Tom Becka: Greetings from Omaha, Nebraska with another edition of tombecka.com where everyone’s exceptional, everyone has a story to tell. If it is your first time visiting us here, what we do on this podcast, every week, we interview a person with an interesting story. It could be inspirational, it could be fun, it could be educational, it could be a little bit of anything, maybe all of them wrapped up into one. Because I do believe that people are fascinating. Everybody’s got something that we could have learned from.
That’s what this one’s about today. Traci Williamson is a friend that I’ve known for a while. She is a wine connoisseur, a wine salesperson, also a connoisseur wine. Wine is something I don’t know a lot of about. I know single malt Scotch. I feel comfortable being around people who drink small malt Scotch and talking intelligently about the single malt Scott.
But remember wine drinkers, where if I have to buy some wine, order at the restaurant or buy a bottle for a gift, I get a little bit intimidated, a little bit hesitant because I don’t know much about wine.
I figured Traci knows. Why don’t I learn from her? I’m killing two birds with one stone here. I’m doing a podcast and I, myself, am learning about something that has kind of intimidated me over the years. Like I said, I don’t know a lot about wine.
One of the things I don’t know is there’s more than just, “It’s a sommelier,” to be an expert in wine. Sommelier was the only term that I knew. Traci is an expert but she’s not a sommelier.
Traci Williamson: I am a certified specialist of wine which basically I went for because it got me cool initials behind my name. It’s kind of the sommelier on the selling side basically. I did have to pass a test. It is a 30 percent pass rate. 10 of us went up from Nebraska to take the test and four of us passed. It was my first try so I was very happy.
Tom: Very nice. A sommelier would be someone working in a restaurant who would tell you all about the wine. You’re the person that sells to the restaurant who tells them all about the wine.
Traci: Yes, that’s correct although I can go get my sommelier but that requires different tests of where you taste, you smell, you identify the wines just based off of that. Mine was more the technical side.
Tom: Tell me about this because I know a little about scotch. I know nothing about wine, very little. I can fake it sometimes at a restaurant. I’ll look at it. It’s a red. It costs this much so it must be pretty good. Pawn we’ll get this or I’ll just go with the recommendation of the waiter or whatever. Really, I know nothing about it. What is the allure of wine?
Traci: For me, I started off selling beer and then moved move into liquor and then got really interested in wine. For me, the allure of wine is not only the taste and the different wine profiles, the different varietals. I love the stories about the wineries. That’s what really drew me into it.
Tom: What do you mean?
Traci: For instance, just to pull a winery out, the Cline Winery. The fact that they are sustainable, they have sheep wondering. What they do is they plant these crops. They have insects that come in there and then the sheep go through so it’s natural pesticides. Stories like that is what I find the most interesting about wine.
Tom: Each winery is not just you grow the grapes, you smash them, ferment them, bottle them, and that’s it?
Traci: There are some wineries that are like that. The most interesting ones actually have a story, family owned. They’ve been in business for 150 years. There are some of those.
Tom: Explain to me how American wines…Now American wines are getting better?
Traci: Absolutely. California, Washington, Oregon, are really the hot regions right now. I’ve had a great Cabernet out of Arizona as well. I don’t personally care for the Nebraska wines as much but there are a lot of people that care for those. They are a little sweeter. The California, Oregon, Washington wines are grown in the great grape regions.
Tom: Why is that area doing better than say Nebraska or Mississippi or any other part of the country?
Traci: Climate. You’ll notice if you look at France, Italy, and the California, Washington, they’re all on the same latitude, longitude. It’s the climate basically.
Tom: The climate, they grow a better type of grape?
Traci: They grow a different type of grape. Cabernet does not thrive in Nebraska very well just because it gets too cold here. What you want is you want the warm climate and ideally fog to come in at night. It cools it down but it holds some of that warmth in with the fog on top.
Tom: Those areas are doing better and then France of course is always. Is France truly a better wine or are you just paying for the reputation?
Traci: I wouldn’t necessarily say better, it’s different. There’s old world style and there’s new world style. Some of the California wineries are trying to do old world style. When people ask me, “Is it a better wine?” I ask them, “Do you like the wine? If you like it, it’s a good wine.”
Tom: You’re losing me on this story — old-world style, and new-world style.
