Hey, that’s No Way to Sell Wine!
Driving around Houston, I remembered a wine shop that carried Enkidu. I thought I’d surprise Joe and pick up a bottle. I drove to where I thought it was located, but noted the name was wrong. So I turned on a side street and found it. The location at least. There was a “For Lease” sign on the door. But there were people inside. I found a parking place — which was a miracle on this particular street, and tried the door. Three men were inside, “What happened to name of wine store?” I asked. “Oh, they took off,” the tallest guy said. I thought perhaps they’d moved, but no, according to the man who I assumed was the landlord, said, ‘they just took off and didn’t even leave us any wine.’
So I e-mailed a fellow wine lover in town to ask what had happened to said store. And the reply, “Oh they closed. Had an inventory liquidation — a rather fine inventory I might add — but I missed the sale by a couple hours.”
Given the response by the man in the building, and my friend, I set out to learn what happened. Because it seems we’re getting a new wine venue in Houston every six months, and the city appears to be embracing wine wholeheartedly.
Now granted, the place was on a side street with extremely limited (3 spaces for 4 retail merchants) street parking. Granted, that particular side street floods every time it rains hard in Houston (often). And, many an adjacent business came and went. Further, the shop’s marketing plan seemed to consist entirely of weekly “Recession Buster” e-mail blasts. And granted, it featured upper end wines in an area four blocks from a University whose students and graduates, at least all the ones I’ve met, seem to be particularly frugal. But it’s Houston; the city with over 4 million people that seems to prosper when the rest of the country is in the toilet, thanks to Big Oil.
So I consulted Mr. Google, which took me to the “blog” of the former owner. I had talked with him briefly via one of the social networks, and had been a little put off. Because he talked down to me. Which is why I never made the 20-mile trip to an overcrowded retail area filled with college kids. I mean, we love Enkidu, but I can call the winery and have it shipped it to me directly by people who appreciate my business, without having to deal with arrogance and attitude. But I thought it was just me, or perhaps my occasional political rants on said social network. It was pretty obvious to me that the owner sat on the “other side of the aisle,” as they say.
Hubris (/hjuːbrɪs/) (ancient Greek ὕβρις) is a term used in modern English to indicate overweening pride, superciliousness, or arrogance, often resulting in fatal retribution or nemesis. In ancient Greece, hubris referred to actions which, intentionally or not, shamed and humiliated the victim, and frequently the perpetrator as well. It was most evident in the public and private actions of the powerful and rich. The word was also used to describe actions of those who challenged the gods or their laws, especially in Greek tragedy, resulting in the protagonist’s downfall.
I started reading the blog — and got a clearer picture. It wasn’t just me. The guy seemed to have made it his personal mission to take on the biggest wine retailer in Houston, probably in Texas. And not just an occasional reference. But named the retailer, over and over again. To the extent that went beyond the mere hint of libel. And he named other local wine merchants as Judases and evil do-ers. I read further into the blog, and got the idea that 1) the guy really thought a lot of himself 2) everything that caused his business to fail was someone else’s fault and 3) everyone who had not patronized his business, including the entire city of Houston, was stupid, backward and unworthy of his wines.
Then I asked Mr. Google to find local news on the store’s closing. An article in the local “alternative” paper confirmed what I’d suspected. The author of the article was diplomatic, the comments not so charitable. Former potential customers said they’d chosen not to shop there because they were treated as if rubes — country bumpkins who should be humbled and honored to be in the presence of such venerable wine knowledge and greatness.
Wow. If you hate people don’t go into the retail business. I don’t care if you have the most fabulous, in-depth, 500-page business plan and the endorsement of Robert Parker, himself. Your business should exist to serve your customers more than your ego. If your ego comes first, your business will probably suffer.
The days of pretending that wine is mysterious and reserved only for the highly-refined aristocracy are over. The astute wine merchant shares all the joys of wine by making it accessible, not setting up barriers so that only those he deems “worthy” partake.
According to his blog, the failed wine seller is now working on a fabulous business plan for another “exciting venture.” Let’s hope he’s learned some valuable lessons. And if not, perhaps he’ll stay behind the scenes, employing friendly, consumer-minded employees to deal directly with the public, like that fabulous bartender at Cafe de la Presse.
* “Sour Grapes,” above, is a print by graphic artist Sally Minker and part of the permanent collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at The Brooklyn Museum.