Thursday, May 18, 2006

Going for Broke

The call went something like this.

"John, hi, my name is XXXXXX, and I understand you're interested in wines."

Groan. A wine broker. I've heard from them before. I've actually done business with a couple in the past and...let's just say we parted ways before long.

"Yes."

Unlike some people I know who manage never to stop anything they think from gliding to their tongues and out of their mouths, I seem to have a Hepa word filter lodged between my teeth and say few of the things I'm thinking.

"...and we help people just like you experience some fine wine from some of the small, artisan winemakers you may not get to see very much of where you live. Tell me, what kind of wines are you most interested in?

The conversational device is obvious, but it's hard to resist -- unless you're used to being rude. I mean, I like to talk to just about anybody about wines, so I'm inclined to give her a few minutes at least.

"I'm always on the lookout for really great pinot noirs, especially those that exhibit a lot of complexity from places like Russian River or Santa Ynez. And, I'm always on the lookout for great zinfandels or syrahs from winemakers I don't normally see around here."

"Well, we get wines from so many different winemakers at any given time. What brands are you..."

I'm wondering if I'm now getting in too deep because as soon as I hear about some of the small production pinots I could be trying, I could be done for. It's happened before. After our first Napa Valley tour in '99, I got my first wine broker call. Napa wines delivered right to my door? What could be wrong with that? Well, I found out one day when I arrived home from work to find a case of wine sitting on my stoop in 20-degree weather. I had been assured this would never happen. I sent the wine back and severed the relationship.

I took this lesson to heart and spent the next several years trying to forget about the boutique wines I would never see, instead scouring the local stores for the best of France or Italy or Australia. But then Wine Spectator published my letter a couple of years ago. It was an ego boost, but the major fallout was the telemarketing bullseye I suddenly discovered on my back. I was called by no less than four or five wine brokers, all duly impressed by my letter. I stood firm for a while, but finally I caved and placed another order.

I got a shipment or two no problem. Then, despite intense assurances that they would monitor weather conditions and never leave a delivery out in adverse conditions, I one day arrived home to find a case baking in 88-degree weather. They swore they were diligent and read back to me their detailed instructions. But the long and short of it is, most delivery people don't mind the detail and the brokers can't control many essentials.

So, nothing this woman had to say was going to get me to cave, right? But when I heard about the pinots she had available, all caution was thrown to the winds. I ordered a case of two different boutique Sonoma pinots. While I'm excited on the one hand, I'm also nervous. I just can't get past the feeling that something will go wrong, that wine brokers should be avoided at all costs.

But I'm also thinking that other people must do this kind of thing all the time. Plenty of people belong to wine clubs and get regular shipments in the mail. Am I the only one who's had bad experiences and remains gun shy?

I'd love to know what other people out there think of wine brokers. I'm already thinking I don't want to talk to my new broker in July or August. Am I being paranoid or justifiably practical? What is the collective wisdom?

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jeff said...

I've never had a proactive wine broker call, but I have proactively ordered online from one. It's not so much the delivery that concerns me because I think it is a hazard that's hard to control it is actually the shipping costs that's a killer. It's a tough pill to swallow when a half case of something you're longing for is going to cost $30 in ground shipping.

Though, in general, the come on is really appealing when you know your local wine store is price gouging and you're dying for that small lot Pinot.

9:29 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Excellent Point.

9:32 AM  

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