Traci: Old-world style would be more of the France, Italy — basically, the regions that have been making wine for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. Then the new-world style in California — Americans actually like their wines a little bit fruitier, so that is a new-world style, whereas you get more of a dustier, older feel to the wine old-world style.
Tom: You brought a little wine here. What is this you have?
Traci: This is the Bridlewood Pinot Noir, so this is actually a new-world style Pinot Noir.
Tom: A new-world style.
Traci: Yes, you’re going to get the fruitier taste off of it. In France, if you were going to get a Pinot Noir, you get a little bit of dustiness off the flavor. It’s hard to describe unless we had one to compare, but…
Tom: Why didn’t you bring another bottle then?
Traci: I know. Bridlewood is actually a great winery out of California, though. They have not been doing many Pinot Noirs, but they just branched out and started doing that. They’re an old equestrian rehabilitation center, I think it’s all the old horse [inaudible 6:41] that’s making fantastic wines for them.
Tom: It goes back to the story. You said each winery has a story.
Tom: This was an old horse ranch, and now they grow wine grapes and make wine.
Traci: Exactly, and they make fantastic wines, known primarily for their Shiraz.
Tom: OK, so this is a…
Traci: Pinot Noir.
Tom: Varietal? Which means what?
Traci: Varietal means the type of grape. There’s hundreds and hundreds of types of grapes, and in America, we actually label it by the type of grape. In France, they label it by the region, and there are certain grape types that are permitted to be in those wines. Same with Italy, unless you get to a Super-Tuscan, where the winemakers wanted to include different things that weren’t necessarily permissible, but makes fantastic wine.
Tom: When I hear varietal, in my mind, I think that it would be a hybrid of some sort.
Traci: No, varietal is actually is the vinifera. The vinifera is an original vine.
Tom: You keep using big words like this. You’re going to lose…a viniferum.
Traci: Vinifera. Vinifera is the actual term, that’s the original vine that they brought over from France, and it’s one type of grape, so your Chardonnay, your Merlot, your Cab, Your Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Shiraz, Zin — those are all varietals — specific grapes.
Tom: What was that word you used?
Traci: Vinifera .
Tom: The vinifera — by the way that, if I remember that, I’m going to sound classy the next time I go in your wine, “Oh, yes, where is the vinifera from?” The vinifera is basically the seedling that they bring over from France?
Traci: Yes, in America — most places, it’s actually grafted onto American rootstock because of — and here’s another big word for you — philloxera, which is a little louse. It’s vine cancer, and that attacked all the vines — killed many, many vineyards in California. What they did is then they found a way to graft vinifera onto American rootstock and create the same varietals.
Tom: This makes it a better wine via a better grape because of this coming from the France region, or wherever it’s coming from, as opposed to the type of grapes that they would use to make Welch’s jelly or something?
Traci: It’s a different type. It’s definitely a different type.
Tom: I told you I don’t know anything about this.
Traci: You can definitely not use the Concorde grapes to make wine.
Tom: The Concord is a different type. Why not?
Traci: But you can use the rootstock. It’s just too sweet.
Tom: But, you use a lot of other stuff besides just grapes to make wine? There’s dandelion wine, cherry wine, there’s other stuff?
Traci: Honestly, I’m not as familiar with those types of wines. I know they exist. I have not studied as much about those, but the dandelion wines, I can’t imagine would taste like this.
Tom: No, but it doesn’t always have to be grapes though for wine, is what I’m saying, does it?
Traci: Actually, it does. Wine is actually grape juice. It all starts off, first of all, as white juice. All grape juice is clear when it runs out, and it gets to be red or white just depending on how they treated, but it all starts from actual grapes.
Tom: I’ll tell you how times have changed. When I was in high school, some buddies and I thought it would be a nice little project if we made our own wine. We made our own wine, and our parents knew about it. They were like, “OK, we don’t want you drinking any of it, but…” I was a sophomore in high school, so I was 16 and my buddy next door, Jamie Perdue, and his brother, we all went one night, we lived outside of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, we went out one night.
We went out to the orchards and stole a bunch of cherries from Ohio State University. The statute of limitations is over now. We went back and we ground them all up and put them through a little meat grinder, grounded them all up, got the pulp, got all that. We studied this.
