“Pinot Noir sucks,” he said.
“Wow. How dare you,” I said. “Get out of my store,” I said, pointing toward the exit door.
This was one of the first exchanges between Kris and me. What followed was over two years’ worth of fun, friendly banter, fueled by a mutual sense of humor and my desire to change his mind about Pinot Noir.
Kris and his wife Connie became regular customers of mine. It was only a couple trips before he walked into the store, and sheepishly admitted he had been wrong about Pinot. Belle Glos did the trick. “I knew it!” I had said, beaming. I revelled in being right, as usual, and we became fast friends. We talked about wine, spirits, family, sports, hobbies, and neighborhoods. I helped them shop for several parties and nearly every holiday. Their smiles and conversations always brightened my day and I like to think I did the same for them.
Over time, Connie and Kris learned to trust me infallibly with wine choices. I remember the first time I forced dry rosé on them, skeptics to the core. Like most, they became converts immediately. We frequently chatted about vodkas and licqueurs, too. In December, they saw my eyes light up when Kris mentioned his homemade amaretto. I mentioned casually it was my favorite after dinner drink. Sure enough, just before Christmas he delivered a bottle for me, which comforted me on many a cold evening. It was one of the better, most thoughtful gifts I have received in recent memory. I can still smell and taste that delicious almondy goodness. Later that winter, the family came in shopping and regaled several interesting tales of their son’s 21st birthday party in Vegas. Needless to say I got to know him, too. I remember one instance they all caught me with my coat on, preparing to leave for the day. I apologized that I had to run out and introduced them to a colleague who could assist them. Somehow, instead, thirty minutes later their cart was full and my belly ached from laughter. Helping Kris and Connie shop never felt like work, and since I transferred locations, they are among the folks I have missed the most.
Shortly after that visit, I learned that Kris had passed away suddenly. When I stopped at his wake to give Connie and the kids my condolences, I was starkly reminded that life is short and opportunities for friendships don’t come around often. I meet thousands of people a year, and I try to help them all; but only a special few let me into their lives such as they had. I miss Kris immensely, not just for his delicious homemade liqueurs, but also his jokes, his way of putting people at ease, his demonstrative, genuine love for his family. He was a great man. To say we were close would be an exaggeration; but he made an impression on me that will last a lifetime.
I get that you want sweet wine that tastes like Welch’s. And I understand you don’t care. At all. But seriously. Asking me which of Barefoot or Yellow Tail Moscato is better is like asking a butcher who deals with prime cuts of beef from grass fed cows which can of spam you should buy.
Not long ago at a staff meeting, one of our sharp-tongued managers cried “Cool climate syrah is for CLOSERS. The rest of you can go sell shitty Australian stuff.” He was right. Cali syrah is a tough sell. Even customers who are open to domestic choices are leaning more toward syrah from Washington, thanks to the likes of Barnard Griffin, Owen Roe, and K Vintners. Nobody knows what to expect from this varietal in California.
Recently Decanter Magazine published an article about California syrah’s identity crisis. While not altogether cutting-edge, I found the article poignant and topical. It’s hard to find consistency in style in syrah from the Golden State. Some are rich, opulent and flashy; some are elegant and nuanced. It’s even more difficult to find consistency in quality. Sure, there are stars: Alban, Stolpman, Qupe, Herman’s Story, Beckmen and, of course, the cult classic Sine Qua Non. But many, if not most, are one dimensional and disappointing, especially considering the average bottle price is much higher than that of cab, merlot or even pinot.
I think it will be a very long time before CA syrah develops its own identity. People can’t help but compare it to Rhône. Look how long it’s taken American Pinot to step out of Burgundy’s shadow. And that’s a freaking shame, because some vintners in Cali make wines that are true expressions of both the varietal and the terrior. But with syrah, it’s rare. But it is amazing.
Do not send the cheapest, least knowledgeable person you know to shop for wine for your dinner or party. If you do, I will assume you don’t give a shit what you’re drinking and send your friend off with shitty pinot grigio and cheap pinot noir.
If you haven’t called on me in eight months, you are very bad at your job. Do not be surprised when I don’t invite you to participate in an event I organized a month ago with reps who actually call on me regularly. You clearly aren’t worth my time. I don’t want to taste your wines, I don’t want to sell them, I don’t want to make you money. Get out of my store.
Get off the phone. If you are even considering taking a call or texting while in the store, don’t bother seeking me out. I will ignore you. Seriously, I’m not going to waste my time with you if you can’t focus for three minutes. I will actually go out of my way to avoid you if I see a cell phone in your possession, because that means I will get a wag of the finger and there’s a good chance you’ll only pay attention to half the things I say. Plus, your conversation is annoying. I really don’t care about your life, and neither do any of the other customers that are forced to listen to you. Please. You’re not that important.