Thursday, November 22, 2007

My Trip to Israel, Part II: Epilogue to Uncanny Travel Companions

[Aeropuerto De Madrid-Barajas, Madrid. Wednesday, November 21. Flying to Tel Aviv.]

I’m attracted to wine salesmen. Cosmically, that is—the last two times I’ve flown, the person directly to my right has been a wine salesman. Both were Spanish speaking—the first from Argentina and the second from Spain. And neither was some Podunk loser trying to peddle his swill on me; in actuality, both were head sales managers for their respective—and enormous—family wine companies, chatty and personable businessmen responsible for moving millions of bottles a year. Both taught me more about wine in 45 minutes than has a lifetime of alcohol consumption, and both reiterated the four golden rules of wine:

1. Wine is not something you read about in magazines and talk about at parties. Wine is something you drink—nothing less, nothing more.

2. Price doesn’t matter. A bottle that costs $6.99 is as likely to taste good as one that costs $40.

3. The label doesn’t matter, either. Taste is the lone factor that matters to wine professionals, and it should be all the consumer is worried about.

4. Because of the American dollar’s current free-fall, we Americans will be seeing more and more wines from South America and less from Europe, since the almighty Euro is discouraging American importers from doing business with the Eastern Hemisphere’s first world.

Both gave me their contact information. Gaston Chamiza, the Argentine I met at the end of last November on a flight from New York to Montreal, asked me to stay in touch with him regarding the Creamfields music festival near his hometown. I emailed him when I got back to New York, and we exchanged emails for a while, until my inability to execute an excursion to Argentina sullied the hopefulness of our contact. We stopped corresponding altogether a while back, although one day I plan to fire off something like, “Hey, I’m coming to Buenos Aires! Can I crash at your place?” to which he’ll respond, “No.” Call it the renaissance of hope.

Juan Costa, the Spaniard from this late November, was flying to his hometown to vet two wineries. An émigré who fortuitously found his way to Connecticut, Juan is a family man with serious dirt on the wine industry: vintners paying off magazines to give their wines rave reviews, bottling plants diluting their brands with cheaper, foreign varieties and labeling them incorrectly, etc. When I told him that I’d be available to meet him in Manhattan for the purposes of conducting an interview and getting drunk, he jotted down every conceivable way I might reach him (landline, cell, email, social security number, blood type, gym membership, favorite restaurant) and told me to be in touch. Call it the renaissance of intoxication. Or, an opportunity for me to write a good story and drink for free (for life, maybe, if I do good by a man who sells four million bottles of wine every 365 days), and for him to clean house in an industry revered for its traditions, history, and pride.

I don’t know how to construe these similarities. Late November. Flying to a foreign country. Spanish-speaking. Head sales manager at booming family-owned wine outfits, with identical philosophies and convictions about their business. As far as I remember, both have two kids, are in their late thirties, and lament how hard it is to succeed in wine selling. They were like two apparitions cut from the same ghost, and I was the spooked protagonist who wanted to sew them back together.

Call it the re-birth of reunification.

Stay Similar, Gaston and Juan
MC Madrid

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