I’m not talking about the get-your-friends-together, open-some-funky-wines, drink-and-discuss-while-you-nibble-on-charcuterie kind of DIY tasting, but rather the put-on-a-blazer, go-to-a-convention-center, taste, spit, and shmooz-your-way-around-the-room industry events. Many of my non-wine friends jealously yearn to attend, but my colleagues and I are all too familiar with the manic chaos that generally comes with the territory.
Why have I never spoken these words aloud? Well, for one thing, some of my compatriots spend months looking forward to certain tastings. For another, these events are a critical part of doing business in the wine world, whether you are there to discover new products or simply to see and be seen. They provide an opportunity to taste exponentially more wines in one place – and chat with far more potential clients – than any amount of running around the city. Not to mention the fact that by some purely oenological standards I am quite a lucky man just to be able to walk through the portal with a mere flash of the business card to taste some of the world’s best wines.
The problem is, it can be really tough – sometimes close to impossible – to actually focus on the wine.
For starters, there’s an obvious correlation between the quality level of wine (and/or geek factor) and the number of people jockeying to taste it. I don’t imagine that crowded trade shows in any industry allow for much breathing room, but in this case, the space is also needed for smelling, tasting, and SPITTING. Picture a book fair. Now imagine everybody at each of the tables with their mouth full of wine, nudging you as they try to use body language to request that you get out of the way so that they can spit into the bucket that is conveniently placed on the table directly in front of where you happen to be standing (in your Sunday best, which you took out expressly for this occasion). The true pros are quite adept at avoiding splashing; needless to say, it’s an acquired skill that not everybody’s mastered. And I won’t go any farther than to mention the peripheral aromas – to put it gently – that occasionally creep into range while you’re trying to ascertain the subtleties in the bouquet of that glass of Barolo.
To further complicate matters, included in this seething mass of humanity is every single individual you can imagine from each of the following categories:
- People you have worked for
- People you have worked with
- People who have interviewed you for jobs that they then did not offer you
- People who offered you jobs that you did not accept
- People who have bought wine from you
- People you have unsuccessfully tried to sell wine to
- People you have purchased wine from
- People who have attempted to sell you wine
- People whose phone calls you keep forgetting to return
- People who really, REALLY, want you to try every single wine on their table, although you’re actually just curious about one, and there are 200 other tables in the room with products you’d like to taste
- People who don’t really want to pour you the one wine you’re dying to try because their sample bottle is almost empty and they know you work for a competitor
- People you’ve accidentally gotten drunk with at previous tastings and said things to that you probably shouldn’t have
Sounds like a relaxing afternoon sipping a glass of wine, right?
Now, don’t get me wrong – some of the wine events I’m fortunate enough to attend are incredibly special. Occasionally they involve travel to VERY cool places, like the annual Omniwines team trip to VinItaly, the world’s largest wine fair, which takes place each spring in Verona, Italy. We’re gearing up to go in a little over a month, and I couldn’t be more excited. But I won’t be packing any white shirts.