“Where you are is as important as where you aren’t.” A friend from a very high profile winery was offering me marketing advice. Explaining why her winery doesn’t participate in those ubiquitous, cattle call consumer tastings, she said, “It’s the company you keep.” In other words, she cautioned me against pouring Bruliam at consumer events populated by mass-market, supermarket brands. She urged me to seek out events showcasing the wineries I most admire and want to emulate. It’s good advice. Look at Katie Holmes. She transformed from a mousey TV kid dating Chris Klein into paparazzi cat nip when she started dating Tom Cruise. Maybe that’s not the best example. Brian and I recently revisited a longtime favorite sushi joint in SoCal. Their sushi is outstanding, and their wine list is what you’d expect from a sushi house. It’s salient only because they’d carried our friend’s chardonnay for many years. I’d usually order a glass before diving into requisite sake. But recently, their wine list had changed, which piqued my interest. The wine list was still only about 5 whites and 5 reds but new selections. Each wine was listed by winery, grape varietal and location. It was pretty standard- XXXX Winery, Cabernet, Chile, and so forth. Most curious was the final entry, XXX Winery, blend, Central Coast. I’d already downed a mini cup of sake.
“Hey Brian, what kind of blend do you think it is?” I pondered aloud. I never actually intended to drink it. “Should I ask the waiter?”
“Don’t be an a^%hole,” Brian snapped. But I couldn’t resist. I had a compulsion to know. I flagged down the waiter and asked him. Of course he had no idea. But his spunk took me by surprise.
“I should know more about this wine if I’m gonna sell it. Let me ask the bartender. I’ll be right back.”
Kudos to Surfer Sam for his gumption. I don’t actually expect a 20-something Southern California stereotype to know much about wines. I didn’t know much about wines at his age either, and I certainly lacked the energy and customer service finesse to make it through college by waiting tables. He soon circled back as he’d promised.
“It’s a blend of dark fruit,” he pronounced. He paused and added, “It’s probably cured in some kind of clay cask or mud since it’s called XXXX. Or maybe it’s just stored in there.”
In that moment, it sounded hilarious. I burst out laughing. And I couldn’t stop. Seriously, a blend of dark fruit? Like blueberry wine from Paso Robles? I know. I’m an a^%hole. And I risk sounding like even more of a pompous jerk by confessing my abhorrent manners. Bless his heart, Surfer Sam was only trying to do his job well and upsell us on the fried banana dessert.
The point is, at Bruliam we are extremely lucky. Each of our restaurant partners share in common a wine-loving, well educated, front of the house staff who convey our story with conviction and pride. After all, Bruliam is a hand sell. It takes a waiter/waitress five times as much work to sell a bottle of our wine compared to a Williams Selyem or Paul Hobbs. The average consumer with average wine knowledge has no idea we exist. They may hear “Rockpile zinfandel” and conjure pink stuff in a box. They might confuse pinot noir with pinot gris or pinot grigio or pinotage. But our secret weapon is a wait staff with the patience and presence to share our story and mission. They sell my wine when I can’t. Plus they remind consumers that even wines that smell or taste like blackberries come from grapes.