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Sweet Melody March 5, 2014

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

March 05, 2014

 

As curator of a wine shop, I don’t like offering stuff that I wouldn’t care to drink myself. My longtime suppliers know that if they bring something new for me and I feel that it doesn’t taste the way I like it for my customers, I won’t carry it. That’s why Cyrano friends feel they can trust what’s on our shelves. They know that as a general rule, our wines have already been properly vetted for them. Repeat: “As a general rule.”

Well, here’s the happy story of why I broke my own rule.

It was late one afternoon, the start of the work day for me, and I had just parked my car around the block from the shop. I was getting ready to exit when my cellphone rang, the incoming call displaying an unlisted number, and I answered it.

A lady’s voice inquired in a soothing Hispanic accent if I was the manager of Cyrano. I said yes. The caller introduced herself as Norma Nolly, an importer of wines from Argentina, and she asked if she could present her brands. Sure, I said, thinking we could meet another day.

“I can meet this evening,” she replied.

“Oh, uh…yeah, sure thing,” I kind of said.

An hour or so later, a taxi pulled up in front of the shop. A tall, dark-haired, Española-looking lady in jeans and high heels got out, gingerly cradling a carton of half-a-dozen wines as she walked up our front steps accompanied by a teenage girl with curly locks. I opened the door for Norma and her daughter, and asked them to make themselves at home (her daughter being more fluent in English from growing up for a while in the Philippines, she acted as defacto translator, explaining to her mom the nuances of my idiomatic expressions).

Listening to Norma making her sales pitch was a pleasantly surreal experience. Her softness of speech and gentleness of manner was so calming yet she was clearly passionate about the wines she was presenting. Although she did not open any of them for tasting that night, she went through each bottle as if she was taking great pride to show me freshly baked goodies that she was pulling hot from the oven, one tray at a time.

I’d never met a supplier who was so personally involved in the product. Yet nothing about what I’d seen made me think that she was a veteran wine merchant. So I asked her the obvious. She said that after she arrived in the Philippines with her husband and daughter a couple of years ago, it wasn’t long before she started feeling unproductive with just being a housewife.

“I am from Argentina,” she said with sweet satisfaction. “So I think, why not start a business to promote famous products of Argentina? Why not show the Filipinos the wines of my country?”

It was perfect, she realized, because her cousin runs a small wine estate in Mendoza. She showed me a bottle of wine, on which the name Melodía was printed on the label (say, “melo-dee-ya”). “That is my cousin,” she said, pointing to the writing on the label that said, “J. Benites”.

Call it intuition but there was something about the name Melodía that intrigued me, so I asked Norma if there was a story behind it. A big smile came over her face. “Ah, my cousin,” she said. “He wanted a new name for his wine.”

“For a long time, he could not think of a name. One day, he was relaxing in his vineyard. He was looking at the vineyard. It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue, the leaves in the trees were making happy sounds because of the wind, the birds were singing, he could hear how quiet it was in his vineyard, he could hear everything. He felt so happy.”

Norma’s gesturing hands raised themselves to shoulder level, pausing in the air for effect as she concluded her story.

“It was music to him. And he just felt so happy.”

“Norma,” I said slowly. “Your story makes me think of a poem written in Spanish. The name of the poem is Oda al Vino. It’s all about the song of the vineyard, just like the happiness of your cousin. It was written by a famous poet from Chile, named Pablo Neruda.”

Norma’s eyes lit up.

“Ah, Pablo Neruda!” she exclaimed in delight. “Yes, I know him, he is very famous! I visited his house at Isla Negra in Chile. It is in Valparaíso, by the sea. It is so beautiful there!”

I paused. I sighed.

“You know what,” I finally said. “You got me. I love that story about your cousin and you got me at that story. I’m getting your wine.”

Just like that, I ordered the Melodía wine range for our wine shop without having tasted a single drop first – Chardonnay Extra Brut, Malbec Rosé Brut, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec.

Just like that…

“You didn’t bother to try it and you still ordered it?” exclaimed my astonished business partner Joco when I told him the next day. He was actually not disapproving, just amused by my emotional decision.

“It’s a wonderful story,” I told him, feeling even more amused than he was. “And it tells me something important about Norma’s cousin, something very meaningful. A winemaker who is that romantic about his vineyard is a winemaker with true heart. He really cares about his wine. That means we can trust what he makes.”

In fact, here’s what the winemaker says on the back label of each bottle:

“We believe that wine is the song of the land,” writes Jorge Benites. “One of your favorite melodies to be treasured during the memorable moments with family and friends.”

It’s many weeks later and I’m happy to say that I made the right call. Melodía is now one of the favorite brands of customers at the shop. “It’s awesome,” said our neighbor Christina, who regularly drops in late at night to take out some wine and who is now a big fan of the Melodía Malbec. “I liked the Cabernet too but the Malbec was awesome.”

Here’s the funny part: I just recently got to taste the Malbec myself and I agree, it really is awesome.

I don’t expect to be breaking my own rule again any time soon. But props to both of you, Norma and Jorge. At least now I know what it would take for it to happen again; I’ll be good with that if it ever does.

It just takes a sweet melody.

 

 

 

 

 

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