Picture this: It’s 4:59 p.m. and you’re counting down those last 60 seconds until freedom. You’re pretending to finish whatever “document” you’re working on, but in reality, your mind has already drifted to the shelf of your local wine shop, fantasizing about which bottle will be the lucky winner to come home with you tonight. Your head can’t shake the thought of savory Sauvignon Blancs, but what about a crisp Pinot Grigio? You resolve to decide at the wine shop. You run — er, briskly walk — to the door of your local wine shop, ready to receive all that it has to offer, and that’s when you see that face behind the register. All of your excitement is instantly drained from your being at the sight of that face. Your erstwhile anticipation is instantly replaced with fear, intimidation, and a slight side of shame. It’s 5:10 p.m. and there you are, face to face with your arch nemesis: the wine shop clerk.
Because they’re totally judging you, right? “You’re only going to spend that much on a bottle?” they are surely thinking. “Of course you are, considering you get the same bottle every night. You’re so cheap,” they are obviously thinking behind that smile. “So unadventurous. So boring. Excuse me while I cringe. In fact, I’ll just stand here slurping on my Cru Beaujolais and let you bag your mass-produced white wine selection yourself. Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be sure not to hit you with my spit as I vacate this organic, biodynamically produced juice out of my mouth.”
But what if we told you you were wrong?
What if we told you that, believe it or not, these intimidating, wine-slurping snobs are actually your friends, your best friends? What if we told you that when going into battle against the terrifying specter of an American wine store selection, the wine store clerk is actually the samurai you want to take with into the fray?
We know what you’re thinking: That just can’t be true. But hear us out.
Unlike in many other industries, most wine shop clerks have sought out their jobs and chosen to be there. In other words, they actually like what they do — including helping customers of all shapes and palates. Within the wine industry, there are many career paths a person can choose from. From sommeliers to wine publicists, from sales representatives to writers, there’s really a job out there for every personality type. The fact that your wine shop clerk has chosen to put themselves in that position means they actually want to be in that sector of the field. In other words, your wine shop clerk wants to help you.
In fact, they’re dying for you to ask for their help. Most wine shop clerks have curated the selection themselves, or at least a portion of it. The fact that they took part in the decision-making process means there’s some reason as to why that bottle you’re looking at is on the shelf. This also means that your wine shop clerk is familiar with all these bottles. When is the last time you were an expert in a field and didn’t want someone to ask you to talk about it? When is the last time you spent time curating a collection of something and didn’t want to tell someone about all the tastes and palates and price ranges you were accommodating with your choices?
Consumers tend to ask wine professionals all the time, “How will I know if I’ll like this Sauvignon Blanc?” The only real way to know what something is going to taste like is to have actually tasted it, which your wine shop clerk most likely has. So they actually have the answers to these brooding questions that fill your mind. Your shop clerks are sitting upon a wealth of knowledge regarding all these bottles you’re curious about, just waiting for someone to ask them about it.
That said, your wine shop clerk isn’t going to bombard you with information unless you ask them for it. In fact, many wine shop clerks are worried about making you uncomfortable. They’re in customer service. They have zero desire to disrupt your already-too-long day by unloading unwanted vintage descriptions or general grape varietal characteristics on you, especially if you already know what you want.
So there you both stand, one with a plethora of questions, the other hanging around with all the answers. But because you are convinced you’re being judged, you never ask, and both of you leave the situation dissatisfied at not having shared what’s on your minds.
But there’s a simple solution. Just take the first step and ask. Ask away! Ask your wine shop clerk anything you want. Hell, ask them what they had for breakfast if you really don’t know what to ask. I’m sure wine will somehow find its way into their answer.