Jamie Gabrini, Special Columnist
If my car (named Nicole, by the way) could talk, she’d curse like a drunken sailor.
Poor Nic has been the victim of my schnooker lifestyle. She’s taken me across this grand state of ours many times over, often for little reward. She’s listened to enough NPR political analyses to allow her to be a pundit; she’s heard me rant and rave at uber-high speed on my cell phone; she’s put up with all the top-of-the lungs incarnations of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and other such gems (myself and I, we got some figuring out to do…). In short, my poor Nicole has far more tolerance and physical stamina than I do, but I can’t imagine she likes me very much.
Schnookin’ for a living is tough work. It may seem all carefree and even glamorous, but trust me – it’s far from it. I’ve had countless people comment “That sounds so fun! You get to travel and drink wine!” Riiiiiiight. If by ‘travel’, you mean going to Syracuse or Brockport with disturbing regularity, then sure – it’s chock full o’ travel. And if by ‘drink wine’ you mean finishing of the dregs of a sample bottle that’s been open too long – yep, there’s that reward as well.
So let’s take a moment to follow me, Jay the Wine Chick, on a typical day as a schnook, shall we?
Imagine if you will a nameless small city in upstate New York…
Much like many such cities, it’s been economically challenged for quite
some time, though each new mayor elected promises more jobs, new
construction, housing, etc, etc. Lack of prosperity has trickled down
to a less-than-wine savvy population, flooding the market with Yellow
Tail (since wine is trendy and all) and cheap rieslings. Although this
city has a surprisingly good restaurant scene, the wine lists often
leave much to be desired, since owners/chefs too-often declare “Oh, my
bartender will buy the wine…”
It’s a Wednesday in February, the day I’ve chosen to do my longer
hauls. I alternate cities, hitting a string depending on the final
destination. Today, I’m heading down one of my favorite routes, but
it’s still a three hour drive each way and I’m already tired since I
had another three-hour dive just the day before to make up for
weather-induced cancellations from last week. Today, I’ve gotten in
touch with most of the accounts and they know I’m coming. Some haven’t
called or emailed back, but I’m used to that by now. I’m running late
because flooding in Buffalo caused some really slow-going traffic, and my pea-sized bladder
forced me to stop more than once on the trip down.
I’ve noticed that every single time I drive here, a Bon Jovi song comes
on when I’m about an hour away. I know there’s no karmic reason for it,
but it happens every single time. And today, TWO stations are playing
“Wanted Dead or Alive” at the same time. I also learn that it’s Axl
Rose’s birthday and promptly spread the news via text message to
I pull into my first account. It’s a restaurant, and we do have an
appointment. I’ve been here before and the owner likes my wines – at
least, that’s what he says. He’s tasted through many with me, always
saying he likes mine more than other reps’. Today is no different. I
taste him on six in total: a Viognier from the Rhone, a Cab Franc from
the Loire, a blend from the Languedoc, a Bandol, a Vacqueyras, and a
Spanish red blend. He loves three out of the six, even comparing prices
to some he currently buys. “Well… thanks!” he says. “Maybe I’ll even
buy something from you sometime…”Although this is common and I totally
understand (because hell, I don’t want my wines on a slapdash list
anyway…), it’s hard to know at times how long I should plug away.
Stop number two is another restaurant I’ve been working with for about
half a year. I pull up and race in as I’m already an hour late. (Don’t
worry – I called). The owner lets me in and this is one of my favorite
stops. She’s one of those fantastic accounts that actually trusts me
and will take recommendations without tasting. She’s even bought a
Swiss wine from me, although I hadn’t tasted it either! She is all over
the palatial map, so it’s fun to see her reactions to different things.
Anyway, we taste through and she puts an order together. She ends with
“Ok, give me something weird – your choice.” *Swoon* I add on a case of
Altesse from the Savoie and we’re good to go.
Stop three is a store. It’s one of my best accounts. I haven’t heard
from the owner in a while but I know he’s insanely busy. I shot him an
email saying I was coming but never got a response. I stop in and talk
shop with his worker for a while and agree to try back later.
I take a quick lunch break at a market; I get a tempeh thing and a
ginger Kombucha drink. I get on line, call in my order, try to call
other accounts, and read the latest on Britney’s breakdown.
Stop four is another restaurant. I’ve tasted here countless times and
have done bits of business here and there. I know they like BIG BOLD
REDS so I figure they’ll be pleased with today’s line up. And they are.
But then they ask about an allocated California wine and buy that
Stop five is a restaurant I’ve tried to work with. They were closed for
most of January and I’ve called and missed the manager several times.
Once again, he’s not there. I leave a price book with a very kind
server and hope for the best.
Stop six is another restaurant that I spoke to the day before. I told
them I was coming and although the manager was not there, I gave them a
time frame. I stop there exactly when I said I’d be there and
everything is locked up. No one answers the phone.
I return to Nic and
call the retail account. The owner still isn’t back and there’s no ETA
on his return. The sky is beginning to darken and there’s bad weather
coming. I call it a day and begin the three hour drive home.
I hear the opening notes of “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin and I realize
I love this song a little too much. I promptly text that to friends,
too. One responds “Ok.”
I chat with my boyfriend for a while as I wind along a lake and look
appreciate the beauty of the landscape around me. Despite having made
this trip too many times already, I never get tired of this stretch of
I finally make it to the Thruway and the weather turns for the worse.
It’s sleeting heavily and about an hour from home, traffic slows. We
all take it at about 40 with an occasional jackass riding my ass and
flying around me, fishtailing in the process. Just as I get closer to
Buffalo, things REALLY slow, and we’re down to 25. I get off at an exit
and realize my headlights are out, too. Brilliant. I flick on the
brights instead, dreading yet another car expense. Traffic is down to
10mph and I’m ready to cry. I’m far too tired for this, and the longer
I spend in traffic, the later I’ll get home and the later I’ll be up
working on other things.
I finally roll onto my ice-encrusted driveway
and drag myself inside. I slap together a cheese and apple sandwich,
pour the dregs of a bottle that’s reached the end of its usefulness,
and plop in front of the computer, wondering what the hell I’ll write
And I know I get to do it all again tomorrow.