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07.2007

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: David Singer

One fine April evening my wife shares some great news: her sister is getting married. Wonderful! Then comes the bad news: the wedding is in six weeks, on Memorial Day. For many of us in the hospitality or retail industry, getting that weekend off is difficult enough; with that short of a timeline, it is nearly impossible. And the happy couple lives in the Midwest, in a rural town with the aspiration of being a city. Kansas is the state to be precise. There was no way I could make it. My wife and little girl could attend, but work obligations would keep me home. I would, however, be in there in spirit. The wedding was to be done on a tight budget, so my wife and I offered to take care of the wine and beer for the event. (I was there in spirit, get it?) So I went about getting the requisite contact information and set out to talk to the owner of the inn where the wedding and reception would be taking place.

Allow me to confess up front to a flaw. When I meet members of the trade for the first time I can be a very particular kind of snob. Unlike most snobs, I don't look down upon people that I first meet; I have the reverse problem, expecting them to have a reasonable amount of knowledge in their chosen profession. In short, I'm a wine geek snob. How can anyone who is in this profession not be a wine geek? I don't have an issue with non-geekdom per se; I just can't understand it. That's my problem and I'm seeking help. Wine Geek Anonymous should help with that, but I'm not expecting any positive effect on my treatment anytime soon.

You might see where this is heading. During the conversation with the owner I asked what the most popular beer is in the area and what would be a good local micro brewer. Not surprisingly, Bud Light was the beer of choice; he also suggested a local micro brew and I went with his recommendation. Then we came to wine and his recommendation was . . . wait for it . . . boxed wine. At first I laughed, thinking it was a joke. But the owner went on to tell me that most people don't drink wine and boxed wine is what most people purchase for events in the area. They really don't know any better, so it would be a waste of money to buy better. The second part of that sentence chaffed me just a little. Better wine is never wasted, in my opinion. It is really no wonder why people don't drink wine as far as he knows. I wouldn't drink wine either if boxed wine was my sole experience.

His next recommendation was a little more practical and not as dismissive of his clientele: a White Zinfandel of some sort. But that was as far as I was going to get.

I continued to work with him, but through the back and forth about the kinds of importers that hopefully would be in the area, it was clear that I should speak directly to the owner of the liquor store from where the inn would be making its purchases. It's too bad how much this gentleman and his customers are missing from a lack of knowledge. I chose two very distinct styles of wine that would both pair well with the barbeque-based cuisine, aiming to provide something for everyone: a rich Australian Shiraz and a German Riesling. As the date approached, I wondered how my choices would be received in the end. Would there be greater interest in the wine if a better option were presented than typically seen at large events in that region?

My sister-in-law helped boost interest by thanking me in the program, raising curiosity, and many people ventured to the bar seeking the sommelier-picked wines. The vast majority drained their big red plastic cups and went back for more. And several asked where they might purchase a bottle for themselves. Converts! And because I didn't presume bad past experience would drive people away from wine, or lack of experience allow them to accept boxed wine, the liquor store made about three times more money than it otherwise would have. Lesson learned: never assume someone "isn't worth good wine". They are more likely to have never encountered a wine professional who presented them with a wine suited to their taste.

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