He had a gun. The neighborhood was like a war zone. He handed me a brown paper bag with twenty grand in $20 bills. Outside there where dozens of street people huddled in the nooks of the building, most of them savoring pints of MD 20/20. Leaving that run down building with a bag of money was more than a little intimidating in a neighborhood where they would probably kill you for five bucks.
I made to to my car and hightailed it out of there. I had made my first big score. The twenty thousand dollars in the brown paper bag was my first payoff. I had just collected on a big gamble. This was my first payment for the 1982 Bordeaux futures. There would be more than a few of the brown paper bags of money from the man with the gun over the next few months.
This is a true story and what selling wine was like in the Chicago of the early 1980s. Such were the logistics of the red-hot 1982 Bordeaux futures campaign. I had finally made it in the fine wine business. However, the gun and the brown paper bags full of cash were not exactly what I had envisioned as I poured over Edmund Penning-Rowsell’s The Wines of Bordeaux and dreamed of the glories of the Premier Grand Crus.
Now I'm in the Napa Valley three decades later. While the neighborhood has changed I'm still scratching for bags of money and wouldn't mind a few right now. The economics of winemaking in the Napa Valley requires the biggest bags of money. Oddly enough, those bags of cash given me by the man with the gun seem somehow cleaner than the cash bags required to play in the Napa Valley these days. The buyers that filled those cash bags in 1983 actually got their moneys worth, either in great wine or in huge returns on cases sold on today’s auction market. Dollars invested in the Napa Valley today are highly unlikely to repay such an investment in either financial or spiritual terms.
In 1983, the man had the gun to protect himself from the criminals outside. These days its getting harder to see who has to be protected from who. The wine industry seems at a cross road, with big money wineries on one side and consumers on the other. But there is a world of wine where consumers and winemakers are on the same side.
The "natural" wine movement may be controversial and not all the wines may live up to the hype, but you can't deny you feel more soul in these wines than in the high end cult wines of the world.
I'll take the music of Aretha Franklin over Celine Dion anyday. It's just got more soul. I feel the same way about wine.