Wine X Online Edition
It’s late Sunday morning at Lovina in Calistoga. Sitting at an outside table enjoying a boozy brunch is an energized and effervescent group of attractive women. Without a second glance, you would assume this might be a bachelorette party working off the hangover from the previous night’s festivities over bottles of prosecco. Upon closer inspection, you realize that this is no ordinary group of women. They are the proverbial gatekeepers at some of the most sought-after cult wines in Napa Valley. This is a nest of vipers; abandon all faith, ye who dare approach them.
Their big brunches are a monthly event. They love to compare notes on the industry, respective wineries, and one of their favorite topics, sharing horror stories about tours or tastings that took a wrong turn. In order to maintain anonymity (and get a handful of stories) all their names and wineries have been omitted.
“Rebecca” has worked at some of the most coveted labels. Her current home is high up in the Spring Valley, offering a commanding view of Napa from a multi-million dollar tasting room.
“Helen” is with a family-owned winery that has been growing grapes in Napa since the late Sixties, and has only been focusing on the family’s eponymous label, their Sauvignon Blanc in particular.
“Jill” is the guest relations manager for a cabernet sauvignon that costs more than a monthly payment for a BMW.
“Diane” is with one of the household cults in the heart of Napa Valley that has been around long before being a “cult wine” was cool.
They have been kind enough to let me sit in for a few questions, provided my bottle was “table worthy.”
DS- First of all, what are you drinking today? I notice that none of you are drinking your “house” wines?
Helen- 2013 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc. It is an excellent example of the varietal. I already know what ours tastes like, so I wanted to see how this stacked up.
Rebecca- It’s an embarrassment of riches getting to drink a 100 point wine almost daily. I had to bring something else, so I opted for a Roar “Gary’s Vineyard pinot noir. Not a monster like what I drink daily but it packs a punch. Fist in a velvet glove, so to speak.
Jill- We make it a point to never bring our own wines. We’re not trying to make it a contest. Just expanding our horizons.
Diane- Not to mention, we all give each other bottles at Christmas. All those puppies are sleeping!
DS- Alright then, let’s just jump to the dirt. Rumors have circulated for years about the bribes offered to get on the mailing list or for larger allocations.
Jill- (laughing) Can’t lie. It’s definitely flattering. Unfortunately, it’s not worth losing my job. I’ve been offered private flights, rooms in Vegas.
Diane- There was the offer of a game of horse with Michael Jordan.
Helen- I’d take that in a heartbeat. I love the job, but. Its number 23!
Jill- To quote our head of marketing, “We’re blessed. We’re simple farmers who happen to have a great parcel that grows amazing grapes.”
Rebecca- (Nearly snorted out her wine). Simple farmers my ass. At only $600 a bottle. I want to be that simple.
Helen- You are that simple!
DS- Ok so bribery doesn’t work. My offer to buy you guy’s milkshakes at Taylor’s Refresher clearly isn’t going to cut it, so.
Diane- I do love their milkshakes, but…
DS- Not enough to hook me up with a few of your $80 sauvignon blancs.
Diane- You can have a glass of wine.
DS- alright, since bribery won’t work, give me your number one client horror story.
Jill- Easy. Sex in the vineyard.
Helen- It’s always the sex.
Rebecca – Yup. We busted a couple who promised to name their kid after the winery. I told them that didn’t even make sense!
Rebecca- yeah, we have definitely had that. Taking a tour of the caves and “magically” getting separated from the pack.
Diane- It’s honestly why I carry sanitizer all the time.
Jill- I can’t believe I’m gonna say this. I know I caught one “member” pleasuring himself in the barrel rooms. He was a pretty high level client, had finished the tour and we sort of let him wander around on his own. He’s not a member any more.
Diane- Oh we have definitely had naked selfies. I honestly don’t get it. Like they’re gonna post it somewhere? Facebook?
Rebecca- One of my personal favorites was a guest who visited with his wife. Our winemaker came out and greeted him, saying how great it was to see him and his girlfriend again so soon. She prominently dumped the spit bucket on him and left. Word to the wise- don’t date someone who likes like your wife.
Helen- Fights are the worst. I’ve seen proposals go sideways. I’ve had angry dates or wives smash bottles and have to charge the guest regardless.
Jill- We used to do weddings on our grounds. It just left such a bad taste that we felt like we needed to burn sage every time it was over. Fights, people trying to have sex in the vineyard, and everyone always trying to take something home from the winery like it’s a souvenir. We don’t have a gift shop by the way.
Helen- The stealing. Like some of these folks feel justified saying- I just spent a few grand here on wine, so I’m taking signs from the vineyard home with me, and nobody will notice.
Rebecca- Of course there are the folks who continue to drink even after they’ve been cut off and inevitably run off the road on the way down Spring Mountain. It’s a nightmare to drive sober. They get offended if I tell them we’ll call a car service.
Diane- We’ve definitely taken the call from jail asking for help. Bail them out, see if we had any “pull” with the police etc.
DS- Definitely some folks out there with issues. How do we win you over? Beyond promising not to get naked at any time at the winery.
Jill- Don’t get me wrong. I love 90% of my clients. Some have been incredible and sent really thoughtful gifts- especially around Christmas, with no expectations.
Helen- I’m a huge fan of the handwritten notes. The folks who genuinely put time and effort into enjoying something that I truly enjoy doing. I love showing off the winery and our wines, but it’s not always easy or glamorous. Genuine appreciation goes a long way.
Rebecca- I have one client every time he visits, he brings a bottle or two of some amazing wines. Like SERIOUS wines. Aged DRC for example. And he is so eager to share with us, the winemaker. It’s obviously someone who loves this as much as we do. I love that.
Diane- We had one well-known client (who I think we all share) who had a food truck come by one day during harvest for all the vineyard workers. It was really a class move. He didn’t expect anything from us, he simply wanted to thank everyone for working together to provide him with something he enjoyed so much.
DS- Well this has been truly eye-opening, and I appreciate you guys all sending me a few bottles from your vineyards for the time I spent.
Jill- Not enough milkshakes from Taylor’s gonna make that happen.
Rebecca – Don’t even think of offering nude pics!