We bought, what’s the little bulb thing you buy with water on it to let the gasses out an all of that? We did this. We made our own wine and I have no idea if it was any…our parents said, “Oh, it was rather sweet, but very tasty.” I have no idea if it was any good or not at all. We made our own wine.
Traci: A lot of times that’s more like a cider than an actual wine.
Tom: Now you’re dissing me. Something about you wine people, you’re such snobs. For me it was wine damn it. I’m 16. It was wine. I don’t care what…
Traci: Let’s just say technically Mad Dog is wine too.
Tom: This pinot noir that you brought, walk me through this now. We do it. It’s the nose? You don’t say you smell it.
Traci: It’s the nose. Very first you have to start off with sight. You can tell a lot about the wine just looking at the color whether it’s a little brick red or whether it’s deep red, clear, dark, on the whites. You want to swirl it. People always ask why. I’ll tell you. The very first reason is to look cool.
Tom: You swirl the wine and you throw in the [inaudible 12:02] . You throw that in the conversation. They are taken back and they think you know what the hell you’re talking about.
Traci: Precisely, but the other reason you swirl the wine is to actually release the aromas to open the wine up and then you also get to see the legs. Now on a pinot noir you’re not going to see a ton of legs. The legs are the drippings that come down the side of the glass after you swirl it. A lot of times that is indication of alcohol content.
The higher the alcohol, the thicker the legs are going to be when they’re dripping down.
Tom: If it’s a more potent wine, it will stick to the glass more.
Traci: They will be thicker. These you’ll notice we do have legs but they’re not super thick. The nose, you basically want to put your nose in there and get the different aromas. On this one we’re getting the cherry, the raspberry, the lighter fruits. On other ones you can get things like cassis, tobacco, deep, deep, deep cherries, chocolate.
It all depends on the wine.
Tom: I know a little about single malt scotch and I go scotch tastings. With scotch tastings, you have a dominant nostril and a weaker nostril. You use the dominant nostril to sample or to nose the scotch. With wine, you put the whole, both nostrils?
Traci: Everyone always says to put that in there but I won’t. I do use my dominant nostril a little bit more. It’s best to bury your nose in there and that way you’re getting the full experience.
Tom: By the way, if you don’t know what I’m talking about with the dominant nostril, here’s a great little bar thing I did. If you’re drinking a whiskey especially, you talked about this. You make a bar bet that you have a dominant nostril. They think you’re nuts. You clog up one side and you sniff, I guess, I know that’s not the classy term.
You nose it or whatever. You plug up one nostril, one side, and inhale and then do the other side. One side you’ll just get the alcohol, the other side you’ll be able to get some of the nuances of the scotch. The same thing is true with the wine?
Tom: You’d be able to do that. There’s actually a dominant nostril and a non-dominant nostril. People think you’re nuts when you first say it. Then they’re blown away and that’s all they talk about the rest of the night.
Traci: I completely agree. They say to start off with a full nose in there but I always change and do the dominant and non-dominant.
Tom: I’ve never been very good at being able to determine what the other aromas are and what I’m really smelling.
Traci: One of the cool things about wine is we have these kits that when we go out and do a training they have different scents in different little jars. They’re just little aroma jars. That helps you learn how to pick some of it out. Then little flavors, we bring little samples of little favors that helps you pick out the flavors.
A lot of it you get from the tasting notes from the winery which are very entertaining. The more you drink wine, the more you learn how to pick out some of those little scents.
Tom: Who is the expert on this as far as the notes? I know in scotch, there’s a gentleman who has passed away now, but his name was Michael Jackson who had written these books. You read some of the descriptions of these scotches and it would be, “A wisp of linen and a hint of hickory” and really dude, I just like it.
Traci: The expert on the wines is, there are several different sources, but Robert Parker is the one that I think is the most knowledgeable. There’s also “Wine Enthusiast”, “Wine Spectator”, and if you go to any winery’s website, you can find out what they think of their wines. Robert Parker is the big guy that we all consider to be the expert.
Tom: You mentioned if you like the wine, that’s all that matters.
Traci: That’s actually what I think. Now for me, I’ve gotten to be a little more of a wine snob than I used to be because I get to sample some really nice wines. I get samples.
