Our Planet

When work wakes me up in the middle of the night, I know exactly what will settle my brain and put me right back into dreamland…David Attenborough. If you don’t know Sir David Attenborough, you really should take the time. I have no idea what he did as a young man, but now, most certainly in his 80s, he narrates the most beautifully calming nature shows. Of course the cinematography is mesmerizing, but his voice is the soothing white noise I need on those nights to turn my brain right off.

One recent restless night, I started his series called “Our Planet” and the first episode included several minutes about rainforests. He talked about one area being so lush that female birds can raise chicks on their own so the males spend 100% of their life attracting mates. You may already be aware that the males of most bird species are the pretty ones – brightly colored, fancy feathers, barreling chests. But these particular birds Sir Attenborough mentioned, called Manakins, native to Mexico and South America, have quite an elaborate dance routine for attracting females.

In particular, the Golden Collared Manakin first spends lots of time clearing the forest floor of leaves and sticks. When a female arrives, he dances from branch to branch in his pristine home showing off his colors and then does a back flip to really impress. She checks out every detail before deciding if he gets the tail.

The Blue Manakin practices such an intricate dance that it involves three other males. They practice on the daily. One of the males plays the female and watches on as the other three take turns flying to the front of the line, making a short display for her examination and then moving to the back of the line for the next male to show off. They continue until the lead male performs a final move, then he flutters and waits. If she doesn’t immediately fly off then…boop boop sexy time.

On another sleepless night a few months later I made it to the second episode about the jungle. The focus was on New Guinea. It is so isolated there that it has evolved some very strange and curious creatures, including the Western Parotia. It is one of 40 species of Birds of Paradise.

The male is truly unusual. When not on display for a mate du jour, he has jet black plumage with a stunning golden-green iridescent chest and black ‘wires’ darting out from the top of his head.

In preparation for a female, he turns into the most OCD cleaning guy I have ever seen! However, I suppose you could blame the female, who visits only the tidiest of male homes.

Every morning, he clears his area’s forest floor. Not just a light sweeping, but rather he moves every single branch, leaf, and tiniest piece of debris. One rogue leaf may ruin his boop boop chances. She inspects, he continues to try to impress not only with his spotless abode, but his dance routine must also be flawless.

First, his blue eyes flash bright yellow. He fans out his feathers, gives her an affirmative head bob, and then presents his iridescent chest patch. He’s not holding anything back! She continues to be coy turning her head from side to side to continue the inspection. If she is satisfied with his cleanliness and dancing display, you know what comes next…

Now the last time I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t a male bird – no bright colors, iridescent feathers, head wires nor particularly clean home. Although I would say I have a dance move or two that may attract the opposite sex.

But every day I prepare to host a private wine tasting at our wine country tasting room or travel for a wine event, I feel like a Western Parotia.

When guests visit wine country, they are on vacation. Yes, they are more than likely coming to taste and buy wine, but for them it’s fun time – no risk, no real skin in the game. The same holds true for wine events on the road.

What all these guests (aka female birds) don’t realize is all the time, effort, OCD cleaning and personal grooming I have put in to preparing for their arrival. Just like those male birds, I didn’t wake up like this. Yet it must be flawless if we want the boop boop (aka wine sales).

Right now, I am sitting in a hotel room in Dallas preparing for a wine event this evening in fact. First, back at home, I decided which wines I would pour and calculated about how many bottles I would need for three events with about 20 people each. It’s not an exact science. I have attempted to communicate with my host my desire to invite guests that collect wine and have the means to purchase at my winery’s bottle prices. I have encouraged my host to put me in touch with their caterer or chef to put together dishes that will pair well with the wines. Please no pickled items, asparagus, vegetables from the cabbage family, spicy flavors, strong herbs or sauces. Chefs aren’t usually wine-trained and my hosts aren’t professional wine sales people so these are delicate dances.

I lugged a 12-bottle hard case filled with wine into the car and through the airport. I also shipped myself wine and picked it up at a local Fedex shop. I then moved these boxes and case of bottles in and out of the rental car and then onto a hotel cart and in and out of my hotel room every night because I don’t want the car to get broken in to. Also, it’s warm and humid here – not good for wine.

Once in the room, I cleared out the min-fridge to fit bottles of white to chill. I have a queue of red wines on the desk waiting for their turn in the decanter. Stuffed in my suitcase I have printed out order forms, a list of large format wines, a display large format dummy bottle that I had carefully wrapped in a tablecloth in my bag brought to inspire and encourage large format sales in advance of Christmas coming up. I have wine keys, pens, decanter, funnel, black napkin, a black outfit for me (in case I get red wine on myself), wine club information – all which I packed with my clothes and then load into the car for each event.

I arrive about an hour early to the event – typically the hosts’ private home, but sometimes a private dining room in a local restaurant or their country club. I never exactly know what the layout will be so I find an area – corner of the kitchen island, counter in their bar area, side table – and begin clearing my forest floor. I display the large format bottle with an updated list of available bottles for sale. I put order forms listing the wines we will taste that evening either at each place-setting if a sit down, coursed dinner or several in a clipboard laid around the event space if a heavy app reception. Don’t forget a pen with each form! I get the whites back in an available fridge or ice bucket. I check the reds to see if they need more decanting time.

(Momentary pause to swirl the decanter in the hotel room.)

Then now that my area is clear of debris and looking sparkly, the guests begin arriving. I flash my brown eyes blue, put on a wide grin, turn on the charm and puff out my chest. I do my very best to impress – talking about the fancy vineyards, barrels, our winemaker; sharing details about the winery’s history, how we are special. I listen to the comments on my initial display and pivot to capture and keep their interest. I subtly layer in talk of small, limited production, difficulty in getting the wines, the order forms, the large formats, the wine club, visiting the tasting room in wine country – whatever will get me that tail!

This goes on for several hours and only when I observe people picking up their pens and beginning to write on the forms do I know my display may indeed work. Cautiously optimistic fluttering and waiting. When they motion me over to ask a question, I get a whiff of excitement at their interest. When I see several bottle quantities circled, my excitement grows. But the deal has not yet been done.

Not until I receive the completed form…

A case order, a multi-case order, wine club membership, large formats or library wines included – that’s the sexy tail I want. Then I know all those hours of work cleaning every branch and leaf from view, my plumage, my dance moves – they worked!

This is a hard way to live.

Sir David Attenborough didn’t mention the stats on these male birds’ boop boop success, but I imagine it is rather low. Just like in wine sales. That’s not to say I never sell wine – I do pretty regularly after people taste and I dance.

But most sales are just a few bottles and some people attend events (more often than not for free where the host bears the venue, glassware and food costs), drink and leave. These are the rudest kind of guest that, if karma lives, I hope will go straight to a special circle of Dante’s hell reserved for leeches.

The amount of work hours that go in to wine sales is extraordinary, but then there’s the emotional impact. I don’t know how the Western Parotia feels when he doesn’t get any, but when I don’t sell wine or just a few bottles, after all that physical work, emotional commitment and business expense I’ve made to display and impress, it gets me down. Now I have to pick myself back up, somehow recharge, and get back out there for the next opportunity – usually the following day. It’s exhausting, especially when travel out of state is included.

Yet when I am successful, like a recent trip to the south, where everyone bought cases and joined the wine club, it’s just the drug I need to energize me for the next display. It’s what keeps me coming back. It’s what keep me motivated to clean my forest floor. It’s why I practice my dance moves. It’s why I’ve been in sales for nearly 25 years.

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