Pinheads, part two: MW, CS, MS, CSET, STFU

October 26, 2011 · 9 comments

Dear newly “certified” Winebuyer,

Yes, I see your pin. I saw it the first day we met, when you handed two business cards to me… One from your place of employment, which listed you as “Floor Manager” and one that you personally had made that listed you as “Certified Sommelier”. And you’ve worn that pin every day we’ve met since then. It’s quickly losing it’s luster for me though, in more ways than just it’s shine.

I shudder each time you mispronounce a winery name, not to mention entire regions. Every week we speak on the phone and you order 3 more cases of that “Coasts day Nwits” you pour by the glass, and I die a little inside. “What’s that?” I say… “You mean the Code-un- Whee?” I try to slip in the correct pronunciation so that you hardly notice but will hopefully absorb it, and then the next time you order, we begin again. Same song and dance. And it wouldn’t be so bad if it was just one or two wineries, I suppose… But when it is entire MAJOR winegrowing regions and when it’s basically every third foreign word or name that comes out of your mouth, it makes me want to cry. There’s an app for that, by the way. It’s called Google Translate. Check it out. Or even better, ask your rep how to pronounce it. And listen to her when she tries to correct you. Otherwise, you look like a jackass tableside when you’re trying to sell that Macon you keep calling “Mason”.

You’ve mentioned a few times how everyone tried to hold you down and talk you out of this Somm thing and against all odds, you and a friend spent ridiculous sums of money on wine to research/taste/cram for your examinations. I don’t really get what these odds are though… I understand you’re from a small town, and that maybe most people in that town don’t give a hoot about wine but still… I mean, really… the only thing holding anyone back from pursuing some sort of Sommelier certification should they feel the urge would be the money, or their own personal principles, I suppose. Unless maybe they were missing half a tongue or their sense of smell. Now THAT would be a success story. “Man With Half a Tongue Receives MS Certification.” Then I’d be impressed.

And then there’s the inevitable pissing match you try to have with me each time I pour you a wine. Take for instance that Spätburgunder I poured for you last week (I didn’t even want to tempt fate on that one, so I poured it and said, “And here is a Pinot Noir from Germany”)… you reply, “Yeah, this is a nice German Pinot, but I’ve tried about 50 or so others from Germany in my studies, and I’ve decided that I don’t really like the Pinots coming out of the Puh-falls region.” Puh-falls? Where is Puh- falls? OH you mean PFALZ! Pronounced “Faltz”? And really, kid? 50? You’ve been a winebuyer for all of 8 months. So I know you didn’t taste 50 of them during your tenure here. And before that, you lived in a tiny town with crap wineshops. I’ve been there. There’s no way you found any German Pinot Noir anywhere within 100 miles of that town. And even in a large American city, the odds of finding more than 20 offerings of Spätburgunder are slim. I’m finding it hard to believe that you shipped in 50 German Pinot Noirs from around the country to prepare for your Level 2 Certification through the CSET system. And if you did? Man, that’s just a pathetic waste of money. And have I mentioned how I hate the way you pronounce Pinot? “Pin-KNOW” as in the first two syllable of “Pinocchio”, annunciation on the second syllable. Like nails on a chalkboard to me. Can you see the pain etched in my face? Hopefully my fake smile is semi-convincing.

Okay, but let’s say that you did find 50 different bottlings of Spätburgunder to sample. I’m assuming that if your samplings of that one country were that in depth, you would do the same for other regions… (unless, that is, you just really had that much trouble grasping the intricacies of the Pinot Noir grape when grown in Germany… you just had to keep trying more of them…) then SHIT, that is a LOT of money you’ve spent on your research. Not to mention the costs of the Level One and Level Two exams. And yet you’ve never been out of the country. You’ve never set foot in a German Weingut (please don’t try to say that word, just spare me). You could have spent all that money on a trip to Europe. And then maybe you could have learned some rules of pronunciation for each country you visited. Your predecessors here at your illustrious establishment, those other “Floor Managers” who also did the winebuying? None of them had any sort of certification. And come to think of it, none of them had much difficulty remembering pronunciation… so you could have had this same job.. even without your pin… only you might have had a better grasp on not only pronunciation, but also on what it felt like to actually stand in those vineyards, in the wineries, with the winemakers, with the regional cuisine and the regional history and all that culture that you just can’t glean from flashcards and bottles of wine found on winesearcher.com.

And maybe, just maybe, you’d be less of a blowhard in my eyes. But you wouldn’t have that pin…

Best,
Wine Rep

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jaded Importer October 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm

! I wish I had a pin for every pin head. My favorite is – I like this, but I don’t know who I would sell it to.

