Stop for a moment and consider the impossible. Consider for just a moment that you found yourself the owner of a boutique business (that’s not the impossible, stay with me). Perhaps that business was centered around the world of art. Or perhaps you were one of the independent entrepreneurs of my time, the 1980s, who decided to have a go at the wine business. Perhaps you have a passion for designing the world’s finest all natural soaps, hand towels, children’s shoes or designer gowns for the elderly. Simply stop for a moment and imagine yourself an independent owner of a boutique business where there is ONE piece of your inventory that everyone considers virtually priceless – or at the very least, a piece of your inventory that is routinely considered your prized offering.
No matter the field of work, no matter the business we’re in, someone, somewhere, for some reason became THE expert in our arena. And with every expert, there comes the dissenting opinion. In America, the dissenting opinion is viewed with as much consideration, when it comes to matters of a commercial nature that is, as the words of the so called experts. As an example, consider how foolish it would sound if only one brand of children’s clothing were considered suitable for every child in America. Taken one further, no one in their right mind would settle for being told that there is only one type of steak worth buying; hell, on a given day of tasting wines with my suppliers, half of them are vegetarians; one a pure Vegan, one loves eggs. The point of this exercise, while appearing to move off-center, is that “experts” in a given field of ANY kind are always allowed only the amount of power we as consumers place upon them.
So I’ve come to a real cross-roads in my career. I’ve come to that moment, that impossible moment I asked you to consider, where I’m just not certain that the Mona Lisa is as beautiful as everyone thinks. I own a lot of Mona Lisa pieces. Who is going to finance the museum if the things everyone thinks are so beautiful are found not to be so, well, beautiful?
Perhaps being a tad melodramatic here, I’ll admit, but my thought process began with trying to figure out why a certain chain of events brought me to this point in the first place.
For as long as I’ve been in the wine business, from as far back as 1984, I have always respected Robert Parker, Jr., the man who authors The Wine Advocate. As a lad in the business, I read every page, every tasting note, every article, every book written by the man that I could get my hands on. I’ve also read countless other books and have multi-year subscriptions to every major and minor wine publication one could imagine – several that most folks have never heard of nor ever read. My respect for Parker came from years of reading his prose and knowing that those were HIS words and true feelings. Never once did he attack another person in the business of wine critiquing in the early years I read his magazine and never once did I hear a customer complain of a Parker review. Naturally, then, when I opened my wine shop ten years ago, there were to be found many, many references to Parker on the shelves and display cases. I pride myself on tasting every single wine before I add it to my collection, but once I did, if a note from Parker was available, so much the better; the shelf talker made my choices easier to sell.
As these ten years have gone by, many an importer has presented themselves to me, offering for my consideration their discoveries. One of my most favorite discoveries several years back were the 1999 Red Burgundies offered by Neal Rosenthal. So struck by these wines, offered to me by Neal’s then national sales manager Josh Raynolds (now a co-author for Steve Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar) that I bought and sold some 300 cases spanning every appellation and producer Rosenthal had to offer. And when one considers the one-man operation that my shop operates as, that’s a lot of 1999 Red Burgundy! That offer turned into another, this time Rosenthal’s offers from Cuilleron and the Southern Rhone, and the collections just continued to amass. Rosenthal’s Loire wines? An other-worldly experience that my palate continues to long for, to this day.
There were countless other importer’s wines I fell in love with as well. And many times, as in the case of Weygandt, the wines were adored by Parker. These are my Mona Lisa. And now, I stand at my fork in the road.
I’ve recently finished a book, a book by Alice Feiring. Those who have read the book know it well. Those who have listened to my thoughts on the book know that I share with Feiring many, many passionate thoughts. In particular, I have a great affection for the wines of Eric Texier. I have been drinking and selling the man’s wines for more than 5 years now. Also a love of mine, D’Oupia, Pinon and Radikon will be part of a focus tasting here quite soon. I carry many a wine from Wasserman, as well, as my long-time clients are fondly aware, having first made Becky’s acquaintance in the very early 1990s. I adore the wines of the Loire Valley, as does the great Feiring, having collected Joguet for more than 2 decades. Summarizing, I love great wine, and Feiring and I are very much on the same wavelength. Many of these wines, too are my Mona Lisa.
I visited the Louvre on a buying trip to France one year, returned there again a couple of years later while simply visiting an importer friend, Siler. Both times, I waited in line to view the Mona Lisa. Both times, the line was as long as the time before. This is a piece of art, a piece of inventory that keeps the folks walking through the door, this piece of work keeps the tails in the chairs, as my Grandfather said to his congregation.
I found myself posting little phrases from Feiring’s book to a social network sight I belong to as I read through her book. Her words have a way of moving me and I wanted to share these words with anyone who cared to follow. One of my followers was a man who has contributed more than 10,000 entries to Robert Parker’s online bulletin board. Additionally, this man has as his avatar at Parker’s bulletin board a photo with himself and Parker; I’d say he and Parker are at the very least close acquaintances. After my third or so post to my humble social network site, sharing my tidbit from Feiring’s book, this man, this Parker buddy, un-followed me. Coincidence? I personally do not believe so. Why? Ask Feiring. She was kicked off the bulletin board in 2007 for posting an opposing viewpoint.
Oh, such drama, my cross in the road. My decision to make. I sat watching the sun go down last evening, wrestling with this demon, pacing the floor, searching for answers.
Then I came to work today and set about my daily routine. I offered for sale a group of wines. Some with Parker reviews, some with Tanzer reviews, some with no critical reviews at all. Some that simply were attractive to no one but me.
Each and every one of these, to some degree, sold. Each and every item, well priced and offered to our clients honestly and with no thoughts of the politics of Parker and Feiring behind them, to some degree, sold. No one had to throw Mona Lisa out, no one had to sell only the crown jewel as considered such by only ONE journalist or author. Parker would probably have not liked one of the wines, Feiring would have probably hated 4/5ths of them. But each of them sold.
I decided that my story of the day, even if not a single person reads it, should be a tale with a moral; an entry into a blog that acts as a personal reminder of the reality of the retail world I call my daily job…
Our customers will decide the Mona Lisa of the wine world; our customers decide what author is their vanguard.
We merchants should just have fun watching the wealthy authors duke it out.