in the spirit summer wine

Some people will live vicariously through others, even it’s a schlep like me.  For as long as I’ve loved wine and worked with it in our industry, the most common refrain I’ve heard is “Drinking wine for a living!—that must be tough…” in some form or another.  I certainly won’t deny it…YES, sipping wine almost daily and surrounding myself with it—well, it is pretty darn cool!  To me a PGA tour pro has it hard. Golfing all the time…who wouldn’t?  In all seriousness though, like anything, there is a level of commitment and work that drives people in our industry constantly to be better, know more, make better wine, grow better fruit, only to be better for everyone out there.  We are all constantly growing and learning in an ever-evolving industry. Most of us are always excited to share that with you, the guest.  If I could show you what a day in the industry may look like for some…

My days start like those of most people, with a little coffee, maybe some news, some household chores, etc.  But it’s not long before I’m deep into reading about which winery bought which this week or how bad the weather was in Burgundy last night.  I tend to catch myself geeking out into depths of the industry and possibly daydreaming about a trip to a vineyard in a foreign land.     Reading and studying can take me into a Wikipedia hole of links on grapes and different locations, sometimes so much so, that I’m late for an appointment.  The plan was to meet with a couple distributors today who want to show some us a few wines that might be a fit on the list.

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When I first walk in my office, I find the mess from the previous night.  A list of the wines we sold, some lose bottle tags, a pile of corks and a couple of used wine glasses. Typically, I start right away comparing my stock with what we sold to see if we have enough of the current vintage or maybe we are into the next vintage already.  Wine list changes and updates are an everyday thing, sometimes slipping by and going unnoticed for a few days. Changing our wine list is a hardy task, and we like to great care while being meticulous to not make any mistakes.   Through this process we may find a few things that we are out of and may or may not be able to restock.  This reminds me—the distributors!

Let me straighten myself up, as I always like to be the best-dressed and most well-spoken one in the room.  Remember, they’re trying to sell me something, but I like the upper hand in the process.  The usual chatter ensues and we move forward tasting the wines.  Always being shown the best “bang for the buck” or the “next big thing”, every now and then we run into that “Gem” of a wine.  That one wine that you taste, as soon as it flows across your palate, you’re thinking of ten of regular guests who will go absolutely gaga over it.  Now, that’s buying!  Sure I may like the wine, he or she showing it may like it, but the guest has to LOVE the wine.  Being in love with wine can sometimes blur the purchasing decisions for a wine list, so we always have to keep the end goal in mind.

Time for a few phone calls….one of our suppliers has decided to raise the price of our best seller.  I have to be a great negotiator, as things are always changing in the industry and we have to keep our interests and our guests’ interest in mind all the time.  Besides, what are we doing this for anyway?  I won’t fight over wine; there are thousands of different labels out there from which to choose.  I had just finished tasting 30 other options and tomorrow will be the same.  In slightly heated conversation, I look up at the clock and realize dinner service beings in 45 minutes!

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Composing myself, I walk onto the floor of the dining room and realize none of our glasses are polished.  Grabbing a bucket of hot water and a polishing towel, I swing by the reservation list to see that we are set up for a busy tonight.  Every glass on the table has to be perfect and correctly placed—you wouldn’t sip from a spotty glass, would you?  In my mind, I go over every station to make sure I’ve polished them all: Bordeaux glasses, Chardonnay glasses, Riesling glasses, Champagne flutes, and, yes, even the Sherry glasses.  As I spin the last glass, our first reservation is being shown to their table.  It’s show time!

We love this part, as guiding someone through a wine selection is part of the thrill.  For a few moments, our expertise gets to shine and the storytelling takes place.  Answering questions, making recommendations, sharing our favorites—nothing is left out there.  Trust is put in our hands for someone’s hard-earned money to be poured in a glass and matched perfectly with their meal.  They want to be transported somewhere else, such as where and when that wine was made…they want the visceral experience.  Sometimes the nerves catch up. I’ll even break a little sweat in anticipation that they enjoy the selection.  Sometimes its liked, sometimes misunderstood, and then sometimes you get that one special moment—that “Ah-ha” moment when they absolutely love it.  Connecting people to the wine builds on my ego, and sends me to the next table ready to do it again.  Some seem to think we can be over-the-top or boring, some find it fun or geeky.  I simply love sharing wine with people, enlightening them, telling them the story, and that’s what brings me back for more.

As the night ends, I finally find my way back to my desk, empty a handful of corks and bottle tags out of my jacket pocket, and place my list down as well.  The chef approaches with some small bites for a new idea.  We sit and chat about the ingredients, the flavors, and the possible pairings. Sharing some laughs and a few stories, we talk about the night and thank each other for a solid performance.  However, the night isn’t quite over until I make my way home and finish with a few sips of my own.  Like I said before, what are we doing this for?  That’s all the day in the life of…

– Ron Magliochetti, Manager/Sommelier of Sam Snead’s Golf Club at The Greenbrier Resort.

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