East of Eden


I think it’s part of a good winemaker’s work to work the street. Musicians who hole up in the studio never get a feeling for how their work is received. You gotta tour. The winemaker’s version is to ride with a salesperson and go one-on-one with his customers as he runs his route. Alternatively, you stand behind a table and pour. Wine is a people business, and often the buying decisions get made for reasons having nothing to do with what’s in the bottle. So an opportunity to work the market and be truly known in a pure way unpolluted by the tricks of salesmanship is a pearl of great price.

Yesterday I attended perhaps the most professionally run wine tasting at which it has ever been my pleasure to pour. This was the personal triumph of Kenichi Hori, chief of the California Wine Institute’s Japan office, run with elegance and aplomb by the Westin Toyko. Fifty California wineries presented their wares to a thousand or so of Tokyo’s knowledgeable and appreciative sommeliers and retailers.

Japan is very Eurocentric. Thus my wines were well appreciated and did not require explanation. Good thing, too, because English was tenuous, thus useless for applying the easy philosophical lubricant I normally resort to with Americans, who often think Chablis is something Gallo makes and it’s red..

So I just let the wines do all the talking. It was enough. These folks knew their stuff, and started spreading the word around the room. Before long I was deluged, and spent five solid hours just pouring and bowing and pouring.

Row after row of shy, attractive Asians indicated appreciation with quiet smiles, lingering swirlings and knowing nods. Afterwards I reflected, this is how it’s supposed to be. As alien as the environment was, I felt much more at home than I ever do in California.