Tasting Wine: Service with a smile

Lastweekend I did the unthinkable. I left my employees to run the roost while I took my girlfriend on a five-day road trip to Southern California.

While it was mostly pleasure, inevitably business rears its head, unless of course I’m in China, and even then wine seems to find me. The main purpose of this trip, however, was to see family, friends and just get away from it all.

We ate and drank well, though the highlight of the trip was not barrel tasting at Demetria at midnight, enjoyable as that may have been, but jumping the waves and bodysurfing in Santa Monica with my cousin visiting from New York and my 7-year-old nephew.

Where am I going with all this? Every once in a while I relish just being a “civilian,” and wining and dining not as an industry professional but just as a regular person.

I tried some samples out on my brother-in-law and sister, who like wine and even collect a little but don’t have any preconceptions, i.e., are not wine snobs.

The SEPS Viognier made by Storybook Mountain went over especially well and was a perfect prelude to our take-out Italian. While visiting friends in Santa Ynez, we had a delightful dinner at Matty’s Tavern in Los Olivos that was complemented by wines brought in by my winemaker friends and some good local stuff from the list. The server was patient with our large group, and seeing that three people asked for copies of the wine lists, left us to our own devices but seamlessly kept the wine flowing.

The next day we enjoyed a bottle of Talley Chardonnay, the Arroyo Grande, over a casual fish lunch in Pismo Beach. I don’t think the server knew too much about wine but she was very pleasant and got the job done.

The only glitch to all this warm and fuzzy wine feeling came when we stopped off at a tasting room/retail shop along the way.

I am assuming the man behind the counter was the owner as he proffered his opinions about people in the local wine industry as if he owned the entire town. We all have our cocky moments, for sure, but the condescending vibe combined with dissing a winemaker — who I happen to like and respect personally as well as professionally, really — put me off and offended my girlfriend, who is not in the industry.

Eventually I let this guy know I had a restaurant in San Francisco, just to see if that would make a difference. It didn’t, and why should it? At my place we don’t utter the term VIP because we try to treat everyone importantly, so I guess in his spot everyone gets the same arrogant snarl, regardless.

Let me end this on a positive note. Service with a sincere smile is key.

Most of us can see through phony attitude, but a server or salesperson who is trying to help can really make a dining or wine experience. So, I am going to name several people in San Francisco who I think really exemplify this and deserve the recognition for being among the finest wine pros we have.

Shelley Lindgren, the wine director and co-owner of A16, deserves all the kudos she receives. Mulan Chan, who does the Rhône buying for K&L and works in the San Francisco store, is a gem. Beyond my experience, I hear my customers singing her praises at CAV. Bodhi Freedom, the manager at Bacchus, loves fine wine and food but gives you the sense of comfort you get having a beer and hot dog at the ballpark.

These are just three people who come to mind right away, but there are others who deserve mention. It is too bad that those occasional bad experiences remind us how much we value service with a smile.

If there is someone who has repeatedly been helpful to you, please e-mail me, Pamela@cavwinebar.com.

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