Monday, January 12, 2009

Anthony Quinn : Thirty Years In The Washington D.C. Wine Business / My Perspective & Observations : Pros & Cons

It's been a grand roller coaster ride for me here based in Washington D.C. from 1981 to 2009. Things as well as I have changed substantially in many ways and in others stayed relatively the same. I have loved this vantage point of mine here in our nation's capitol as many things have started right here and spread to the rest of the United States and sometimes further. I see both pros and cons to these last thirty years and still yearn in many ways for some of the simplicity of the past. Yet I do like some of the developments over the years and am happy both to acknowledge and applaud them. I always say in a chorus-like fashion with others that it is important to give credit where credit is earned and thus due.

I love the fact that today that more wine selections ( countries, specific areas, indigenous grape varieties ) are now available to us. This is a true fact at least here in Washington D.C. There are more enterprising individuals wanting and working hard to bring small wineries and their wines created all over the world to us. Even in the big wholesale houses they have many of these small and wonderful wineries from around the world who's wines are now available to us. Their problem is that those small wineries and the more obscure countries that make wines often get lost in the shuffle and rarely mentioned or tasted.

It takes both the small wholesaler as well as the larger ones to bring a full complement of wines, beers and spirits to each and every market. We here in Washington D.C. are truly blessed because everyone wants to have their wines, spirits and beers represented and sold here. For us that's a grand thing because it means that if we chose we may offer a broader range of all those liquid libations to our customers that have come from around the world to live permanently or for awhile here in our nation's capitol.

I applaud the increased selection and the broader range of truly unique ans specific-to-certain-areas wines and indigenous grape varieties. We must encourage this I believe strongly and never lose it. We are blessed to have such a strong, varied wealth of different taste styles and flavors at our disposal. This shows the true bounty of the world in all it's glorious variety, shades, moods, reflections, inflections, contrasts and harmonies. Wow, I cannot fully appreciate all of this no matter how hard I try. And I have been trying in my own way pretty seriously now for years.

There simply is not enough time or hours in a day or a week or a lifetime. Keep in mind, too that wine is a living thing and constantly evolving, changing, morphing and thus always a " new " experience each and every time that you taste it. You could buy a case of fifty or so wines and have a sizable amount of time to discover them each and every time ( all over again ) while those bottles lasted in your cellar.

Let's keep healthy and alive all this variety and selection no matter what else we do let's not compromise both ourselves and the variety we could enjoy into extinction because it's easier, more profitable, more marketable to use only five varieties out of the thousands available. This is an exaggeration of course but the principle is the same L more is better than less in these areas.

I'll never forget my trip to Italy for the first time ever driving with David Bryant our importer/host through northeastern Italy : Veneto, Friuli and Alto Adige to be exact. Among other things David is both a history buff as well as very knowledgeable about olive oils. As he would drive he would speak about our surroundings and talk both old history as well as current affairs. It was impressive and took a lot of my focus to stay with him. I'm sure I missed many things but two in particular have never, ever left my thoughts.

First, there are only about five or more apple varieties out of more than one hundred that are used and readily available and marketed.

Second, there are again only five or less tree varietals that are marketed and readily available. Yet there are many tree varieties just like apples. So why do they limit the availability and the variety to five or less in each case : because they perform better than the others. It's all about productivity, likability ( commercial appeal ), effectiveness, maintenance, time and any other " practical " point that I have missed.

I'm sure that some would like to see the same where wine is concerned. I do understand this to some extent but there is a lot to be said for keeping variety alive, healthy, thriving and available to whoever wants it : end of discussion. There's just no waffling about this. We cannot compromise to the point where we have robbed ourselves and this world of all it's glorious, wondrous, enthralling, enmeshing, compelling variety.

David, you are now gone from us since July 4th, 2008 and you are missed and I do still appreciate things like this that bring the plight of wine and grapes and indigenous varieties rushing to center stage where I want them to be till I die : and then longer, of course for those looking for " new " and " exciting " experiences. We've worked hard for this, for more than thirty years now : let's not let a few large money concerns profit and rob us of this our world heritage. I'm not going " gentle " anywhere, not over my dead body! This is worth fighting for and taking a stand whether it be popular or not.

Things seemed much simpler thirty years ago. I have just blogged about the influences, positive and negative of the Internet, the computer, us wine sales people whether writers, retailers, sommeliers, bloggers, whoever teaches and consults and talks about wine to others. We should only be there in my opinion to get the ball rolling. We should not be there from start to finish. Some things must absolutely be experienced in one's own words, taste buds and full seven senses and not peppered continually by others.