For instance, my mother, she really likes Rieslings. I don’t care for Rieslings but her favorite Riesling is honestly a $10 Riesling. If she likes it, it’s a good wine.
Tom: I was in Germany last year and had some Riesling while I was there. It was not as sweet as the Rieslings are here.
Traci: It really depends on what region you’re getting it from. Germany actually uses chaptalization. Their grapes are not picked at a high enough bricks, there’s another big word, which is sugar level in the grapes. They can add actual sugar to the musk to get it up to alcohol level.
That effect is a little bit but then it’s also just the region and how the wine maker treats it and what they do with it. That’s all wine makers secret and that’s something that I don’t know.
Tom: Will the wineries overseas make wine specifically for the American market? In other words, would a Riesling, if I had it from the same winery, would the Riesling that I had when I was in Germany be a little bit different than the Riesling they might export over to the United States?
Traci: That does occur from time to time because the American palate is a little bit sweeter. Everyone here says they like to drink dry but they prefer sweet.
Tom: That was another thing. First of all, I like the Riesling, the one in Germany, a lot better than I do here. So dry — you used the term “drink dry.” What does that really mean?
Traci: When people are saying dry, they’re thinking more, “I love the Cabernets. I love the Shiraz,” which have more tannin, so they’re a little bit of a drier wine. But then they really actually drink the Rieslings, and Pinot Gris, and San Blancs that are a little more sweet, and Pinot Noir, of course, but part of that was because of the movie “Sideways, so…”
Tom: When that movie came out, Pinot Noir had gone through the roof?
Traci: Absolutely. It was out of control.
Tom: Before that, it was more of a Shiraz were big and stuff?
Traci: Absolutely, Shiraz, Merlot, Zinfandel — they were all huge. Pinot Noir — it had its place but it wasn’t nearly what it was after the movie came out. Interesting fact is that at the end of the movie, when he’s drinking his most coveted wine out of a paper cup that was a Merlot, after he complained about Merlot the entire movie.
Tom: Now you’ve just ruined it for me.
Traci: I’m just trying to bring Merlot back.
Tom: What is it about that about wines that come into fashion and don’t come into fashion? Does that go back into the whole snob thing about wine?
Traci: I don’t know if it’s necessarily the snob thing, or just people find out about new varietals, and they just go with it. Like Malbec — Malbec has come into fashion, and now everyone wants Malbecs. Malbecs have just absolutely taken off, and California’s actually producing some Malbecs now, which traditionally, they have not.
Tom: Malbec is a type of grape.
Traci: It’s a grape. It’s not indigenous to Argentina, but that is where it really, really took off.
Tom: That’s [inaudible 19:49] . We’re talking about United States wines and French wines, but Argentina has quite the wine industry too, doesn’t it?
Traci: They have a huge wine industry, especially when Malbec started taking off. The great thing about Argentina is the land cost is pretty low, so the wines are coming in very well priced. They are producing fantastic wines. Awesome wines. Most of them are from Mendoza, but also Portugal is producing some great still wines. Spain is producing some great wines. There’s a lot of regions that have not been discovered yet.
Tom: You talk about Spain. I have a little bit that I know there. They also have Port?
Traci: They do.
Tom: Or is that more Portugal?
Traci: Spain is actually more Sherry. Portugal is the Port, and that’s a whole other region. That’s a whole other group of big words that you don’t want me to throw around. Spain, honestly, the Rioja, Grenache, some Alborino — and Alborino’s the one that people should discover right about now, because that is a patio wine, and it is fantastic.
Tom: Patio wine meaning…
Traci: Just very, very light white. You could be standing out there grilling, and it’s a very refreshing white wine. No one knows what Alborino is, but you get them to taste it, and they absolutely love it. It’s very close to a Sauvignon Blanc.
Tom: That’s something else — the whole red and white thing. I was always told, back in the day, that you drink red wine with meat, white wine with fish?
Traci: Not necessarily.
Tom: That’s what they said.
Traci: That’s what they said. They lied.
Tom: I’ve been lied to before.
Traci: It really depends on what you’re doing. You can have a red wine with salmon, or you can have a white wine with salmon, depending on how you prepare it. It really just depends on the weight of the meal, if that makes sense. If you have a creamy meal, you can have a bigger wine to cut through it, but a lot of it is just if you have something that’s fatty, you want a more crisp wine to cut through it.
