On the road
One of the responsibilities of a winemaker is to take the show on the road. People in the business of selling wine like to see a winemaker. From the distributer, to the restaurant owner, to the wine buyer at the corner wine shop, it helps if a face and story are associated with the wine. And who better to tell the story of a wine than someone who had a hand in its making?
This is the way my last trip went: It’s a trip to Chicago and Omaha, which includes a wine dinner where I’m to address a group of 100 – not my favorite thing – but I’m good to go. I have a 9:55 a.m. flight and leave the house at 7 a.m. My normal drive to work is eight miles on Highway 12. Paying attention to traffic reports is rarely on my radar. However the backup on 101 southbound appears to be epic. The radio traffic reporters agree, but there is nothing wrong; in fact it is a good sign that the economy is improving. I’m wishing the economy could hold off recovery a few days so I can make my flight. Which I do – barely.
The flight is uneventful which is always a good thing. I’m sitting next to a software engineer who designs “apps” for cell phones. He’s moving back to Cleveland, he says, because business wouldn’t cut him a break in California. His failed business took a real-time survey of friends to find nearby restaurants, as in “I’m hungry, let me look on my phone to find out where we should eat.” No thanks. It must be hard making a living designing things that you want people to need, when the need has never even occurred to them. [Kind of like wine?] Worked for Steve Jobs though.
The next day is my first official event. It is a luncheon for restaurant and country club wine buyers at a restaurant owned by the son of an astronaut who travelled to the moon as part of his job. The building looks like a French chateau and it is full of moon-shot curios. People are already arriving, so I pour samples from two bottles without tasting them. Both are corked. This is not a good start. However, I pulled corks on perhaps eight cases of wine during the trip and the only bad bottles were these first two. It is time to hobnob.
Wine hobnobbing can be dreadful or a delight. The man I poured the two bad samples for is an example of the latter. He begins by telling me that he started making wine in 1944. Fair enough, if he was five at the time – which it turns out he was. His grandfather made wine in the basement on the west side of Chicago from grapes that arrived by train from California. These grapes had exotic names, but he found later that they were from the Mondavi family and all of the grapes were Zinfandel. Although his grandfather made wine, his grandmother frowned on its consumption. No matter. His grandfather owned a fruit orchard. Apples and pears picked in late October and buried in the white sand of his orchard were fresh to eat in April. It seems the wine was fresh too, when exhumed from beneath the buried fruit.
On to a wine dinner; this event is at what was once a corner grocery store and butcher shop. The owner, however, lost all interest in everything but the wine and the meat. Now he has a wine and butcher shop that serves dinner. The crowd is friendly and the food is good.
Next stop Omaha; this is a two day charity event put on by a local grocery chain. It’s a community event for needy children that includes the wine dinner that features me as public speaker. The microphone is fuzzy and everyone is having too much fun to listen to the likes of me. However, I feel I did fine. I gave a brief history of Kenwood Winery. I described the wines and how we made them. They have an extra chair at every table so I can sit with people and chat. This part is fun. I finally get to the head table and meet the host of the event who asks me, “So what is it you winemakers hate about public speaking?”
At least I’m not alone.
Mark Stupich is Cellar Master & Winemaker, Kenwood Vineyards