The Eight Foot Wine Story


A lot of wine is pitched from an eight-foot table.  Even some of the most highly sought-after wines of Napa Valley and California will end up being presented at an 8ft. table at some point.  The off-site tasting venue might be grander and the crowd smaller, but when it happens, the eight-foot table is still that great leveler of the wine business. (Never stoop to a loser six-foot table.) The reasons why you accept this dip into the muddy mercantile waters may be many: money, status, relationship, even desperation.  However, when it happens, you leave the ivory tower where you control everything and end up peddling your wares like you were a carpet dealer at some dusty, sweaty souk. 

In my former life as a winery GM, I avoided participating in these offsite tastings because it meant stripping down and casting off all the home game advantages that elevated your identity and brand.  What was left was a pleading bench of 8 feet, a few bottles of wine, a flower arrangement, the inevitable 3 Liter, a photo of the winery, and a few order forms.  Then came the hordes of starlings with their beaks open, deciding whether to bestow their love on you or not. 

If it had to be done, the exciting part was rising to the challenge.  Stabbing out in various directions attempting to pierce the veil between us and them. Finding a way to encapsulate everything you do in a phrase that could be shouted across the divide.  Some poetic line to forever connect the taster to the quality of what you just poured.  Mastering the one-minute relationship is a whole different kind of thing from the seated love fest that you can have at your high-end winery. 

Very few do it really well.  Most try and say and convey too much.  Have you ever stood on the other side as a taster at one of these cacophonies? Do that then think about your pitch. You hear:  Something, something, “ 2016…” some vineyard name “Cabernet Sauvignon with…”  then a mumble and “2nd of October…” followed by something incoherent then “32% new oak,” with another mumble, concluding with “…and Petit Verdot.”  You nod thoughtfully while not admitting you only heard one word in five of what was said.

I remember working with winemaker Andy Smith at a few of these events.  I liked his “come to the mountain” style.  He’d pour the wine, state what it was, and make no attempt to say any more.  No quips, no tag lines, no scores…  If the taster had something intelligent to ask as a follow up, he’d engage and answer.  Otherwise you didn’t know you were talking to the man who made the wine.

The other approach I watched in admiration was the dementia stance.  It was at a very high-end tasting.  There was an impeccably dressed wine host from an iconic Napa Valley winery who had perfected his slightly bemused countenance.  It was as if he was The Duke of Edinburgh and had somehow awoken to find himself among the populace on public transport. His face said, “I’m pouring for you now, but I don’t really know how this came to happen.”

What prompted this rumination was a brief encounter with a master of the eight-foot art. I was at the impressive Grand Cru custom crush facility in Windsor in Sonoma Valley for an open house for most of the producers who make wines there. Donald Patz is a seasoned hand in the wine world, but I don’t know him personally.  He poured me a tasty single block Chardonnay from a very respected Sonoma County grower.  “I pay more for this fruit than any others I buy.”  Ha! Immediately he has your interest piqued, and potential quality and credibility is established.  By using “I” he also gently established his personal authority.  “The fruit is from right outside the grower’s old family home.”  With that he anchored a sense of place and why the wine might have emotional value.  “Their old Mom watches the vineyard guys out the window. If she doesn’t like the way they are pruning the vines, she goes out there to correct them.”  The succinct pitch ended with a nice compact story flourish that was memorable.  It was a great example of the eight-foot story.


VINFABULA – “Improve your performance with a story audit of your business from a fresh perspective. Then profit from selecting, aligning, and telling the right stories, powerfully.