So, You Want to Be a Wine Merchant?
People always think that traveling to Burgundy to taste wine is glamorous and fun. While it's better than selling refrigerators, it is still work. When I was younger, I used to go for ten days, south to north and land running with no concession to jet lag. I would taste 60 wines on average per day, working from 8 A.M. to late at night, tasting and evaluating, even at dinner.
One cold February some years back, I was working with a noted Burgundy expert and longtime colleague visiting various growers hoping for wine to buy. Last appointment: Feet ice cubes despite 2 pairs of sox and half-boots, bundled up but still cold in the grower's unheated, freezing cellar. I didn't know the man, that's not him pictured below, and had never tasted his wines, but I was aware of his reputation. He looked to be in his early 60s, lean and tall, with a long, craggy, wind burned face. When we were introduced he asked me in a guttural Bourgogne dialect, "Vous Comprenez le Francais?" You understand French? I responded, "Oui, Je comprend tout." Yes, I understand everything. OK, we started the tasting with his Bourgogne Rouge. Nice, good fruit, priced fairly. We went on to some 1er Crus, then a couple of Grand Crus. We were smiling. Good juice, not overly expensive.
When courtiers and growers get together, they talk about lots of things, not all of them wine related. I was just waiting to get through with the day while they were both babbling on, I thought inconsequentially. Although my mind was elsewhere, I suddenly heard, out of nowhere, the grower loudly and angrily disparaging various ethnic groups. That ended my reverie. My colleague/friend, the courtier, was horrified. He said, "Arretez vous!" Stop! but the damage had been done! I just looked at the guy but said not a word. Anyway, what could I say to this bigot that might make any difference?
As we were heading for the car, I turned to my colleague and said, "Well, you almost made a sale." He looked at me, somewhat sheepishly, and said, "I understand and I don't blame you."