customer, should trust me to steer you to something great, something you’ll like.” (Incidentally, being a wine importer is also about ego, and for some of the same reasons, but I won’t say more on that score today.) Being a sales rep, however, involves large scale sublimation of ego. This role entails putting one’s own tastes on the way back burner in order to discover what the buyer wants and needs. It’s not so much that reps don’t have egos as that those egos often stay bottled up and buried in order to get the job done. One doesn’t always feel the buyer is right, but one realizes that the buyer is always the buyer.
Anecdotally, yesterday I arrived at an appointment to find a Martin Scott rep and an Argentine brand ambassador tasting with the buyer. We shook hands, and the Martin Scott rep, tall, well-dressed, in his late 40s maybe, old school, asked me if I’d worked with the previous buyer at this shop. I replied in the negative; Martin Scott went on to tell me that the previous buyer had switched to wholesale: “bet he’s having quite a time — hahahaha — on the other side now, right? The tables have turned — hahahaha — you ever been a buyer? Pretty different working the streets, right?” The Argentine Brand Ambassador interrogated me about MFW, and pressed a card into my hand, telling me she’s always looking to “place new brands” with good people. I smiled — tight-lipped — and told her I’d “reach out” (yeah right).
The point here is merely that being a buyer and being a sales person require radically different relationships to one’s own ego. And I feel I’ve internalized this a bit over the past few months, to the extent that I less often feel like expressing an opinion, asserting my palate; my default mode is becoming to let my opinion sink into the background, to see given wines literally as their utility to buyers, rather than as objects of scrutiny to be labelled “great”, “terrible”, or — most often — somewhere in the middle.
Perhaps unfortunately, but maybe not, wine blogging is also all about ego, and as long as my ego is in remission — practicing a new skill — a runner learning to do yoga — there’s a good chance I’ll be writing less, and playing the piano more, listening to podcasts and reading books.