Another Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting has come and gone -- I think this is my sixth, maybe seventh, barrel-tasting weekend. It was another very successful year. Compared to a couple of years ago, the weekend draws fewer customers per winery, but sales are higher. I think what this means is not that there are fewer people coming to Walla Walla for barrel-tasting, but that there are so many more wineries now to choose from. Also, the weekend seems to be drawing more serious wine lovers than ever before.
The Holiday Barrel Tasting is an excellent time for the novice wine consumer to learn more about wines, because the winemakers are usually on hand to answer questions and provide wine samples. It's also a great opportunity to taste and buy first releases, and quite a few wineries offer discounts on at least some of their wines. There are also winemaker dinners and other special events in town connected with the weekend.
This year many wineries charged each person a $5 tasting fee. At first I had some concerns that the fee would keep visitors away, but my concerns disappeared when I realized that if you put a $20 bill in your pocket and visited four $5-fee wineries, you would taste a lot more wine, and probably have a lot more fun, than if you spent $20 in a wine bar or restaurant. The $5 fee also covered the special foods that most of the wineries provided with their wines at barrel-tasting.
If you are in retail long enough you have lots of stories to tell no matter what you are selling. I have often said that the prerequisite before you receive your high school diploma is that every student should work as a cashier at K-Mart or Walmart, especially during the holiday season. I think it gives a great understanding and appreciation for the often under paid person who has to face the general public and their purchasing foibles. It could make us be a better customer.
Nothing surprises me anymore during these special event weekends, especially those that ask for the "Sixth Degrees from Kevin Bacon Discounts." An example from one visitor, "I work for Acme Chemicals and one time delivered some chemicals to a vineyard in the Willamette Valley and now I always get 30% discount from all of the wineries in the world and I want my discount on this bottle of red table wine." Another visitor: "I am a rollerskating car hop for Be-Boppers Drive-In in Kalamazoo and my bosses wife's brother's neighbor is thinking about carrying some wine some day in a new business. Can I get an industry discount?" The devil on my shoulder wants to say dripping with sarcasm, "Duh --- sure! Why don't we just give you 95% discount and in fact, here -- just take a couple of cases of wine for FREE because you are so damn special!" But the angel on my shoulder only allows me to smile.
How about the young man who informs me that he is very much an experienced wine drinker and knows just about everything there is to know about wine? When I begin to pour him a glass of the red, he puts his hand over his glass and exclaims, "No! I only drink whites. I cannot stand reds." Later I over-hear him tell his friends (who are not the wine experts that he is), "Wow! This is the second winery that I have been in where they use wood barrels." The devil on my shoulder thinks, "Amazing aint it? Who would have thought to put wine in wooden barrels? What will wineries think of next?"
I think it is important that winery staff members needs to chug a bottle of wine just before closing to prepare themselves for the customers who arrive during the "bewitching hour" (always 17 minutes after closing ) so we will think the late visitors jokes are funny. Why is it the more purple their teeth are they think they are Robin William's and Joan River's love child?
It sounds like I am complaining - right? Not at all. These are the stories that eventually make me laugh and makes me appreciate and love our visitors. I loved listening to our visitors from all over the United States telling me how beautiful the wines are in the Walla Walla Valley and lovely the city is. I love hearing about their experiences at our fine restaurants and B&B establishments. I love the wine newbies who are eager to learn and taste the wines. I love watching them as they leave with another notch on their wine glass - a notch of wine confidence and knowing I helped them. I loved meeting new friends and catching up with old friends.
I love the fact that while I viewed the mornings as miserable, gray and bone chilling, visitors to our valley reminded me how beautiful and perfect the day was in Walla Walla with the white and crystal flocked bare trees - like a scene out of Currier and Ives. I thank them for letting me see what they see and for getting me in the holiday spirit. I couldn't have done it without them.