I just got a part-time job in a wine store and I love working there so much. When I die I would like my ashes to be sprinkled onto the empties from the Saturday tasting (1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Four wines, $5, waived with purchase). I only work those four hours a week. The store is pretty small and kind of a one-person operation. But it would be tough for The Boss (he’s not very Boss-like, but everyone needs a name) to handle the register and pouring and talking to people about the wines at the same time and this is where I come in.
I didn’t think I would ever fulfill my semi-lifelong dream of working in a wine store because I don’t know that much about wine. I know extremely basic things like—mentioning this because it’s the MOST basic thing—Burgundy is Pinot Noir and Bordeaux is Cabernet and Merlot, and the right bank is more Merlot and the left more Cabernet Sauvignon. Not that this knowledge would matter in this store because it doesn’t principally traffic in that stuff, which is delicious, I don’t have anything against it, believe me, but this store’s selection is less traditional and more affordable. It’s not a place where patrons are sitting around talking about the soil deposits of the Dordogne River but that would be funny if they did.
I have read a fair amount about wine and was for a time a member in good standing of a blind tasting group which seems to have disintegrated. But because I’ve never officially studied wine or taken a test on it and the only way I ever learn anything is under threat of failure or humiliation I can’t remember, on command, as much as I know. I was kind of afraid to work in a wine store because of how easily I could get in a situation where a customer would ask me “What can you tell me about this wine?” and I’d just stammer “It’s white, it’s from, uhh, Italy and uh...” I don’t know enough about Italian wine to have forgotten much about it but you take my point.
Still, despite everything working against me the impossible happened. A few months ago I was at a Seder with The Boss who mentioned he was opening a wine store and that he needed someone to work some Saturdays and I said “Oh I would love to do that” and he said “You’re hired.” I warned him I didn’t know a lot about wine. He is from New York City so he did not do the Northern Californian thing and passive aggressively correct me for not being sufficiently self-impressed. He just waved his hand and said “It’ll be fine.” This was all the encouragement I needed.
This was my second Saturday working. When I arrived at 1:02 on the dot there was already a customer, a TV writer from New York wearing a baseball hat. He told us about the show he has in development. “I would watch the shit out of that,” I said to him, which is the kind of thing you can say in a wine store that doesn’t focus on Burgundies and Bordeaux, even if you’re working. I do try not to say “fuck” though. By the way, I had a dress on and tinted lip balm and I had wiped off my Frye harness boots with a wet washcloth. This is Nevada County dressed up.
You have to taste the wines so you can tell people about them. The Boss poured that day’s wines for me: the 2020 Finca Jake Txakolina Rosé, from the Basque region; the 2020 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc, a white Rhone blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, and Clairette Blanche, from Monterey County; the 2018 Horse & Plow Draft Horse Red, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Syrah, from various North Coast vineyards; and the 2018 Juan Gil Jumilla, 100% Monastrell (called Mourvedre elsewhere) from Spain. He gave me a quick tutorial. I thought about what I was going to say when I poured: this rosé is crisp, a little lemony; this white is unusual, but in a good way, list the grapes used.” Many people had been to the Bonny Doon vineyard, so they started talking about it and I didn’t have to. This is ideal.
The red wines, to be perfectly honest, I never wrapped my head around in a very deep way because we were just slammed from about the second I got there. The Horse and Plow was a medium-bodied extremely approachable wine, the Jumilla was a thick, intense wine, also very crowd-pleasing, and it was $16. I probably could have been more articulate about them but no one needs to be talked into buying tasty red wines like these anyway.
We were busy and it all passed in a flash. The TV writer guy bought the Juan Gil—a wine to write scripts to for sure. There was a couple with a lot of tattoos and one of them had worked in restaurants, he confirmed it was hard to get used to pouring a certain amount of wine into a glass on command—I felt all my pours were too big or too small. They bought a bottle of the Juan Gil and a bottle of this white Burgundy from Meursault that I had drunk the week before and loved, it was $22 but tasted, to me, excitingly expensive. An elegant British man with a pristine straw hat bought a bottle of pure Syrah from France and opened it in the store and poured it for everyone. I didn’t get any because I was re-washing glasses. I washed them once and they weren’t quite clean enough. In a professional setting it turns out you really have to wash the hell out of a wine glass.
I took a break and talked to a very tall man with white hair and a smiling, well-dressed wife who knew a lot about wine and told me his “thing” was medium-bodied reds which I can dig. He bought a bottle of the Horse and Plow, and also, at my suggestion, the white Burgundy, and a Riesling. Another man, on his own, bought several reds and told me his husband liked white wine, I suggested the white Burgundy to him too, and he bought it. I was delighted at the prospect of all these people drinking this wine that I liked so much. I think I sold six bottles of it.
I poured backhanded at one point and a customer said “Oh an expert move” and The Boss said, “Yes years of experience” and we laughed. One or two times I forgot to say things about the wine when I poured it. I think I still am a little COVID-y, a little easily overwhelmed. But this is a good place to learn how to come back to life.
Standing up for four hours after a lifetime of not standing up to work is pretty hard. As I washed glasses once again I overheard conversations and felt like they were dreams. For some reason a lot of Los Angeles transplants came in, so people spent a lot of time comparing it and Nevada County. I resisted jumping in, because I am the shop girl. I like being the shop girl. It suits me.
Something I learned: You can’t wash wineglasses with your attention elsewhere and one of those wand-washer things. You have to wash the glasses with a regular sponge and your fingertips and your whole mind. At five o’clock I was exhausted, and done. I took a bottle of the Bonny Doon Rhone blend to a friend’s house up the street. I just showed up without calling. Luckily they were happy to see me and told me how they’d woken up to find their sick old cat dead, an hour before its vet appointment. I told them my Merle had died roughly one year ago today, an hour before her vet appointment. We toasted to our dead pets.