We should rely more on our own gut, mind, heart and soul reactions to wines and settings and wine-food-pairings than on pre-scripted scenarios from start to finish. It shouldn't always be so easy for us. We should not always have so much help that we literally remove ourselves from the experience of ours almost completely!

Don't rely on points, scores, wine reviews and hype unless they are your own, in your own words and feeling s that come directly from your own experience. We have to trust our own judgement and give it equal value to that of any so-called " expert ". After all, how can an " expert " know more about you and your tastes/reactions than you yourself?!?

So I liked very much that we had to go out on a limb more thirty years ago. I liked this a lot. I still like it today a lot. Today, however I like that the whole world is now really more accessible and more " my own oyster " if I choose it to be. Today I can find wines from all around the world and it has been fun to sell wines from Uruguay, Mexico, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Greece, Armenia, Lebanon, Macedonia, Syria, Tasmania and more. I can't possibly think just now of all the areas of the world that I have personally championed and brought to my customers' attention at Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits ( 3423 Connecticut Avenue N.W. 20008 , Tel : 202-363-4265 ). These are , however some and I am thrilled and excited to be able to speak of these as well as of so many of the better-known wine-growing regions of the world.

I like better today that there seems to be more cooperation and a broader willingness to share information amongst those in the wine community. I like, too that there seems as a result to be more consistency in wine-production : less-oxidized wines, too. I like that in many instances there is no shortage of money or expertise or technology to not make good to fabulous wines in more areas of the world. This is all good and should be cherished and acknowledged.

I'm going to take a break now on this Monday afternoon at 5:28 PM ( my day-off ) and go up and make dinner for my wife and my son. Our daughter just drove back to college earlier this afternoon. I need some more time now to collect again my many scattered thoughts and to reflect on what I have already written. This is a very important subject to me and it takes time to pull all my gut-feelings as well as serious thoughts drawn together and expressed here.

I love the fact that after so many years in the wine business I am still quite insanely passionate about being involved and hopefully instrumental in " turning more people on " to the many possibilities and joys in the world of wine we now have at our disposal. I'm always seeing " new " wines brought to me each and every week. At one point I thought I knew a lot more. Now I am bowled over by how much I don't have even the faintest idea or notion of! Wow, this alone is humbling : this alone keeps me grounded and ready and open for more.

Today with so much out there to become exposed to I try and simply pace myself. I try and represent the wines that we carry at Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits ( 3423 Connecticut Avenue N.W. Washington D.C. 20008 , Tel : 202-363-4265 ). These wines at our store and the many others that I have sold and crossed paths with over the years I try and represent as best I can.

Having tried so many wines over the years I now can categorize them and extrapolate some idea of how and where in their developments they might be. I know it is only a calculated guess but it does come with lots of experience in tasting. Of course the best knowledge of a wine comes in having recently just tasted it.

Today with all the new wines at my disposal I can also have more to talk about when recommending them with food. I do have an opportunity to taste some of them in our local D.C. restaurants and I appreciate and value these opportunities greatly.

Today our wine and food business is all about sharing the many stories and impressions with each other so that we can vicariously add to our own experiences and have a bit more of an arsenal of experiences to help us help others just starting. We could not do what we do as well as we do at Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits for example without our suppliers, wholesalers, small and large importers, winemakers, wine owners, reps ; our wine writers, our restaurant sommeliers, our local bar mixologists and bartenders, our beer experts : our visits from legends like Jimmy Russell who has made Wild Turkey bourbon for more than fifty years now, etcetera.

We need each other and benefit largely from the connections we embrace and strengthen amongst ourselves. This is today and new and exciting and it involves people and cultures from around the world.

Today we have the Anthony Bourdain's that go all over the world and stimulate both our excitement and curiosity with images of places and foods that we may have had no idea about before. I'm tempted to do the same thing for the wine world. We need an Anthony Bourdain of the wine world. This may be my new-calling : who knows?!? Funny, I just thought of it now at 10:59 PM on Monday night January 12th, 2009 as I type away! I like that.

So , on this note with admitting that there are many pros and many cons today I still feel fully-charged and excited about 2009 and the posibilities that it holds for all us wine-lovers out there, both actually and those in cyberspace, too.

Cheers and Happy New Year 2009 to us all. TONY

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