It was already past midnight, post Saam Bar and Anfora when Alice & Co sat down next to Mike F. & Co. at Ten Bells. It was the third time in two nights I bumped into Mike F. & Co and this is always a good thing. The last time a certain burlesque on Orchard Street was involved, complete with flopping moveable body parts of all kinds and a very good time laughing from a place of utter silliness.
But this night, there was no burlesque, we were our own entertainment. The magnum of Philippe Tessier came out, so did glasses. Nose in glass, hit with the seductive cinnamon of some carbonic action. (Thank you Mike.)
Mike flipped over the buxom bottle and we all started to gossip about how Tessier, the Cheverny vigneron, hopped importers from Savio Soares to Zev Rovine.
Hmm, went out the collective thoughts.
Vignerons swapping importers are the new baseball cards. It's hard to keep the collections straight. The Barolo producer, Cappellano just moved from LDM to Neil Rosenthal, in an even more notable move.
The late, vibrant, Baldo Cappellano had such a warm relationship with his previous importer, it was a little shocking. Afterall, LDM did much to promote the greatness of their wines (and Chinato). I think it's safe to say they made their reputation. Likewise, Savio carved out a place for Tessier on the shelves in a market that didn't know of the vigneron previously. It's got to hurt to help raise a reputation in order to become someone else's easy sell.
Sometimes the leap to another company is random, sometimes there's active poaching and sometimes it is strictly business. But when the relationship is a close one, such as the Cappellano or when the Bretons left LDM, it feels like a divorce. When Pacalet left Jenny & Francois for LDM, that was a knife to the belly. And now that Pacalet has left to some broker, well, that's another story.
Four people at our narrow Ten Bells table were representing four different importers, and it could have happened to either one of them. In fact it could happen to all of us. We had a moment of reflection, of silence to consider the way of the world, Morgan Stanley and the way of the wine business. As fabulous a world it is, it still is about, business, selling the products.
A few beats later Mike asked, "How many producers have their name on the front label?"
Another was disturbed about this and I'm with him. "It's the vigneron that is important not who brings them in!" He said he didn't want people to know his imports, he wants them to know Laureano, Todd or Jordi, and the consumer should learn about them and forget about the importer.
Given how noisy it was and how much I wanted in on the conversation, I had to shout at/to the boys instead of being my usually more subtle self. The mere exertion felt like a good workout at the gym. I think I was high off of the adrenalin of yelling. "This nonsense about the consumer needing to learn the producer and not the importer? Sure, but it ain't going to happen. At least not quickly!" I said. The consumer learns one bottle at a time. I was drinking steadilly for two years before I ever knew how to navigate a wine list. Given how much spoof is out there, people are so relieved to discover the importer of a wine in question. After all, a drinker can't be on top of every new producer in the market unless they're a triple Virgo. I'm not happy about the importer on the front, it communicates a message I'm not comfortable with, but am delighted to look at the back. In fact, I'm grateful for it.
"Well, so what does the importer mean if now Tessier is with Zev and not with Savio?" Mike asked, supporting the other fellow's stance.
It was quiet now, and I didn't have to yell and returned to my saner self, "For the consumer it means nothing. From the buyers point of view, it makes no difference if they're buying, José .P, Jenny & F., Zev R., Savio S., KL, Neil R., Selection Massale , and any of the new kids on the block such as Mike's new venture with Mike Wheeler. If they had jumped to someone like...Lauber, that might have been confusing.
It was extremely vinous, more like a rosé with bubbles, and perhaps a little weak on the acidity, or at least by that point of the night all I felt I could deal with was something extremely austere or oxidative. Needed food. And the food part of the evening was over.
And alas, I could drink no more, so in the tiny drops of drizzle, I stepped over the sleeping bodies on the Bowery. There was one man buried under a cardboard box, shielding himself more from the streetlamps than from the weather, his hand stuck out straight out, in the air, like a chicken leg in a soup pot. It was a sad sight, but though different people, the drunks, drug addicts and unsettled have been a fixture here, on the Bowery for decades, no longer sleeping outside of flop houses, however, they are sleeping out in front of fancy shops and luxe condos. They have been loyal to the Bowery ever since I could remember even as the scenery changes.
My heart was heavy by the time I reached my door.