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Samantha Dugan October 27, 2011 at 12:29 am

Pin head here. I’ve often loved a wine but knew that there was not a market for it here in our store. One would think, as an importer, you would want a retailer to know what is or is not going to sell in their store…you know, so you we can like pay our bills a little sooner. Many of us are in fact wine geeks and would love to stock those geeky little gems but when you are looking at invoices that need to paid, well sometimes we have to let the geek go and remember you aren’t running a wine museum…

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winerep October 27, 2011 at 5:12 am

Samantha, Jaded… I can see both sides. There are way too many lazy retailers out there who simply stock the sure-sellers and never take it upon themselves to get behind the wines that they would actually drink. And they rely too much on the phrase “I love it but it would never sell.” And then on the other side, we all need those sure-sellers to pay the bills and keep the doors open, both reps and winebuyers alike. But shelves full of brand after brand like Rombauer and The Prisoner just make me want to gag, whether or not I rep the brands. It’s a cop-out. See this post: http://dearwinebuyer.com/2011/09/02/from-the-wine-republic-the-lazy-bum/

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Samantha Dugan October 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Winerep,
OH no, I agree to a point and while we do stock the much loathed and gag inducing Rombauer Chardonnay and Orin Swift’s glandular case wine, (I am not a fan of either…either) “brands” do not make up the bulk of the wines we have at our shop. You won’t find Clicquot, Moet, Jadot, KJ or many others that you will find at many a “lazy” retailers. Hell, we even have a domestic Dornfelder and Poulsard. So I think we are on the same page there.

When I use the “I like it but it won’t sell” phrase is when I already have a wine, very much like the one you are pouring, (and trust me, as special as yours is there are going to be many things very much like it) at near the same price or in the case with a lot of my French wines, (I am the French buyer) cheaper than the one you are showing me or when I’m tasted on some over blown, fat, inky, oak bomb of a Rhone wine that tastes like it’s from Australia. While sumptuous to “taste” my French wine lovers aren’t going to buy and drink that shit.

I can wines from the Jura, Loire reds and even the afore mentioned Arnot-Roberts Poulsard, we have a very open minded customer base, although there are those Rombauer and Romabuer only people, they are just like the Stella Rosa people, just with more money and attitude, and we serve both, happily. Just not sure I want to try and force a $35 wine from the Languedoc on anyone…

Final point is many times when we say that, we are just trying to be nice. There are a few of us that don’t relish in telling a sales rep that there wine is stupid or complete shit, even when they are.

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Jaded importer October 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Interesting thread. If our reps are doing their jobs – and they are,because we’ve been doing this for 18 years and know our customers – they are bringing wines that fit the reseller. As an importer, we source great product – and here is the punch line – WE PAY OUR SUPPLIERS. And the market really doesn’t give a shit because everyone is having crap thrown at them by the big producers and distributors. The retail community is not doing a good job of creating new users, opting instead to make fat margins on discounted juice. We can’t go direct to the consumer, so we are dependent on these retailers. What sells is passion, and I see VERY little passion in the retail trade right now.

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Samantha Dugan October 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Jaded,
Come visit us! I so get your point of view as well and I admit that there is maybe only one other retailer in our area, (and that is a big fucking area) that I will visit to shop. Just too much boring, insipid and mass produced garbage filling many retail shelves these days. Have you walked into a BevMo?! Dude, I have never, not ever, left there with a bottle of wine and Total Wine, not much better. I think for interesting you have to hit the smaller retailers, the ones that have staff members that know both their wines, (one of my customers asked for a White Burgundy at BevMo and was told, “Oh, they don’t make that anymore” wtf?!) and their customers…

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Jaded importer October 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Samantha:

We are in the NW…food heaven, wine heaven. Distributors and importers populate the land like cockroaches. Our market’s problem is that business ethics are in the toilet – distributors and importers do not pay their suppliers. and the retail and restaurant community continue to reward them by buying wine. I realize that these are (somewhat) desperate times, but I was raised to honor my debts, provide great customer service and treat my employees like adults.

Going back to the pinhead issue that started all of this, selling our wine involves telling a story, not trying to prove how much you know. If the wine tastes good and is at the right price (don’t get me started on Burgundy…..), a pinhead should be able to sell it. We all seem to want to attache an air of mystery to wine, when the truth is that it isn’t mysterious at all.

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winerep October 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Jaded: here here… I love telling my wines’ and winemakers’ stories. although call me a hopeless romantic, but I also love thinking at length about all of the mysteries a great bottle of wine can both cover and conceal in the course of a night while it’s open, or in the years we let it age, either in barrel or bottle… cellar or cave.

Samantha, I have several winebuyers who aren’t honest with me about the wines I’m showing them… or they just don’t say anything at all. And at some point, I eventually ask them to tell me what they like or don’t like about a wine. It behooves both of us for me to learn your palate or the styles you’re searching out for your client base, and as I didn’t make the wine, I rarely take it personally if it doesn’t suit my buyer for whatever reason.

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Jaded importer November 2, 2011 at 1:58 am

Rep: You are correct, there is mystery in every good bottle of wine. But the pinheads – and to an extent the retailers – of my world go out of their way to make wine a complicated, mysterious thing. It is about passion, what one likes and doesn’t like. My experience (we import and wholesale) is that that the folks who don’t say anything or give you reaction are the ones who don’t have the confidence to believe their palates and therefore don’t have the chops to sell interesting things.

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