Not that long ago, when we were naive and fearless, the prospect of making wine seemed something a mere mortal might attempt.
Obviously, between the quirks of Nature and quirks in the winery, we quickly found out that this next-life endeavour was hardly a shoe in. But nothing in our enthusiastic mindset prepared us for a different hurdle: several thousand bottles of wine – how in the world to sell it?
We sought advice. I asked successful friends how they got started. The most established said their ancestors set it up. Even Cheval Blanc began with people who loved their land and did their best under duress, and indeed it was their descendants who benefitted from the work. Neighbours of our generation who started from scratch said they had no better solution than to just load up the van and drive all over France. Drive to Belgium, Holland, England. Knocking on doors.
Turns out that selling wine is at least as complicated as making it. I cringe to look back at the inauspicious beginnings of our sales efforts. Hopes. Attempts. Glimmers. Disappointments. Closed doors. Dead ends. Rejections. Most were polite but I’ll never forget the Paris sommelier who informed me in silky gourmet tones that he was highly insulted just to taste such a thing.
But through it all was one constant. Family and friends.
All over France in startling succession, unasked, family and friends opened their homes and opened their rolodex. Hosted tastings and group orders and urged us on.
And now, at this time of thanksgiving, we are awash in photos from our hometowns of New York and DC, where – thanks to friends and family – the wine reached holiday tables, and glasses of La Tourbeille were raised over the friendliest meal of the year;
We are awash in good cheer from our travels to London last week where niece and nephews organised presentations at the swish offices of Deloitte’s and Hoare’s Bank and cousins provided food and shelter;
Awash in bonhomie from the Friends and Family Tasting organised in the historic Sketch Club where young friends mingled with old friends, joined by new friends met here at the vineyard or the Taverne last summer – come to taste all the vintages and just figure what they liked best. The room buzzed with chatter and clinking glasses and everyone lingered ’til we were thrown out.
Sometimes the beginning of a venture is the easiest. Maybe lots of dreams and not much in the pocketbook. Perhaps blissfully ignorant of the pitfalls ahead. But it’s a rare story that comes to a happy ending without that long second act where you stumble repeatedly, and at one point find yourself peering into a ditch on the side of the road.
Moments like that, there’s nothing like the hand of a friend helping you brush off your knees, pointing to the next signpost – there – you can’t miss it, just a little further on down the road. The dear old friend pointing out the light you don’t see, pointing up to your own north star, how could you have forgotten? Right over your own head.