In this month’s wine writing challenge, John of Pairs With: Life challenged us to tell our Winestory, aka what lead us down the path of awesomeness that is wine writing. Technically, I just dabble in the wine writing while drinking a lot, but here goes:
Picture it: Fredericksburg, Texas 1994. I was home from college for Thanksgiving break and a job opportunity presented itself. My cousin had been offered a job at a local wine tasting room and declined because she was working at a winery (Grape Creek Vineyards) at the time. She told me to go apply. Having fell in love with red wine from the Riojas just the year before (read all about it here!), I marched (okay, drove….around the block 4 times looking for a parking spot) down to said wine tasting room and asked about the job. My interview went something like this: have you ever worked in a winery or wine tasting room before? No, but I like to drink wine and honestly, isn’t that half the battle? Can you wash dishes? Of course, who says no to that in an interview?! Great! You’re hired! (okay, it was slightly more in depth than that, but not much).
My first job? Try all the wine on the bar available for tasting. After all, how you could describe a wine you’ve never tasted before? So I tasted and tasted and tasted some more. Nearly every Texas winery was represented. Right now, my inner wine-geek wants to name them all, but my inner OCD is afraid I’d miss someone and it would drive me nuts.
Job 2? Washing a lot of glasses. TONS and TONS of glasses! I only mention this because Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest weekend in the store and there were a lot of people in the tasting room that weekend.
Job 3? Cleaning up an entire rack of dropped glasses. The truly sad part was that I just hand washed and hand dried them all (sigh).
So, for the first few days that’s all I did: taste wine, wash glasses, and clean up (although thankfully the breaking of the glasses significantly decreased!). But….I also listened. I listened to my coworkers describe wine. I saw how customers reacted to their descriptions and I noticed that whatever each worker liked best is what sold best on that day because they got excited about it and could get the customer excited as well.
I was determined to channel that excitement, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked. First of all, I preferred (and still do) dry, spicy full bodied reds. But I quickly discovered that wasn’t actually a popular choice amongst the majority of our customers. They were looking for something fun. Something easy to drink. Something to walk down the street with while shopping (oh yeah, you can do that in Fredericksburg!).
Thus, I had to change tactics. And instead of trying to get people excited about the wine that I liked, I tried to get them excited to find that special bottle of wine in the store that was going to make them love wine. I started listening and asking them a lot of questions . After awhile I realized I was good at something other than just washing and breaking glasses: I was good at wine pairing. Not just pairing wine with food, but with people: finding that one bottle that was going to make a them a wine lover. Being a fellow beer-lover as well, I couldn’t fault the non-converts who just wanted to stick to beer. But for everyone else, I tried to focus on creating an ambience where it wasn’t just about the wine, but was about having fun and allowing customers to go on their own journey to be able to proclaim “I love wine!”
Sometimes it was a challenge, especially when snobby wine people came in insisting that they only like [insert trendy wine region here] and they’d never like any that came from Texas. They were the most fun to convert. Did it always happen? No! I was a wine peddler, not a miracle worker!
The other thing I really loved was getting to know the winemakers. They are truly an amazing group of people. We often had special tastings on the weekends and would invite the winemakers to join us to tell our customers about what makes their wine so special. It was like getting a sneak peek behind the curtain!
But you’re here to hear how I got into wine writing–so let’s fast forward a few (or more) years when I decided that I needed a change and moved to New York City (with 7 cases of Texas wine, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, and a warning from my brother not to get pulled over for speeding otherwise I’d be arrested for bootlegging!).
I have to admit, it was nice to be able to walk into a wine store and just browse, but after some time, I started missing the wine-speak: the geeking out over a great $10 bottle or splurging on the bottle of bubbles. I missed talking about wine. And then one day serendipity struck and I was followed by The Drunken Cyclist. Of course, I immediately followed him back because I knew that anyone with the slogan: I have three passions: wine, cycling, travel, family, and math. had to be amazing–and I’m not just saying that for the vote!!.
A few weeks later, I noticed that he put up a Wine Writing Challenge (#10, I believe) and I thought why not? I didn’t really consider myself a “wine writer,” but I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to do what I love most with wine: share it.
The rest, as they say, is history.
So that’s my WINESTORY…and I’m sticking to it.
PS–Okay, I can’t let it go, so I’m going to apologize if I missed anyone and maybe check back regularly to see if I’ve added more…or feel free to comment if you know of any that need to be added!
Texas Wineries when I started working at the wine shop, Texas Wines, Etc., in no particular order and as best I can remember after over 2 decades of consuming copious amounts of wine (but that’s a story for another time!):
- Grape Creek Vineyards
- Bell Mountain Vineyards
- Becker Vineyards
- Sister Creek Winery
- Texas Hills Vineyards
- Dry Comal Creek Vineyards
- Fall Creek Vineyards
- Val Verde Winery
- Messina Hof Winery
- Llano Estacado Winery
- Cap*Rock Winery
- McReynold’s Winery
- St. Genevive Winery
- Spicewood Winery
- Wimberley Valley Wines
- Piney Woods Country Wines
- Homestead Winery
- La Buena Vida Winery
- Inwood Estate Vineyards