Thursday, May 29, 2008


To give you a more broad brushstroke of wine info, I have been prodding my two new assistant wine buyers - Jessica Stambaugh and Shannon Depenbrock - to begin contributing to the Grape Tree, to sort of share with everyone their viewpoints into this crazy world of retail wine. First up is Shannon, with a look into one of the less-than-glamorous aspects of tasting on the job - spitting...

TO SPIT OR NOT TO SPIT (by Shannon D.)

I’m standing in the back room, ready for my first official tasting as Assistant Wine Buyer, feeling excited that after a week of work, I finally get to actually taste some wine! A Wine Rep is in from Lexington, and we’re opening up some Australian Shiraz. We begin with Dirty Bliss. (Get your minds out of the gutter people, we’re talking about the sheer joy of working in a vineyard, tending the vines.) I’m swirling and smelling, commenting on the nose (smooth and almost creamy) and trying to act very professional. Then we begin to sip and taste, noting the nuances of the wine in our glass. All of this is going just as I imagined it would. A Rep in the back room with a case of wines to try, Kevin, Jess and I all enjoying a break in our busy day to try some really remarkable wines.

And then it happened. My snap back to reality. The end of the dream. Kevin picks up the bucket, and spits in it. Imagine the sound of rain on a tin roof. It had just rained on my parade.

So, following suit, Jess takes the bucket and spits out the wine. (She’s been here for a few months already, and knows the jist of things). Although I had already swallowed my first sip, I take another sip, and attempt my “professional” spit into the bucket.

Lets talk proper spit etiquette. (It exists?). Always brought up to be a well mannered young woman, I was a little taken aback by this blazon disregard for all thing ladylike. I lowered my head and even recall turning my back a little, just so no one could see the wine abandon my mouth.

After a few more delicious wines, one in particular called Fox Gordon, which made me want to take it home and drink the bottle with some dark chocolate, and some subsequent spitting endeavors, my first professional tasting was complete.

“I liked those wines, I didn’t want to spit them out!” I complain to Kevin later. He gives me a word from the wise, and tells me to learn from his mistakes. In the beginning of his career he felt the same as I, enjoying the flavors and subtleties of the wines so much he refused to spit it out. And he fell asleep at his desk everyday after tasting.

So, this is why we spit out perfectly good wines. Better than good, sometimes. To be efficient, hard working professionals. To complete an honest days work.

Today, after moving cases of wine around to our different stores all morning, (and building some impressive arm muscles, I might add), we tasted through a good amount of wine. And I spit them all out. Even the really good ones, like a Sauvignon Blanc called Two Angels, that had green flavors and grapefruit, a perfect refreshing wine after all the sweating I had done earlier.

So what has my spitting experience taught me? That the world of wine retail is not as glamorous a place as it sounds, that it’s not a haven for people who like to just drink wine all day. Sometimes, to get work done, you just gotta spit.

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