Tom: If I go and order a red wine, but I’m ordering it with a fish that a cream sauce, or a more fatty type of a fish, they are not going to throw me out of the restaurant or snub their noses at me?
Traci: No, they would not. Me, personally, I would either do a white wine or something lighter, like a Pinot Noir, or perhaps a Grenache.
Tom: If we ever go out to dinner, you’re ordering the wine, because I have no idea.
Traci: As long as you’re paying for the dinner.
Tom: This is a lot to know, and it does intimidate people, doesn’t it?
Traci: It does intimidate people, and I realized recently that I know more than I ever thought I knew, but once you’re around it you try new things together. I like to buy different bottles of wine and then cook at home. I have a catering background from when I was in college, and so I prepare different meals, pair of different wines from what I have a home and whatever I like. Then I stick with it, and I do a lot of wine dinners where they do this as well.
Tom: You just love to make the food. Instead of finding wine to go with the food, you’re finding food to go with the wine.
Traci: Pretty much. I’ll choose the wine first, and then I’ll find the food, always.
Tom: What do I know? What do I know? What would you say to somebody who is intimidated about the wine? Because people do get intimidated, and that they’re hesitant sometimes, and they’re afraid they’re going to either get ripped off, or they’re afraid that they’re going to make the wrong choice — that sort of a thing.
Traci: Or they’re afraid that they are going to do it wrong. If they’re ordering at a restaurant, I would say, honestly, ask help from your server, because most of those servers are not going to talk you up. Most servers actually want to help, and they actually get the opportunity to try them at the restaurant. If you’re at a retail store, like a grocery store or a wine shop, I would honestly just say look for maybe a deal, and then just play around with it yourself. You can figure it out. You’ll know when it pairs up well.
Tom: Often I’ll be invited to someone’s house and want to bring a bottle of wine. I’ll go to the store and I will just look at the selection, and…
Traci: There’s hundreds.
Tom: I’m just looking at it, and what I do, is basically I start looking at the price point and try to decide how good of a friend this person is, and then buy a bottle but I think is not $2 wine. I understand the 2-Buck Chuck.
Traci: Not my personal favorite, but it’s not bad.
Tom: I don’t want to just find a bottle that, whatever the price is, and just say, “OK, this can’t be too bad, because it’s costing me, you know…”
Traci: $10, or whatever.
Tom: Whatever it is.
Traci: Without tasting it, it’s really, really hard to know. You would not believe how many people call me a week from a store and asked me what bottle of wine they should get when they’re taking it over, and they will tell me the menu. Without tasting a lot of the wine, it’s very, very hard to tell. If you’re generally sticking in that $8 to $12 price range for something that you don’t know, you’re most likely not going to go wrong.
Tom: Something $8 to $12 is going to be OK for the most part.
Traci: It’s going to be OK. Me, personally, I usually go 10 to 15…
Tom: Because you’re a snob.
Tom: Because you know the big words. That’s it – the price. I imagine that if you’re getting into hundreds of dollars or something like that, then you’re dealing not so much with the quality of the wine, but the scarcity of it?
Traci: It’s a little bit of both, for instance, Opus One. There is scarcity, but it’s also huge quality. They grow in very limited quantities. It’s handcrafted. There’s so much work that goes into Opus One. They were making that like a French wine. Originally, when they first made it, it was actually kind of a joint effort between a French winery and a California winery, and they wanted to make it like a French wine, so they priced it up there so that they don’t produce very much, but also the quality is amazing.
Tom: You also made me think of something else that I know about the wine. You can do a blend, is that right? But it’s not called a blend, is it?
Traci: It depends on where you’re at.
Tom: Because blend, I think is for Scotch.
Traci: They do have blends here. We have read blends. Blends are super-hot right now. For instance, in California, they have blends. There’s a GSM, for instance, Cline Cashmere — that one’s just the first one that’s coming to mind. Grenache Mourvedre — they didn’t mix in a little bit of Petit Verdot this year. Apothic Red Blend is a fantastic blend. They change the blend little bit every year, and it’s a huge hot-seller.
