Before we sat down to taste wine with these folks, W.A.G. and I toured their soon-to-be-open, extremely large space. The owners purchased the building from the Polish American Club, who were looking to sell after many years in the space. It is huge, beautiful and old, with an extensive and incredibly varied collection of wood-paneling. When we arrived, a whole crew was painting downstairs; some people were banging nails; boomboxes on opposite sides of the room played the radio in wonderful boombox surround sound; upstairs, one heroic woman worked in what used to be the ballroom, individually sewing new, beautiful seat covers for all the booth cushions. They were working some elbow grease magic on the space. It was like one of those home renovations shows, but with real people on a real budget.
WHEN RESTAURANT PEOPLE TASTE WINE, THEY DO NOT ASK, “What do I taste here?” THEY WANT TO KNOW: “What can I say about this to my customers?”
W.A.G. and I once ran a restaurant-like space many, many years ago. (We actually sold our cafe, The Lady Killigrew Cafe, in November of last year.) And many years ago, when we ran that cafe, we struggled mightily with how to talk about wine with customers.
BECAUSE, AND I AM TELLING YOU THE TRUTH: it is a charade. Customers don’t want to know what the wine actually tastes like - they want to believe that you know what the wine tastes like. Because if they believe you, then they will feel good about what they have ordered; they will feel like what they have ordered is in line with the wine laws they have read in magazines: dry is better than sweet, light-bodied is better with food, Californian cabernet is the greatest thing ever in the history of the world. If they don’t believe you, if you fumble and mumble your way through some description, they will come over the top at you, insisting that they only drink ‘Dry, fruit forward wines, light in body!” and you will be defeated, hanging your head in shame at the dexterity with which they wielded their wine lingo.
AND SO: the folks at Hope & Olive were arming themselves against the soon-to-come customer wine-question attack.
BUT EVENTUALLY, AS ALWAYS HAPPENS: their defenses fell and, except for the odd, slightly inappropriate wine description - “This one here is Big Dick Zin!” - it was just restaurant people drinking wine.
“While I don’t envy you,” I was telling Jim, one of the owners, “I definitely miss the feeling of being in trenches. It’s one of the things I feel jealous about, like not being in that club anymore.”
AND SO I ASK YOU: have you been in the restaurant club? Are you in the restaurant club currently? What’s your most awful/awesome/annoying customer-wine story?
AND: if you are anywhere near the Greenfield, MA, go NOW to Hope & Olive. And when you are there: order the Earth, Zin, & Fire wine - it really is The Big Dick zin. And it might be the greatest or the worst designed bottle of all time. I SIMPLY CANNOT TELL.