Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Estate grown," you poltroon

I had a customer today who very kindly said to me, after we had wagged chins for a few minutes, "I won't argue with you," with that smiling, disbelieving leer that people sometimes take on when they think they have met total ignorance -- and a professional, too! -- but must show patience.

He had picked a bottle of St. Supery Estate Grown cabernet, $29.99, and had asked me whether we sold any other bottles of Estate Grown wines.

I was puzzled. Read the labels, I would have said, but of course in retail one can't say that.

"Well, I -- "

Then he explained what Estate Grown means. "You know what it means, don't you," he said. "It means the winemaker has grown his own grapes, made the wine, and bottled it all on his estate. It means he's proud of it. Like I'm a business owner, and I'm proud of my business."

"Naturally," I said, refusing already to ask him what his business was, or to look at the logo on his hat, which probably announced his business' name.

"So do you have any wines that are Estate Grown besides this one?"

"Well, off the top of my head, I'm not sure. I would think you may have to just read the labels. I would think also, that at a certain price point, the wines are of such quality that it's understood the wine maker is growing his own grapes."

This is when I first got the disbelieving leer. "No ... no, they can only say it if it's true. The label has to say 'Estate Grown,' like this one does." He clutched his $29.99 bottle.

I picked up and turned over a few other bottles in the $50 and $60 price range. On the back labels, in fine print, they said "produced and bottled by."

"See?" The customer said. "Not 'Estate Grown.' So they're not growing their own grapes and they're not proud enough of their wine to put that on the label."

"Not every word on a wine label has any meaning," I began to say, thinking of terms like winemaker's reserve or proprietary, which legally mean nil. His smiling, disbelieving leer grew worse, and clearly shouted 'I can't believe this -- now you're making stuff up because you're embarrassed I've caught you.'

"And," I soldiered on as wine-encyclopedia memories resurfaced, "some vineyards are so well regarded that wine makers are proud to tell you that they have sourced their grapes from them." I was thinking of San Giacomo just for a start, but forebore to mention it. There are others, elsewhere. Montrachet, you know. I can be as kind to the ignorant as anyone alive.

"Oh. But," -- the kindly, protective leer returned -- "about wines in upper price ranges not telling you whether they're Estate Grown, I don't understand what you're saying."

Seven hours into a nine-hour workday, I was in no condition to discuss with a poltroon that there may be more to the world of wine than $29.99 and the phrase 'estate grown' might allow. This is approximately where he said "I won't argue with you," breathlessly stunned and smiling, because of course I'm so ignorant and the subject is too complex for him to explain, and I'm supposed to be the professional and so this is all tragic. And he owns his own business and all. He clutched his St. Supery, which is perfectly fine, and after one last story about how he and his wife had hosted a wine tasting featuring this Supery plus some $200 cabernets that were not Estate Grown, and guess which one won? -- "That one?" I laughed deliciously -- "Yes" -- he departed. "Thank you so much." "You're quite welcome."

After he was gone, to soothe my chattering rage, I turned over more wine bottles in the $50 and up range, and quickly found quite a few which may say "grown, produced, and bottled by" on the back label -- Hess, Inglenook -- but which do not conveniently shout Estate Grown, for our purist in the hat, on the front label. I found even more which shout neither Estate nor Grown By nor anything else, just a humble "produced and bottled by," but which I know are filled with wondrous red liquids. They calmly purr names like Caravan (second label to Darioush). I guess they know which Walmarts around Fresno sell the best grapes.  

Isn't it always the way? Don't you always start turning over wine bottles and inspecting labels, don't you always think of the right thing to say, after everybody's gone? Who is to say the winemaker with his precious Estate Grown wine doesn't own a crappy vineyard? All I was left with was a fading mental image of the man's face, and his grin, and his hat, and the hope that his customers know him full well for what he is, and that tonight his wife has reason to make him sleep on the couch. I'm sure he'll wonder why.

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