Thursday, September 20, 2012
Somebody in The Wine Business
Oh, I used to be a Somebody in the wine business. Courted, wined and dined, praised, free mani-pedi’s from Heidi Barrett, tickets to Michael Vick winery dog fights, personalized Veuve Clicquot Segway, Jagermeister Girls’ panties delivered fresh daily, Jay Miller autographed winery bribes, Nicolas Joly manure in a limited edition cow horn…all the perqs. The wine business is good to those who have influence. It’s an endless parade of free lunches, free dinners, free trips, free rooms, and endless sex. Yes, I said sex. It’s the dirty little secret of the wine business. Scores for Sex. Oh, I’ve been there. I’m too much of a gentleman to discuss specifics, but let’s just say that when I was Somebody, I scored more tail than a sushi chef. And I wasn’t that much of a Somebody, not compared to a Marvin Shanken. That guy’s a machine. Jim Laube? Oh, man, he’s an animal. Harvey Steiman? OK, well, mostly talk. Go ahead, believe that the score inflation lately in wine publications is coincidence. Then ask yourself why all the want ads for Marketing Director on Winejobs.com include “Must like tub-o’s” under qualifications.
Yeah, I was Somebody. I was a Gatekeeper. Wineries just love Gatekeepers. If you’re a Gatekeeper you can tell a winemaker, “I’m going to bend over so you can kiss my latch.” And they will. So who’s a Gatekeeper? A Gatekeeper is a person who has influence over wine buyers, particularly affluent wine buyers. Gatekeepers are a big pain in the ass for wineries. They have to court them, they have to pretend to respect them, they have to nod their head when they say something unbearably stupid about their wines, they have to swear allegiance to Truman Capote and talk with a lisp, they have to dress their horses in designer pants, they have to put corks up their nose and pretend they’re from the Watusi tribe, they have to buy vowels and give them to the Gatekeepers. It’s all about humiliation. And in return, the Gatekeepers promote their wines and leave wet spots.
Sommeliers are the worst Somebodies. They work for restaurants that never pay on time, but act like putting your wine on their wine list at four times its cost is an act deserving of hand-kissing, feet-washing and flea and tick-removing. They don’t return phone calls or affection. They leak. They think their palates are wondrous, like the Taj Mahal or Michelangelo’s David, or Diet Coke. They “love” your wine, but they buy the trendiest, least familiar wines available to show their superior knowledge and taste. A humble little red from the Canary Islands, a precocious white from Harvard, a little something pink from a Russian matchmaking website, something sparkling from Liberace’s crypt. Looking for something familiar? Unzip your pants and sext your volleyball team.
I was one of those Somebodies. I treated winery reps like the cattle they were. I superheated my corkscrew and branded them; I tied them up, got them pregnant and used their milk to make sales cheese; I never talked to them directly but had Temple Grandin tell me what they were thinking; I took them to Tijuana and introduced them to Manolete. I wielded arrogance like Luke Skywalker wielded a Light Saber, like Juan Marichal wielded a bat, like The Prisoner wields MegaPurple. I expected deference and respect, not to mention free shipping. I got tired of all the sex, especially at Family Winemakers. But I knew that an air of entitlement was the most important part of being a Gatekeeper. So I asked for free samples, I asked for hair care products, I expected to have the snot wiped from my runny nose with hundred dollar bills. I only reached for a check if it was made out to “Cash.” I only showed up on time for appointments if they brought me cookies or drugs or lingerie with my initials on it. I laughed at their measly little scores, their piddly Gold Medals, their tech sheets, their tech blankets, their tech laundry hampers. I lied to them because I could, I drew fake moustaches on their breasts, I made them confess to crimes they’d never committed by waterboarding them with the spit bucket, I kissed them like they’d only dreamed about being kissed, I left them voicemails with my sphincter.
It’s a dream to be Somebody in the wine business. I loved it. The taste of power is addicting, like starting small brush fires on playgrounds. I never paid for a wine tasting, I never paid for flu shots or extra cheese on that. I always walked away with swag, with free hats and logo shirts, with fancy lawn furniture and celebrity Q-Tips. I took my full allocation and sold the rest gray market, investing the extra money in my Twitter habit and saving for my date with Lettie Teague. I misspelled wineries on my wine list. “I’ll have a bottle of Geyser Pork,” still makes me laugh. I’d go on European junkets and never zip my fly the whole week, instead stuffing Serrano ham in it every chance I got. I phoned wineries and asked to speak to their dead founder in a Georgie Jessel voice.
I loved it.
Now I’m Nobody. I have a blog. Somebodies have power, Nobodies have blogs. Somebodies are Gatekeepers, Nobodies are on journeys. Somebodies have access to wealthy buyers, Nobodies have access to Blogger. Somebodies walk the Earth and the oceans part, the skies are always sunny and the tap water always clear and smelling of Oregon Pinot Gris. Nobodies sit here, and we type.