As New Yorkers, we hardly balk at a Subway car that already looks horrifyingly packed, a gallery filled with art that is annoyingly pretentious, or a shop hung with $2000 t-shirts. Walking into a wine shop, however, complete with the smell of cork and old wood and a curmudgeonly proprietor can inspire hesitation and mild anxiety in even the most jaded.
I think I may have gleaned some insight into the matter this past weekend. I spent a hefty portion of my Saturday on the phone to various wine shops all over the city in pursuit of a piece I was writing. One of the things that really struck me in my dealings over the phone that day was how rude some of the people I spoke to were.
My first encounter of the unpleasant kind happened on my very first call. I shouldn’t even have to get into the annoyances frequently caused by the of trifecta of ATT, an iPhone, and New York City. When I dialed the first time, my side of the call didn’t even connect and I was met with the dreaded triple-beep that signifies a dropped call. So, undeterred, I called again.
This time, the call went through and I was met with an irritated voice barking at me, “So, you gonna hang up on me again?”
“Yeah, you just called and hung up on me.”
“Oh, well, I don’t think that was me.”
“Yes, it was. You’re on my caller ID.”
“Erm…sorry, the call didn’t even go through on my end.”
“Well, I answered and there was no one there. What do you want?”
“Oh, um, well. Sorry. Anyways….”
When the shop owner didn’t have what I was looking for, he was so grouchy and that I decided I’d rather not continue talking to him. Instead, I thanked him, hung up, and sat there shaking my head for a moment.
But I kept on keeping on. The next few people I spoke to were nice enough and helpful, too. Then I called a wine shop in Long Island City.
“Hi, can you tell me if you carry any Mencia?”
“Yes. We have a bottle for $25.99.”
“Oh, I’m actually working on a story and I’m looking for bottles at $15 and under.”
“We don’t have any cheap ones. With all due respect have you been to our shop before?”
Lets just leave it at that – he insisted on continuing to recommend bottles that were out of my price range, put down any suggestion I made and “with all due respect” derided the choices I’d already made.
Because this is not a blog about poor customer service, I’m not going to dwell on either of these little encounters. Needless to say, however, the behavior struck me as just the kind of snobbery that puts a lot of would-be-wine-lovers off.
It is especially fascinating to me because, as the BF pointed out, the esoteric and haute-cuisine side of the food world has really ingratiated itself to the public. For a while it was eager foodies clamoring at the gates of the food world, using whatever means necessary to gain access but now, it really seems that in many quarters, the tables have turned.
Why, then, has wine, food’s most stalwart and time-tested companion, not caught up? And for all of those foodies obsessed with molecular gastronomy and obscure local ingredients, why doesn’t wine with all of its quirks have the same allure? Why, does it seem that the wine world is the last bastion of the kind of old school snobbery that doesn’t want to make you join the club but shrink from it?
Don’t get me wrong, there are people in the wine world who are eager to overturn this trend – from consumer-friendly wine shops like Best Cellars to the people behind PBS’ new show, Vine Talk. However, in this case, it’s definitely the wine world reaching out, unsolicited, to would-be winos rather than a response to an infatuated public.
I’m on the hunt for an answer and I’d love to hear what you guys think!