I miss Michael Winner. A man who didn’t take himself too seriously. As he is now aware, more than anyone reading this, life is too short.
Exactly ten years ago I was working on the wrong side of St James’s Street. Where a few people took themselves very, very, seriously. Very seriously indeed. And, at some point in time in January 2004 a man reduced me to tears. Over a case of wine. I can’t remember the exact wine but it was a 2002 premier cru Chambolle from the delight that is Ghislaine Barthod.
As those that are attempting to buy the trophy 2012 Burgundies are no doubt aware, Burgundy is not made in industrial quantities. Mme Barthod has, relatively speaking, a very chunky production of Chambolle but get to her premier crus and you can still count the barrels on your hands, even in a large vintage. In a small vintage like 2012 her wines are hard to buy; in an average-sized vintage like 2002 (and this was when wine was bought largely by those that intended to drink it) it was easier.
Nonetheless, Mr Horrible missed out. As it happens, it was his own fault for not reading the offer properly. So, a day or two later, I take the call. And receive abuse so personal that I struggle with its credulity even now. Abuse on a level that could be accepted if I had slept with the man’s wife, burgled his home – that sort of thing – but totally incommensurate with the alleged crime. A crime that didn’t exist in the first place (old duffer fails to open page on offer) and had nowt to do with me anyway (chippy oik at posh merchant has little say in who gets what).
I slunk downstairs to the cellar and cried. Not like a baby. Like a man broken.
Now: this sort of stuff still goes on. And 2012 Burgundy will have its victims. Young salesmen, eager to please like a mongrel puppy, will be getting the bad end of a man’s greed. I feel for them.
And what is most sad – Mr Bo Jangles sad – is that the subject, or rather the object, is juice that provides happiness, gives pleasure.
Over the past fifteen years I’ve seen wine commoditised; some wines from Bordeaux almost completely so. I fear it is happening in Burgundy, where a fundamental price-shift is just beginning to take place. If you share my view here, and you have the cash to back your view then there is undoubtedly an opportunity to make some money. The concept of which might make some spit, or make others smile. And whilst I may be in the former camp I can’t get all self-righteous here: the last case I made money on was a case of Burgundy, bought because I loved it, sold because I had a use for the money at the time (2009 Latricieres-Chambertin, Rossignol-Trapet, if you’re interested).
The point, I think, is more about the society that we live in rather than the trade that I work in. As one of my all-time favourite customers once said to me (do you still read this, Joe?): Capitalism doesn’t stop.
I wonder where that case of wine is now. That particular case that Mr Horrible missed out on. Did the buyer flip it once it was shipped? Has it been drunk? Or is it sleeping, cocoon-like, in Corsham? Is this nine litres of wine going to provide the pleasure – to someone I haven’t met – the warmth, the love? The exact opposite of what Mr Horrible gave me?
I hope, and this is a bit pipe-dream, that whoever did get it still has it. Has maybe opened a couple and decided that premier cru 2002s are still a bit tight, still waking from their slumber and a little clumsy in that early morning kind of way. I hope that at least a couple of the bottles sing like Nina and fly like the Concorde.
But if they don’t, and whoever bought it flipped it as soon as it was shipped, and if it spent an afternoon in a hot delivery van, or fell off the forklift, or got mixed with Sprite, or was all corked or whathaveyou … it is, or was, just a case of wine. So calm down, dear. Calm down.