Over in France, the wines are named after the regions, so those are blends. The same with Italy, a lot of times. Sometomes you’ll get 100 percent, but a lot of those are blends. They don’t necessarily list what they are. They’ll blend in Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre.
Tom: When I was in France, [inaudible 27:24] , for instance. That’s a region? Would that be a blend?
Traci: That is most likely a blend, and it just depends on which winery is making it what the blend is. There are only certain grapes that are permissible to be grown in those regions, like in Bordeaux the red grapes that are allowed to be grown in Bordeaux are Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Shiraz. Then the whites, you can have Sav Blancs, Sauvignon, and a little bit of Muscatell. Those are just all that’s allowed to be grown in that region, legally.
Tom: Muscatell? Isn’t that a rot-gut wine?
Traci: Muscatell is actually used as a blending grape. You will never get 100 percent. They add a little bit for the sweetness.
Tom: Muscatell. I’d always imagine that as being the alkies-on-the-street, “Give me a bottle of Muscatell.”
Traci: Exactly, but they’ll blend in 2 percent.
Tom: I see, they just add a little flavor to it. I mentioned 2-Buck Chuck, which I think now, is three or four dollars, but still a very reasonably priced wine that they have out of Trader Joe’s. I’ve never had it, at least I don’t think I have, but I know people that just love it. Then you’ve also got the box wine, and the big jug wines that people drink. I see the look on your face when I mention these things. I’m guessing you’re not the biggest fan?
Traci: I was actually smiling and laughing because box wines have come way, way far as far as quality. There are some really, really good box wines out there right now. The jug wines — that’s actually just more of a nostalgia thing, in my mind, with a lot of people that I sell to, at least. You’ll get as, ”O Sole Mio,” but they are great also for making Sangria, but the box wines have actually come very, very far as far as quality.
Tom: Do certain brands do better than others? I would imagine. How do you know?
Traci: The two that are coming to mind right now are Vin Vault and Black Box, but have really come far as far as quality.
Tom: Do the red wines do better in a box then the white wines?
Traci: No, the quality on both of those have come along.
Tom: A few years ago, I went to the wine festival here in town, and that they had wine in cardboard boxes that they were selling. Cardboard bottles, I guess, that they were selling. I saw that at this event, and thought, “That’s a good idea for camping and stuff like that, I guess.” I saw it at this event a couple of years ago, and I’ve never seen that anywhere since.
Traci: I’m assuming you mean the Tetra Paks that were square and cardboard. Actually, you can find those all over, and they started taking off a little bit. They haven’t necessarily in this state, but you can get some great quality wine out of those, actually. It’s a great thing, like you said, for camping, for tailgating, or trying to drink outside somewhere before you go in, so you don’t break the bottle.
Tom: Or to just fake out the law enforcement as you’re walking down the street.
Tom: “Oh, no, officer. It’s a juice box.”
Traci: Exactly. It’s a juice box, so it’s good for that as well.
Tom: Another thing about the presentation — it used to be you didn’t want to have a screw-off top — a screw-on top or screw-off top, you didn’t want that. That just showed that that was a cheap wine — a classless wine, but now screw tops are acceptable. Is that just because cork is at a premium, or is that because people’s attitudes have changed?
Traci: I think it’s a little bit of both. The technical term is the Stelvin closure – just wanted to throw another big word at you.
Tom: There’s not a test, is there?
Traci: I’m quizzing you later. There’ll be a prize. It’s actually not a cheap way to package wine. Everyone thinks that it’s cheap, and it’s really actually not. There are several reasons for doing the Stelvin closure over the cork — not necessarily the cork shortage, but that’s probably part of it. But also, you have fewer possibilities of the wind being tainted, which they call the wind being corked. Some oxygen can get in there. It can be bad cork. There’s several reasons why the wine can be bad. If you have a steel closure, the chances are much, much less than if you have a cork closure.
Tom: What does make a wine go bad?
Traci: Mostly oxygen. Excess oxygen is that, or there can be bad cork. Those are the two biggest ones.
Tom: If I buy a bottle of wine, have it around house for a year or so — just never get around to opening it, and it’s been laying around — I don’t have a wine cellar. Nothing fancy, just a wine rack on the kitchen counter.
