Friday, March 03, 2017

The Next Chapter

What is a "wizened" wine guy? It is someone who has tasted, drunk, bought and sold more wine than is probably healthy for most normal humans. That's me. Here's a brief synopsis of my career:

I secured my first full-time job in a wine shop in 1979 (Wells Discount Liquors, Baltimore), spent the next eight years in retail, then about twelve years working in wine distribution and importing. In 1997 I tried out running my own consulting business, working with a few retailers, a distributor, even a Maryland winery. About a year and a half later, on October 31, 1998, I opened my own shop, Chesapeake Wine Company, in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood. In January, 2016, I sold Chesapeake Wine, and on December 23, 2016, at the age of 61, opened Remington Wine Company,
in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood. I'm hoping this is the end of the ride, as far as stops in my wine business career.

At this point in my wine life I still learn something new about wine every day. In fact, the longer I do this, the less, I realize, I know. As for the business of selling wine? At this point in my career, I know too much. It isn't often I can be surprised by a visit from a distributor/importer sales representative or winery sales manager. Fairly often I know more than they do about what they're trying to sell me. The best of them pour some wine and let it do the talking, waiting for my response before contributing to the conversation. The worst talk while I'm tasting, worse still, telling me what I should be tasting. If the wine is good, I stop them, politely if I can. If the wine isn't worth tasting anyway, I let them talk - I won't be seeing them again. When it's the winegrower or winemaker themselves pouring the samples, however, I listen first, taste later, and often take notes after they've left, when I can collect my thoughts. Those visits, from the people with the vision, doing the work of growing grapes and making wine, are when I learn the most. If they're good, the wine they make is a reflection of their commitment, and you will hear me tell their story while trying to sell their wine. Occasionally, thankfully not often, I'll meet a winery owner who might have the cash to spend on his/her latest hobby, but in every other way has no business being in the wine business.

One of the most important things I've learned is that I can't - nor can anyone else - taste every good wine. When I first started doing this in 1979 I tasted at every available opportunity, thousands of different wines a year for the first eight years of my career. It's important to note that those thousands of wines were virtually all of the good wines available in the Maryland market at the time. Now it is impossible to taste everything. It is a classic buyers market, with far more supply than overall demand. My tasting numbers have tapered off since those early days, but I still average 1-2,000 a year. I was lucky to have survived the first few years - most Americans didn't know about spitting samples back then. "Tastings" could consist of dozens of wines - I am embarrassed to think about how many times I didn't remember driving home from a "tasting."

Today I take appointments with reps, and taste, selectively. After nearly twenty years of owning my own shop, I have long, mutually beneficial relationships with enough companies to stock our small shop multiple times with wine I have tasted and not purchased from these colleagues. Saying no to a good wine is tough, and I don't want to do more of it than I must.

So, going forward, I will try, on this latest attempt at regular blogging, to tell stories about new experiences which will inevitably include references to past experiences. Stay tuned.


Post a Comment

<< Home