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There In Spirit Only

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

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.