Traci: That’s another reason heat. Heat will actually affect that as well, if you don’t store it cool enough. They always say room temperature, which actually means cellar temperature, which is cooler. I personally like to keep mine around 50 degrees. Cabs keep a lot longer than a blend. You don’t want to save a blend. You want to drink the blend right away. Usually your cheaper wines, you want to drink them soon. They just don’t lie down as well.
Tom: I’m not buying the cheap wine for an investment, so let’s drink it now.
Traci: But like an Opus, you could lay that down for years. It would be fine, as long as you saved it out of sunlight and out of the heat.
Tom: What about just in general — I buy it. I have to run a few errands. It’s in the car for a couple of hours on a summer day. Is that going to ruin it?
Traci: You’re generally fine. Do not keep it in there more than a couple of hours, though. I have accidentally done this with a sample bottle that was closed, and it will shoot the cork out. I’ve had it exploded in my trunk, so you do not want to keep it in there for more than two hours at the best.
Tom: You say shoot the cork out.
Traci: Pressure builds up. It will pop the cork through the foil.
Tom: The heat does that.
Traci: That’s the same with cold. You don’t want to keep it in your trunk in the middle of the winter, either.
Tom: If you’ve got wine that you’ve been hauling around, you may not want to keep it around.
Traci: Just drink it right away if it tastes OK.
Tom: One other thing about the cork — I know that often you will smell the cork? What are you smelling for? What are you looking for when you do that?
Traci: You’re looking for the mustiness. If you smell wet newspaper or mustiness like that, then it’s generally a bad bottle. It’s corked. I don’t rely on the cork, and I don’t think you should. Because if they pour you a sample, I think you should swirl it, smell it, take a tiny taste. Usually you can tell that right away. You can tell that much more from the glass then you can from the cork.
Tom: When you sell to the restaurants and the package stores — when you sell the wine, do you ever get calls from people saying, “Hey, you sold me a bunch of corked wine.” Do you take a risk sometimes? By the time you get the wine, you don’t know how long it’s been on the loading dock. You don’t know where it’s been stored, so…
Traci: It mostly happens in the winery, before it even gets to us. It happens, and I do take a risk on that, but I always replace it. I want the end customer to enjoy it. My first priority is that I want people to get to know wine, to get to enjoy wine. If one bottle in the case is bad, I will replace that, because I don’t want anyone drinking a bad wine and thinking bad things about that wine.
Tom: You say enjoy wine — the image is if you are really just enjoying wine, you’re a woman. If you’re having wine — you’re a guy at dinner — I know that’s a gross stereotype, but it’s pretty true, isn’t it?
Traci: That’s a terrible stereotype. I was just drinking wine with a guy two nights ago, and we were not having dinner.
Tom: Was he gay?
Traci: No. He was enjoying a cigar, and I was enjoying my wine. He was enjoying his wine.
Tom: So, that is a…
Traci: That is a stereotype. One of my account owners is a huge wine fan, and he’s a man. He’s married, and he has three kids.
Tom: I, myself — this is my own hang-up here. Maybe I should talk about this in therapy instead of on a podcast. If I’m just going out — and maybe it’s my own personal taste, too, because I’m not the biggest wine fan — I like scotch more, but if I’m out just by myself to order a drink, I wouldn’t order wine. I don’t know if it’s because of a stigma, or if it’s because I don’t care for it as much.
Traci: I know you fairly well, and I think personally that’s probably your tastes, but I don’t think it’s a stigma as much — definitely not anymore. Wine has become so much more acceptable. You see everyone from every race, creed, sexual orientation, whatever, enjoying wine now. Just going out and enjoying wine.
There are so many more wine bars. There’s one downtown where there are lots of men that just go in and have a glass of wine, but there are also lots of people who go in there and enjoy a glass of scotch. It’s all your preference.
Tom: They’re going in there because that’s where they know the women are. That’s why they’re going in there.
Traci: That could be, and it probably works.
Tom: For a guy like me then, I do enjoy the scotch as a drink. Would there be certain kinds of wine that I might find more accessible than I would others?
Traci: You would probably enjoy more Shiraz. Certain Zinfandels as long as they are not too chocolatey. Cabs, Merlot. You would not necessarily — although you seem to be enjoying this one today, you would not necessarily go for the lighter — like the Grenache, the Pinot Noir, the red blends. You would go for the bigger ones — the Shiraz, the zins, the cabs.
