Friday, February 25, 2011

I Know Alcohol Can Make Others Look Good But...

My DVR decided to record something entirely random recently. While scanning through the unintended program looking for a glimpse of what I wanted, I found someone with an array of bottles and mixers in front of her.
It turned out to be Alexis Wolfer, editor-in-chief of The Beauty Bean. Not exactly my usual fare, but she had wine and tequila and bubbly and vodka so I let it play. There were no glasses on the set. What was going on? Beauty tips with alcohol.

I'm well acquainted with the concept of other people "getting better looking" as one consumes more but never realized you could use alcohol to improve your own desirability.
One wine geek note though, please don't use Champagne, use sparkling wine.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Discount? Low Down or on the Up and Up?

With apologies to Count Von Count for the altered lyrics,

Discounting is wonderful,

Discounting is marvelous,

Discounting is the best thing to do.

Discounting is happiness,

Discounting is ecstasy,

I love a discount, don't you?

Well, don't you? Of course you do; we all do. Everyone loves a deal. Somewhere along the line it became expected in wine retail. Customers often get "rewarded" with 10-20% off when buying a case or more, but what happens if you need a bottle or two the following day? Maybe you can plead your case effectively. Maybe the clerk remembers you. Maybe not.

If you end up paying full retail for the second purchase were you really rewarded for the larger one or punished for the smaller? Personally, I would like to see retailers do away with these discounts entirely and let me buy what I need at a reasonable price. Wines can always be put on sale to drive larger purchases. If you buy 30 apples in a grocery store do you pay less for the apples than someone buying two?

At the other end of the scale, there is a wine shop in Portland, Oregon, bafflingly successful, that makes you purchase a lifetime membership in order to get discounts. Those discounts apply for loose bottle purchases as well as cases, but the concept alone forced me out the door. Never to return. Try this at a department store. In order to get these jeans for $35.99 instead of $49.99 you have to give them $100. I look at that and say to hell with you. Somehow Sam's Club exists though. I'm sure those foolish enough to join the club become extremely loyal since not shopping there means wasted money.

The discount mentality that pervades in wine retail is ridiculous and it galls me to no end when I need to buy a bottle or two. No retailer likes making less money, it is a capitalist enterprise after all. Markups in the wine world tend to the low side compared to other retail businesses but put a reasonable price on your bottles, explain the system and I believe people will repay you with loyalty.

Everyone likes to reward their best customers. If not with volume discounts, then how? Try special tastings for them; open something outstanding when they come into your store; give them a bottle now and again (where legal); make sure they get first shot at sought after releases, etc. Plenty of ways exist to consistently reward good, loyal customers without abusing everyone else.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How Far We've Come

Jogging the memory always appealed to me more than pounding the pavement. My waistline could attest to that I'm afraid. While doing some research recently, I stumbled across a restaurant training guide from the early 1990's. That being the same time period I began my wine career I decided to read it. Well, thumb through it.

The book devoted twenty-one pages to flambeing. Drinks, desserts, entrees set ablaze, complete with an explanation of how to do it properly and safely. How often do you see this anymore?

They even included an example of how to make a pig's mouth remain aflame while carving and serving tableside. "Stuff the pig's mouth with cotton, soak it in cheap high-proof alcohol, and ignite it." Hint: make sure it's soaked enough "or else the cotton could smolder in the dining room."

Twenty years ago 10% of Food and Beverage Service (from Wiley Professional Restaurateur Guides by Bruce Axler and Carol Litrides) discussed flambeing. Twenty years ago Hugh Johnson's Fourth Edition of The World Atlas of Wine did not contain a dedicated entry for Argentina. Chile had its own two pages while Argentina shared space with Brazil and Uruguay (and Chile) on two pages under the heading of South America.

In 1990, the year of Food and Beverage's copyright, the wine world still revolved around Chardonnay and Cabernet. Merlot had not yet enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame, much less the subsequent, and precipitous, fall from grace. In the same vintage, Seinfeld premiered, "The Simpsons" debuted on Fox and West Germany, yes still identified as West, won the World Cup. Spanish wines resided in "Other International" sections and Down Under wines mostly stayed on the down low. It's been a fun ride, I'm looking forward to the next twenty.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again

I tried to keep up with this blog but found it difficult to justify yet more time in front of a computer after twelve+ hour days out selling wine and preparing presentations for the next. Couple that with a general distaste for shilling my own product in an environment such as this and, viola, no posts in almost a year. I hold an even greater distaste for promoting the competition.
I've been writing...working on my book, which further drew my attention away from this venue. Even if very few actually read it, I like the outlet.
I've had it with outside sales and am hungering for another opportunity in which to invest my efforts. I left my most recent gig in September and have turned down other options for route sales of wine.
My passion for teaching and talking to people about wine remains strong, but there are too many jaded buyers, way too many other salespeople and I was turning into the bitter salesman I used to chortle about. It's just not as much fun as it used to be. (A friend helpfully pointed out that it may be me, as I'm not as wild and entertaining as I was 15 years ago either).
While rereading and editing a section of my book the other day, I stumbled across an update on the store where I used to work. It described the building and the sign, still swinging in the breeze. Last fall the company chose to demolish the building and plans to resurrect a new, improved version of the store on the same site. I missed the actual destruction and a last chance to share a glass of wine either in the building or near it with friends and colleagues because I put the reminder in my Blackberry on the wrong date (and they call it a Smart phone). I cruised by a few days ago and was unprepared for what awaited me.
An entire side of a city block, plus a few "doors" on other blocks gone, vanished. Struck dumb, I quickly turned left before actually passing the store's previous location. The lump in my throat took quite some time to diminish and I felt strangely hollow the rest of the day. The store closed years ago and I had driven by regularly to see, from the outside all appeared ready for business. The sign needed to be re-affixed on one side but the concrete showed no ill-effects; even the mural of various employees and family members still looked good. I stopped noticing the "ring around the city" high water mark years ago.
Not only did I spend six years in that building launching a career that rewarded for years after that, but some of those missing buildings housed employees from time to time. The chef lived in one for a while; he's still with the company. Thelma, the security guard, lived in the one immediately adjacent to the parking lot. I wonder what ever became of her? At least one driver for the wholesale side of the company lived in one as well. All gone now.
I'll need to drive by again then get out and walk around. The ghosts of Katrina continue to haunt this city and they always will. Specters from our past rise up at unexpected times and remind us we're vulnerable. Walking those old grounds will help ease the tension I've been feeling. Perhaps I'll pretend to respond to a page or go to the deli's footprint and order some of the fries I loved so much or even step in the back like I once did, for a quick breath from the sometimes wild atmosphere.
Thomas Wolfe was right, "you can't go home to your family, back home to your childhood...back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame." Should you even try?
I plan to make this a New Orleans-centric blog about wines available in town, interesting tastings (way too few of these lately) and some stories from my time in the business. What's next? I have no idea, but I'm working on it.
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." - Seneca