There was a time when employees at the Cadbury factory could stuff their faces with as much chocolate as they wanted whilst on the factory floor. The second day working there, the crème eggs were safe once again. Nobody could bear to even smell the stuff, much less contemplate eating it. This condition, depressing to anyone who loves chocolate and overloads, holds true for the wine world. I’m not talking about getting smashed one night and waking up deciding you’ll never drink again. That’s temporary and completely normal, of course. I mean the pitiful situation I have found myself in time and time again during my tenure as an employee at St Andrews’ finest (and only) wine merchant, Luvians.
You might think that working in a bottle shop is pure delight, but it’s definitely a dirty job, I assure you. Aside from the occasional bottle open for tasting in the shop, which is a pleasant way to introduce customers to an interesting wine which they might not otherwise consider, there is another, more painful process in the business. It’s called a trade-tasting. The doom of the careful palate. The end of the honeymoon and the death of the wine lover’s soul. Well, not quite so dramatic.
After a few months of working at Luvian’s Bottleshop I demonstrated that I have at least some talent for vetting decent wines and was given the task of attending a trade tasting. It was three days solid of trade tasting in London, no less, and after the three-hundredth swirl-sip-spit of the day, you realise the horrible truth. You hate wine. You’ve stopped enjoying the taste. You lament the swift onset of the jaded palate. While you began the day taking notes such as ‘Deep ruby colour. A lovely full palate of plums, damson and cocoa fading to a slightly spicy, chocolate finish and a lingering presence. Perfect acidity to go with fatty meats. Delightful’, it quickly turns to a pure evaluation of the technical side of things with hints of bitterness; ‘Bloody colour, some fruit, acid,’ becomes all that jumps to mind. I was worried that the finely crafted artistry I had grown to appreciate was to be lost on me forever, but I eventually realised that there is a balance to be struck.
I put this experience behind me until the Manchester Specialist Independent Trade Tasting. In the depth of winter, a 6-hour drive brought me to the gates of wine-lover hell. The abyss contained no less that 1,000 wines, many of them delicious, quality examples of fine winemaking. And by the end of the day I felt like I had no enamel left on my teeth, my knees didn’t bend well any more and despite spitting everything out, my head was swimming and I had developed tunnel vision. How to come to terms with this and maintain my love of wine and not let it dampen my passion? Well, I still love wine and some of the bottles which I tried and attached such cynical, stilted notes to are among the wines I love. How do you divorce the tradable commodity, which you evaluated as ‘Meh’, from the wine you truly enjoy? I remember when I was being overwhelmed by the fact that so many wines I was trying just seemed to be pure acid, I went to find one I already knew. It was a Stag’s Leap Cask 23 from Napa Valley. A damn good wine retailing for £160-ish and one I’ve had which once blew me away. It was the same deal. All acid and only the quantifiable, chemical notes that made it stand out from the other bottles of alien’s blood. Thank God, it turns out it is all about context after all!
Knowing that I would live to taste again, I found a way to separate two sets of tastes. One for business, one for pleasure. I can now avoid the dreaded ‘Cadbury Syndrome’ and take a bottle of wine home with me and enjoy it on its many merits. Working at Luvians is a great pleasure and I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with a product that I love, but a balance must be attained. When you are working in a trade which seduces you as wine did me, you have to be careful and maintain the romance. I have had the chance to try amazing wines and whisky and I have learned many valuable, and at times surprising things about the business. It is an exciting trade to be in and for those who learn to keep a hold of the love of wine (which got them started), there is much to be gained indeed.
George Stewart’s blog-www.grape-press.blogspot.com