Thursday, May 30, 2013

Definition of ASS-ume!

Today begins a new direction for the blog. After visiting more than 245 wineries in the last two years, it is time to begin the process educating people in the fine art of, DO NOT ASSUME! The experience that I am about to share is a perfect example of how NOT to treat a person of color when they enter the tasting room. Out of respect for the winery that I visited, (like they really deserve any),  I am only going to share photos of the empty, but nice tasting gallery, and a photo of a nearby pasture. The owner, who seriously screwed up in the customer service arena, asked me not to refer to her as a "Mercenary Soccer Mom," like someone who had recently described her in a Yelp review. Thus, to be objective, and not seeing a mud slathered mini-van parked nearby, (Don't all soccer moms drive these?) I will refer to her as a "Mercenary, doesn't have a clue how to treat people when they walk into YOUR tasting room and are willing to hand YOU money for YOUR wine, soccer mom." Just sayin'. Read on.

A good day of wine tasting turned into an exercise in restraint for me when I visited a small, quaint, art gallery type winery in Paso Robles. I had been referred to this business by a neighboring winery who gave them high praises. I'm not sure of the referring person had ever visited them personally, but the proximity of the two wineries made it easy to literally walk between the two.

Instead of walking, I decided to drive the 50 yards to this picturesque, art gallery type tasting room located behind a previously blogged about winery. The air was crisp, and salty from the nearby Pacific Ocean, and I was in a totally relaxed mood. Having only begun a day full of anticipation in savoring all things Rhone varietal, a recommendation based on my taste preference was graciously appreciated.

Entering the empty tasting room, I was greeted...(if you can call a diverted glance and a disappearing act a greeting), by the owner. She curled her lip, turned her back to me and left the room as she called out hi. Wow, okay, maybe it was my CSUS sweatshirt? I was, after all, in So Cal. Did Sac State we beat them in some kind of sport? I stood at the counter for nearly ten seconds before she returned and abruptly began to pour wine into a already used wine glass. Noticing her mistake, she grabbed a new glass, which was also dirty, and began to pour again before stopping to say that she would go and get a cleaner glass. I have no idea why she appeared to be edgy and nervous, but the arrival of two of her friends seemed to put her at ease.

As she poured for me, I was annoyed that her demeanor was relaxed and cordial to her friends, but aloof and dismissive of me. She barely made eye contact, and I nearly had to choke information out of her about the wine. Sadly, as I tried to be friendly, she became more aloof and dismissive which at some point became noticeable to her friends. Time to blow my cover.

I pulled out a business card that reflected my position in the wine industry as a blogger. This must have set an alarm off because she immediately went into a pathetic, narcissistic, defensive mode and begged me not to write bad things about her. (see beginning paragraph). Seriously? Me, write bad press? Moving forward. I asked her why her behavior was so dismissive and aloof. Her reply not only caught me off guard, but her friends were also visible annoyed by the response. This is what was said.

Me: I'm curious, is there a reason why you seem uncomfortable with me being here?

Owner: Well, you did walk in here by yourself. What was I supposed to think?

At this point, a man, who turned out to be her husband, rapidly appeared from an adjacent back room. He immediately went into damage control by apologizing as if a representative from the NAACP had me wire tapped. He explained that they had received some bad reviews from Yelp, and that they were a bit on edge whenever strangers came into their tasting room. Okay, how many wineries only serve wine in a public facility to people that they know? Bad answer hubby.

His reply was not only pathetically comical, but their friends also exhibited disbelief in any measure of sincerity on his part. I couldn't resist digging a little deeper as I noticed that the amount of wine being poured into my glass had suddenly increased. He further explained that his wife was a good mother and a hard worker, and that this was a dream of theirs to make wine and become winery owners. What they lacked more than anything was experience in dealing with the public. (Good save, hubby)

Okay, I give him points for admitting to the screw up, but her behavior did not change. This only made me and her friends question the situation even more. She went on to say that by me entering the tasting room alone, she assumed that I did not drink wine and that she could not figure out what I wanted. Wow! I now had an even fuller glass of wine...which was beginning to taste quite bad. (she also repeatedly insisted that I try their desert wine. NOT) She further explained that she was not accustomed to seeing women of color in her tasting room...albeit alone, and that she found this troubling. I tried to get her to explain in more detail. She would only say that my presence disturbed her, and she hoped that I would not share this experience with others. Yeah, right. I'll shut up now...snicker, snicker!

 I was convinced that my sweatshirt had nothing to do with her attitude, and I have a good idea of where she was going with her ASS-umptions.Tthis is why I have to share this experience.

Rules of engagement:

The owner obviously took issue with many facets of my presence. Here is a list of no-no's that should never be ASS-umed in a tasting room or any public business.

1. Single visitors - Never assume that a visitor is single. Walking into a winery, or any business by yourself does not mean that you are single! It is NOT your place to judge why a single visitor is alone nor is it cool to ASS-ume that they are based on appearance.

2. Rival school sweatshirt wearing visitors - If you have an issue with a rival school, keep it to yourself. This is a free country, and I will damn well wear my CSUS sweatshirt to any winery located near any school that my alma mater kicked ass in football or any other sport. Go Hornets!

