The Time I Tasted 150 Wines…Y’know, For Work

By Dave Schavone

The day to day of getting a wine company off the ground is not-at-all-glamorous work, mostly involving financing and logistics. None of this is exciting. In fact, the two primary tasks are 1) staring at spreadsheets, and 2) staring at government websites. Both tasks have the same goal: make sense of things that are not wine and that most certainly are designed for the specific purpose of confusing well-meaning entrepreneurs.

BUT, then the first sourcing trip comes along, and with it, a glorious mind erasing that makes all the frustration and aggravation suddenly seem worth it.

“Sourcing” is the industry term for tasting a bunch of wine to decide which ones you import. At its worst, sourcing involves several days of tasting a whole lot of wine, ranging in quality from terrible to amazing. This is never a bad way to spend a few days of “work”. At its best, however, sourcing involves traveling to the source (and as far as wine is concerned, is that ever a bad thing?).

For Diego and me, our maiden sourcing voyage took us to France and Spain. There was light sightseeing, heavy drinking, several amazing meals, ample blasting of Rush in our rented convertible, our middle-aged hair blown back into bouffants, and a sheepish returning of said rented convertible with a sizable scratch.

But, most of all, there was an awful lot of wine.

Day 1: We met at our French negotiant’s office (a negotiant is sort of like a sourcing specialist in a given region, in this case Southwest France). We tasted 25 wines or so, a respectable start, considering the jet lag. Some were good, some were not, but none were exactly what we were searching for.

Day 2: We drove toward the Spanish border to visit a couple of natural wine producers and taste another 20-25 wines. Some from a classic French farmhouse, and some from a surfer making crazy small batch wines in a garage by the sea. These people are making truly special wines, and we hope to work with them in the coming years… but for reasons that had nothing to do with wine they weren’t the right fit.

Then came Day 3. We met our Spanish wine broker, Jordi, at a swanky resort in Peralada, Spain. After a nice night’s sleep and a sensible breakfast, we entered a banquet room to see 100+ wines arranged on multiple tables. At 10:00 AM. There were two of us. I can’t lie: I was terrified.

Our host offered quick overview of the wines in front of us–regions, producers, styles–and then we dug in. These tastings all follow a pretty standard format, and the wines are presented in a specific order: first whites, from lighter to more robust, then rosés and reds in the same manner. As tasters we were poured a couple ounces of each wine and given some basic info (varietal, producer, quantity available, price, etc).

Out of the gate we were very professional, taking notes and asking intelligent questions like “Can I have some more of that one?” or “What do you mean there are still 60 wines to go?”. As a sommelier, Diego’s palate is much more refined than mine–no question–but I felt like I held my own through the first 40 or so.

It was after 40 bottles that the wines began to blur together. By the time started on the reds (somewhere around bottle 60), the wines tasted like wine and my notes read something like “good”, “pretty good”, and “muy delicioso”, or at least that’s what I imagine they said. (I can’t read them.)

We clocked three hours in our Spanish wine marathon. Somehow, despite the sheer number of bottles introduced, we identified our perfect three wines. I needed bread and possibly a wheelchair, and I wasn’t sure in what order….but by god we had accomplished our goal! Licensing or financing or logistics aside, we knew finding just the right wines–our needles in a haystack–would be the hardest part of this whole thing. With that hurdle cleared, the road ahead was looking a lot smoother (until, of course, we arrived at the rental car return office the next day).