Rain pelted the cobble stone streets which surrounded the train station. Although illegally parked, I expected the winemaker to exit the building at any second. A trim man with salt and pepper hair walked through the grand doorway and scanned the area. Rolling down the window, I waved briskly. The back door opened and a suitcase landed with a thud. “Hi, I’m Doug,” the man said as he settled into the passenger seat. Doug Margerum, a dashing figure in the wine industry, was in town to help promote his wines. As the owner of a boutique winery and restaurant in Santa Barbara, California, Doug lives the lifestyle that HGTV viewers dream about. I shook Doug’s hand and felt a rush of excitement. My employer, David Bowler Wine, had recently added his winery, Margerum Wine Company, to its portfolio and several top customers had agreed to meet with us. I anticipated a memorable day.
Just around the corner was the best wine shop in Hoboken, a bustling town located across the river from Manhattan. The buyer at the store was a longtime veteran of the industry. For nearly a decade, he had been the Sales Manager for one of the most prestigious wholesalers in the state and he was one of those men who had seen it all two times over. Doug and I waited by the register as the clerk called up to office that overlooked the sales floor. I wandered over to the nearest aisle and began turning the bottles around to check the importers. It is always good to know which of your competitors are hogging the shelf space. “You can go up now,” the clerk stated. We walked past the beer cooler and into the storage room. A staircase led up to the office.
“Welcome,” the buyer said, slightly turning his head back towards us. “Have a seat and I will be right with you.” He was a large man, both in size and personality, who claims to have once been a male model. Everyone who has been in the industry for more than a couple years knew the name John Bruno. We settled uncomfortably into the hard plastic chairs. I dug through my binder to find the sheet listing the wines that we had brought to taste. John turned, and with a large smile introduced himself to Doug. The two men exchanged the names of California winemakers that they knew in common and I pulled the bottles out of my bag. The wines were showing well and John was clearly excited. He raved about their quality and stated that they were better than the crap the previous supplier had shown him. After tasting the most limited and expensive wine, John asked how many cases we had in-stock. The quality was so good that he would like to feature the wine on the store website. I responded that it was not released yet and I turned to Doug for confirmation. After a pause, Doug looked up at John.
“I was not going to mention this, but I dumped Bowler this morning.” John’s eyes widened as he stared at Doug. “There is no point in keeping it a secret,” he continued. “Bowler has a great book, but all they care about is European wines. None of them even drink my wine.” John’s expression was that of a man who was watching a train wreck unfold. “I told them this morning that I was pulling the wines, but we both agreed that I should go out today and try to sell what they have in-stock. You will be able to get this wine from the next distributor. Speaking of that, do you have any suggestions?” John stammered through the names of a couple companies. I got up to use the restroom. Once down the stairs, I called the office.
“Doug just told my buyer that he dumped us this morning!” I yelled.
“He did what?” responded the California brand manager. “He was not supposed to do that.”
“You knew about this?”
“Yes, he walked in this morning and started complaining that no one in the company drinks his wines, which for the record, I do, occasionally.” the manager replied.
“What am I supposed to do with him?” I responded. “He is asking the buyer which other distributors he should go with.”
“He is doing what?” the manager asked, his voice nearly cracking. “You have more appointments today, right?”
“Well, we have wine to sell, just take him to those customers,” the manager instructed. I climbed back up the stairs. John’s large body looked more uncomfortable than usual in the modest chair. Doug continued to rant that no one at Bowler drinks his wines. I packed up the bottles and thanked John for the meeting. We walked in silence through the pellets of rain to the car.
“Sorry to spring that on you,” Doug said as we pulled out of the parking garage. “Well, we might as well have a productive day.” The last time I felt this awkward was when I found my prom date hooking up with another guy at the after party. Since I did not have a car, I had to stay and watch the two of them snuggle on a couch while I slept on the floor. Just like then, I did not have an escape route from the situation. We headed down the Jersey Turnpike towards New Brunswick for an appointment and lunch at a hip restaurant. Doug complimented me for doing a great job selling his wines, but he barked that no one else in the company cared. In truth, the wines are not easy to sell. Expensive Syrah based wines from California have little demand. Doug ordered a flight of wine for each of us as we sat down at the table. “I guess this is our breakup lunch,” he said raising a glass. I never imagined that I would be having a ‘breakup lunch’ with someone named Doug. The wine buyer had to leave the restaurant for an emergency, so we did not taste with anyone. That was the only bright spot of the day.
Our next appointment was at a high end restaurant down the street called Stage Left. The manager of the establishment did most of the ordering, but the owner held the real buying power. Unfortunately, I rarely obtained face time with the owner. “Good news,” the manager announced from behind the bar. “Francis will be joining us today.” I tried to generate a wide grin, but I am sure that it appeared strained. Francis walked in from the kitchen and we settled in at a large table. There was only one white wine to sample, a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.
“Wow,” Francis exclaimed. “This is the best domestic Sauvignon I have ever tasted!” Doug glowed in the praise. Upon tasting the first red, Francis declared, “This wine is spectacular!” This was repeated for each wine. At the end of the meeting, Francis asked Doug if he would be in town anytime that spring. Doug responded that he would most likely be back in a couple months. “Great, let’s do a wine dinner.” Francis turned to me. ”You have finally scored big here. We are going to sell a ton of these wines.” I am not sure why, but Doug spared them his dumping Bowler speech.
“That’s perfect,” Doug stated in a triumphant tone as he buckled the seatbelt. “I will probably need to be back in town in a couple months to look for a new distributor.” Our last meeting was a half hour drive north, but the rain intensified and it took twice as long. I was tempted to turn on the radio and drown out the complaints. In a fitting finish to the day, the last buyer, who is usually picky, loved the wines and wanted to feature them the following month. After soaking up the praise, Doug announced that he had dumped Bowler because no one in the company drank his wine. The buyer, who is a friend, looked uncomfortable as my star winemaker inquired about other distributors. I paced around the back of the store and tried to avoid the conversation.
The traffic was bumper to bumper as we drove back to the train station and Doug grew testy. “Every restaurant has a Sauvignon Blanc on their list,” he said in agitated tone. “You guys should have sold palates of my wine each month.”
“Doug,” I responded. “Your Sauvignon is pretty expensive and all the restaurants carry the same crappy, generic Sauvignon.”
“That is not true,” Doug snapped. That was the end of the conversation. The dashing man hopped out of the car and headed for the train platform. I merged back on the Turnpike and headed south. This would be the last time that anyone from David Bowler Wine would see Doug Margerum. Ironically, I never again spotted his wines in the market. As I walked through the garage door, my wife asked me about the day. I had little appetite to discuss. Desperate for a drink, I headed down the basement stairs towards the wine cellar. Buried under some random samples was a bottle of Margerum “M5.” The vintage was written out in the most pretentious fashion possible, “Two Thousand Four.” I took the bottle upstairs, pulled the cork, and dumped it down the drain.