My recent post entitled How Do I Improve My Wine Knowledge? featured the following mind-expanding tip: “Befriend the staff at your local independent wine shop… If they can sense your passion for their products you’ll get a free mini wine course every time you go in. If they really like you, you might get the odd free sample too.”
This point could now be expanded to include: “they might even offer you a job.” Because that’s exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago. I clearly spend far too much time in the place. Sure, I already have a job, but with plenty of time off coming up over Christmas I agreed to put in a few shifts. They’re such a friendly, down-to-earth bunch in there — what could possibly go wrong?
It was an honour to be asked really. But why me? Maybe the owner was impressed at the way I identified the varieties in a Côtes du Rhône blend. More likely they were clutching at straws because one of their staff had just relocated to Portugal. Either way, the prospect of being surrounded by wine all day was too much to resist…
There’s a bit near the end of This Is Spinal Tap, where Nigel Tufnel is asked what he’d do if he wasn’t in a rock band. He pictures himself working in a “chapeau shop”, and then runs through an imaginary dialogue between himself and a customer. “What size do you wear, sir? I think we have that.” He quips vacantly. This is the scene I have scampering through my mind on the morning of my first day.
“Christmas dinner madam? Turkey with cranberry sauce?” I’m saying in an overly formal, slightly affected manner. “I’d pair that with a rubbery Kiwi Riesling.”
But what if I got asked about their range of spirits and liqueurs? Or if I had to talk about some of the high-end wines? I only know about the £8-15 range. I’d have to resort to covertly reading out the back of the label. “Would I recommend this Bordeaux? Well sir, aah… the Pamplemousse family has been producing wines of exquisite quality on the limestone slopes of Pantalons Sur La Vache, for over a hundred years…”
I needn’t have worried. In reality, as the new boy I spend almost the entire time engaged in a game of viticultural Where’s Wally as I snake and ladder up and down the perilously narrow steps to the cellar to locate various crates to replenish the shelves. “Could you get me six bottles of Yarra Valley Syrah please?” comes the request. “They should be in the least accessible corner of the cellar, in an unmarked crate under about nine layers of boxes, a 1990s inkjet printer and a child’s pushchair. Although, actually, they might have moved. Thanks.”
I didn’t mind. You gotta start somewhere, right? And, to be honest, it’ll be a long time (if ever) before my knowledge is anywhere near the level of the guys who already work there. After a while I settle on a tactic: leave it to the experts, but eavesdrop on the answers. Eventually enough info will sink in that I’ll be able to deal with almost anything. And in the meantime… where’s that box of Hindleap Sussex sparkling wine? (I never did find that one).
Near the end of my shift, I do get to answer one very easy question. “Do you sell water?”
“Erm. No. Sorry.”
Like I said, you gotta start somewhere.
In Brighton? Need wine, spirits or craft beer? Visit Seven Cellars at Seven Dials. You might even bump into me.