Many years ago, I worked for a small wine distributor that sold wines to restaurants and retail stores in New York City. It is a brutal job in the sense that you can work long hours and face rejection all the time. The city is saturated with distributors trying to sell their wines, and so Sommeliers are overwhelmed with sales reps knocking on their doors and naturally become curt with them. Also, it does not help that most Sommeliers/Wine Directors work grueling long hours as well.
New York City Wine Business
As I would try to introduce myself to potentially new accounts, I discovered that there were many different personalities in the wine business. Some were warm and welcoming, some distant and protective (I can’t blame them since there are unsavory sales reps) and some who played games – asking me to keep coming back but never giving me a straight answer as to whether they wanted to do business with me or not.
During that time, I met Carrie Lyn Strong who is currently the Wine Director at the esteemed Aureole, but was working at another highly-rated NYC restaurant at that time. I was to be her new sales rep for this particular distributor. She came out to talk to me with a lovely smile and allowed me to tell her about the wines in my portfolio. She had this great ability to make me feel good just by being in her presence. The next day, she sent me a message saying that she had just left that restaurant to pursue another opportunity. When I met her the day before, she couldn’t tell me or discuss it in any way since it first needed to be announced to the rest of her staff, but after it was finished, she wanted to let me know that she enjoyed talking to me and she wished me the best of luck.
It is typical for Sommeliers to leave a restaurant to potentially become the Wine Directors at another one, but it is certainly atypical to take the time to write to a wine sales rep, working for a tiny company, when there is nothing to gain from that email, simply to tell them that you enjoyed talking to them. The email meant a lot to me, even though we would not be able to do business together, because it added some humanity in a world that seemed to lack it at times.
Women in Wine
It was great to see Carrie again, this time as a panelist for the 2016 Women in Wine Leadership Symposium (WWLS). Her talk focused on building confidence in the work place by giving ourselves credit for the little things, such as, in her case, making the customer happy or helping to empower her staff with knowledge. Her lesson was very much in alignment with my first experience with her. She finds confidence by focusing on what she can do for others.
Power to Change the World
While I think it is easier to be kind to someone who has obvious physical constraints, such as one who is handicapped, elderly or a child, but sometimes our own personal issues can get in the way of showing kindness to most of the people we encounter within our daily lives. It takes real strength and courage, placing our own insecurities in the backseat, to give all our focus to the needs of others. I have always appreciated that email from Carrie – it showed a true strength of character. And it is a great reminder that it doesn’t have to take much effort to let people know that they are valued as human beings.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2014 Red Tail Ridge Winery, Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Finger Lakes, New York, USA ($14): Nancy Irelan is the co-owner and winemaker for Red Tail Ridge Winery, and was one of the speakers at the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium (WWLS). Irelan was previously employed by E&J Gallo Winery as their VP of Viticulture & Enology Research and Development, and she is grateful for the experience that helped her to eventually open her own winery. This wine had delicious golden apples notes with sweet spice, roasted hazelnuts, and a zesty finish.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2012 Burch Family Wines, Howard Park Leston Shiraz, Western Australia, Australia ($33): Another presenter at WWLS was Janice McDonald, Chief Winemaker at Burch Family Wines, and she showed a great example of a complex, structured Australian Shiraz that comes from the lesser known area of Western Australia. This wine had beautiful expressive blackberry fruit, as one would expect from a Shiraz, but multi-layered aromatics of bacon, smoky earth and white pepper with muscular tannins and a bright, long finish.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2006 Cousiño Macul, Lota, Maipo Valley, Chile($80): Verónica Cousiño, 7th generation wine producer, spoke at the WWLS sharing her experiences helping to run her family winery, Cousiño Macul, which has been around since 1856. This 2006 Lota is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot. From the first sip, the tannins were well-integrated yet they still had great structure. The lush plum fruit was balanced by hints of rosemary, tobacco and a spicy finish with superb length of flavor.