3. People of color; many do not drink sweet wine - Do not ASS-ume that all people of color drink only sweet wines. Yes, from my own experience, I can safely say that many people who are new to wine begin with the sweet stuff. However, never assume that this is the norm. Ask them if they are familiar with your wine and educate them on the differences in varietals. Explain that the sweeter wines usually follow the drier wines and that tasting sweet wine first can affect the taste of drier wines. If the taster is reluctant, serve them what they want. If you do not have a sweet wine, refer them to a winery that does.

4. Non make up wearing, sweat shirt, blue jean clad, softball playing women - No, we are not all "that way!" What way is that you ask? I have no idea, still. Yes, I am being glib, but YOU are being judgmental in your assumptions. Personally, I like to be comfy when wine tasting lest I have to smack a rude server upside the head. do you know if I have a gojillion dollars in my pocket that I am willing to give YOU because your neighbor just said that YOU make some of the best Rhone varietals...which I love, in Paso Robles. Your loss!

5. Happy same sex couples who would love to try your wine and buy it!- Do I really need to explain this? Seriously, treat everyone equally, and your business may survive. Recognize and embrace diversity, cater to this idea and become an advocate of human rights, your business will thrive! Hopefully this is the norm for you. If not, expect a visit from me.

This experience was eye opening. I could only imagine how she would act if a person who fit her assumptions of me would enter the tasting room. It is tragic that she is so narrow minded and out of touch. Understanding that it is her business, and she can do whatever she wants, discrimination is illegal. It would do her a world of good to learn some diversity sensitivity. To help her out, I plan to make it a personal project to encourage diverse groups of people to visit this winery in hopes that she will get over herself. Now, I just need to find a group of non make up wearing, sweat shirt and blue jean clad, softball playing women of color, who are "that way," and who would be willing to drink dry, red wine in Paso Robles. Volunteers?

Until next time,


Thursday, May 2, 2013

...and my favorite winery is? Todd Taylor Wine.

I have mentioned this a thousand times, my life sucks! Ok, not REALLY, but it is pure joy visiting as many wineries as one can in the space of a year. In all of my travels, I have met some of the most interesting wine makers. Their stories of why they do what they do, are varied. However, their passions are very similar. Of them all, Todd Taylor stands a notch above many in his own unique way.


Well, the guy can cook. Emeril Lagasse, look out! Members of the wine club at Todd Taylor wines are treated to a release party at least twice a year. What is a release party? As members of the wine club, whenever a new wine is released, whether it is a new vintage of a previous offering, or something that Todd has never made before, (we'll go into that later. Think barrel tasting), Todd throws down...(this means he can SERIOUSLY cook) on the grill. With the help of his son, T.R., and his wife Gloria, there is no end to what culinary feats he can create.

On a recent visit...who am I kidding, I stalk this winery, Todd and Gloria happily allowed me to use them as guinea pigs for my new skill of video production and editing. As compensation for my efforts, I was treated to a phenomenal lunch of Grilled pork loin and brussels sprouts. Just my luck, I was not feeling well this day, thus I was only able to nibble on a little of the food. Worse yet, I could not enjoy any of his awesome wine. One small sip, and, uhhh, where's the sandbox?

As I mingled among the guests and tasting room folks, Todd gave me a history lesson in his humble beginnings. Believe it or not, he hails from an exciting career as a package salesman! Oh wait, it gets better. His first wines were made in his garage, and...he never intended to make his blessing a life long vocation. I'm so glad that he did. He doesn't take himself too seriously, which is refreshing, and underneath his mellow personality belies a man who seriously enjoys spoiling his wine club members. Note: Everyone who enters the tasting room is equally spoiled, wine club member or not.

I could go on for days about Todd and Gloria's good natured, old fashioned kindness, but I really want all of you to enjoy this production. This is the first time that I am embedding a full length video into this blog. Please, do not bite your PC screen while watching Todd and his son prepare a feast for their wine club members.

As you can see, Todd can cook! Lord, I wish I had some aluminum foil for a to-go plate! Anyhoo, about those barrels? Yes, Todd sells his wine as futures. What are futures? Well, when a particular wine becomes popular and people begin to deplete it's supply, wineries will sometimes pre-sell a wine before it is finished. Why? Usually it is because the previous vintage was stellar, and wine connoisseurs...or those who just love wine, will buy a wine based on the prospect that the new vintage will be better, different, unique, etc. The reality is, they get first dibs and usually a healthy discount if they buy the wine as a future. The good news is, that if the wine turns out to be a whole lot better than the previous vintage, the price usually goes up. This means that a person who invests in a "future" could be the holder of a rare and unique vintage of a particular wine. (Note: futures are often sold in case (12) quantities which is why they are sometimes discounted)

Ok, enough about futures. Did you like the video? I hope that you did, because I plan to add these little productions to future blogs. A lot of work goes into putting these promo's together, and some feedback would be appreciated.  Thanks to Todd, Gloria and T.R for sharing their day with me, and thank you everyone who reads this blog.

PS...visit Todd Taylor Wine in the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg. He is open Saturday and Sundays or by appointment.

Until next time,