Smithsonian & The Mysterious Fourth Floor

There is a science to selling. In fact there have been many books released on this very topic. I have read a few; all filled with great information about consumers, showroom displays, and mindset. When I was in the retail business, I used a few things I learned as far as making displays and signage are concerned, but many other things I tended to just disregard because I’ve always had a belief in having genuine kindness, thoughtful approach, and honesty with customers and friends worked best for me. Being in the wine business for the majority of my working career, I have been invited to attend a lot of cool events and dinners. While living in Virginia, I received an invitation to a wine tasting set up by the Rhone Rangers out of California who are dedicated to the advancement of Rhone varietals in California. This was a two part event and the latter was a tasting at a high end DC restaurant of some fantastic California vineyards specializing in Rhone grapes. The first part was a lecture and demonstration with Mr. George Riedel himself at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Now if you live in Northern Virginia (NOVA), you know the traffic is only slightly better than having a deadly disease or being on a plane 30,000 feet high when the engines give out. It isn’t fun at any time of the day. To make the 20 mile trek into the Washington DC was always a question of “do I really want to give up most of my day for XYZ, or stay home?” Only three things really got me to head down town and they were tickets to see the Washington Capitals play, when relatives were in town and wanted to see the sites, or when there was a really good offer to go eat at an amazing restaurant. Everything else, pretty much got the brushed off. The lecture with George Riedel started at 1pm and it was on a Wednesday. I typically took off on Wednesdays, so I decided to go and see what the hype was about. My friend Paul was with me, another wine geek and business lifer. We knew we were going to get a set of Riedel glasses out of it, so that was a plus. We arrived at the museum, which in case you didn’t know, has free admission and always packed with tourist. I had been there before with guests from out of town. We asked the front desk clerk where to go and she sent us through a maze of galleries to a back elevator. The instructions seemed easy enough, but walking through a museum isn’t easy when your attention is constantly being pulled from side to side to look at neat exhibits and awkward tourists. We found the elevator only because we began to follow another group of people who looked like they were only putting up with the crowds for free Riedel glasses like us. We made it to the elevator. Our directive was to head to the fourth floor. Well, that would have been fine but the elevator buttons only went to three. We went up to three and got off and looked around. There was nothing going on, just offices. Finally, we asked for help and a man said, “Floor four? Why do you need to get there?” he questioned like we were trying to break into the CIA. “You’re not allowed up there,” he said. Then he paused then laughed and said, “C’mon I’ll take you there.” Irritated, we followed him back onto the elevator we just got on and instead of pressing the button for three, he pressed three and held it down until the elevator began to rise past all indicated lights and buttons on the elevator panel. That would have been a nice piece of information to have Front Desk clerk! Finally we had arrived to a large classroom and there was already about 50 – 75 people seated and packets of information and glasses set out in front.

The lecture began with some a welcoming and a housekeeping statement from some nameless folks who probably aren’t paid enough to do all the leg work for events like this one. George began to speak and he was interesting, but only for a while. I’ll freely admit that I lost track of his lecture about ten minutes in. Maybe it was the strain of getting into the DC, or my wasted attention span at the downstairs exhibits, but I tried, I really did. After about 25 minutes of speaking, his henchmen began to pour wines into the four glasses in front of us. They had set out for each of us one each Riedel Vinum Series Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir glass. We tasted four wines. The first wine we were poured was a chardonnay and it was poured into all four glasses to do comparisons. We did this four times each with a proper wine for each glass and we tasted through them individually and as a group, then took polls (by raise of hand) as to which glass everyone preferred each wine out of. For the most part, the majority of the group of seasoned wine professionals sided with the proper glass. With 100% honest, I will tell you that I couldn’t truly taste too much of a difference between the Cabernet, Syrah, and Chard glasses. They were also, very similar in shape, just different size bowls. The Pinot Noir glass was the only different one with a tulip/flared lip. This design was meant to let the wine attack your whole palate at once instead of a direct pour to the center of your tongue. George was a fantastic salesman. He was promoting the craftsmen and scientific design out of his glassware like no other. Think about it, if he could sell us, the professionals, on his product, then we could promote it to our customers in wine shops and restaurants. It made sense to me and based on the comments I was hearing from the group, they had bought it. We were given boxes for each of the glasses we tasted from and a bag and were allowed to keep each one to use at home. I currently have three of them. My chardonnay glass became a casualty of war with the floor one evening when my wife and I had a large group of friends over who all brought a large group of wines. I mainly use the Pinot Noir glass, because I did notice a difference and really thought it opens the bright bouquet of each wine I pour in it. I am a bouquet guy; I love the smells of wine.

Though, I really am neither here nor there on specifically designed varietal wine glasses, I won’t badmouth the product. They are nice glasses and if you can afford them, they look great. I use the Pinot Noir glass. It works for me. The others were misses, but may be great for you. I appreciate the salesmanship George Riedel gave when going through the tasting and he was able to draw my attention back into the game that afternoon. Paul and I left for the large tasting of California wines and before we knew it, it was zero hour to hell traffic leaving the city. If we left before the tasting we would have been okay getting back, but now the hour travel time just turned into two and half hours on a crowded metro with expensive wine glasses and a head coming on. Sigh.