Tom: I do like the Shiraz. When I’ve had that, I do like those. What else do I need to know about this?
Traci: Just go out and try different kinds of wine, and you can figure out what you like. Never, ever be afraid to ask anyone any questions. I can think of several wine shops where they are more than happy to tell you about the wines, and several bars. There is no stigma. If you ask a question, the wait-staff is trained, and they are never going to judge you. In fact, they want to educate you about it, because they would like to sell you.
Tom: They want to show off and say, “Hey, I know all these big French words.”
Traci: Exactly. That’s why I spend my time educating them, so they can show off to you.
Tom: As a wine salesperson, do you have to spend a lot of time educating the people that end up selling the wine?
Traci: That’s one of my favorite things to do. I love doing wait-staff trainings, and going in and talking to the weight-staff about it — telling them about the winery and giving them the story, because that helps them sell it. My most favorite part is doing the wine dinners, and talking to the public, and getting to pair up the wine with the food. If I could just do that all day long, that would make me the happiest.
Tom: You talk about the stories. I know that Francis Ford Coppola has a winery?
Traci: Yes, he does.
Tom: Also, Robin William’s brother.
Traci: Yes, Toad Hollow is his winery. I represent that one.
Tom: I’ve had their wine, it’s pretty good stuff.
Traci: It’s good.
Tom: Does that help sell it, if you have a celebrity’s name behind it?
Traci: A lot of times it does. It depends on who you’re talking to. There are certain people who say, “Oh, this person owns it. I must go buy it.” I’m guilty of it. I’ve done it with a certain winery. I went and bought the wine just because I loved the guy, but you get a lot of people that actually want to know more about the grapes. In general, if you have a fun story, people find that more entertaining, and that way they can tell their friends about it as well.
Tom: If you’re having dinner, you can tell them the story about the wine.
Tom: I’ve never been to Napa Valley. That’s on the bucket list. Even though I’m not a wine guy, I think it would just be fun to spend some time there hitting the wineries and stuff like that. What would you say to people that haven’t been, and they’re going to go?
Traci: I would say that, first of all, take a cab when you get there, because you will want to visit more than one spot. It is an absolutely gorgeous region of the country. You go down one block to the next block, and there’s wineries all the way down. You want to be able to visit multiple spots. You get to go to the tasting sites. I would say absolutely go there, in Sonoma. I prefer Sonoma. Napa is a little more touristy.
Tom: When I was in Israel, I did go and visit a winery there. That was pretty interesting. It was also a winery, and also — I don’t know whether you would call it an orchard or not — they also grew olives, so that was fascinating.
Traci: A lot of places in Napa, especially, do that as well. In Sonoma, the Ferrari-Carano does that as well, and bottles their own olive oil. It is absolutely fantastic. It feels like you are in Italy when you’re there. You can’t even tell that you’re in Sonoma anymore on some of these places.
Tom: Have you gone overseas? Have you been to Italy or France?
Traci: I’ve not gotten to yet. That’s on my bucket list.
Tom: What else? This has been great. This has been interesting, because I did learn a little bit about this. One thing I learned is to not be afraid or intimidated by it.
Traci: Never be afraid or intimidated.
Tom: Let me ask you a personal question. You’re going out. You have a date — a first date. The guy’s trying to be the stereotype — the man– and trying to order a wine. You know all about wine. What do you do? Do you just go and…
Traci: Personally, I don’t know the last time a man tried to order the wine when we were on a date.
Tom: “Whatever she wants. Get her whatever she wants.”
Traci: I’m in charge of the wine. I let him be in charge of the food. I won’t even let him anymore.
Tom: Not a lot of pressure because you pick the wine first. You pick the food ticket with the wine. Pressure!
Traci: I think there’s been one or two guys I’ve gone out within the past few years that have known about wine enough for me to let them. OK, I guess I am a wine snob.
Tom: And there you have another episode of TomBecka.com, where everyone’s exceptional. Everyone has a story to tell, and this one was a little educational for me. A lot of these stories — they can be educational, motivational, inspirational, or some other -ational. This one was educational. I learned a little bit. I will not be as intimidated now the next time I have to order wine.
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