Let me tell you about the time I had the opportunity to taste a priceless bottle of 1975 Château Mouton Rothschild, with a label designed by none other than Andy Warhol.
Several years ago, when I was just getting started in the wine business, I was hired for a part-time job at BLM Wines & Spirits in Allston, MA.
Just getting out of an unemployment slump, I was dead broke and eager to impress my new employers.
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I showed up to work 15 minutes early, dressed for success and ready for any challenge they were willing to throw at me.
First task, stock shelves. Second task, consolidate the back room. Done and done.
Third task, dust off the old bottles in the Rare Vintage Room and adjust pricing with 4 percent increase for the new year.
Why they would trust the new guy to handle such valuable inventory, I will never know.
The Rare Room was impressive. Imagine a temperature and humidity controlled 10 x 10 room filled wall to wall, from floor to ceiling with rare and exotic wines, some vintages dating as far back to the early twentieth century!
I knew that these bottles were extremely valuable and completely irreplaceable. It was like being in a museum. No cameras and please leave your backpacks and pocketbooks outside.
Dusting the bottles, with my trusty swiffer, I took my time and was very careful when handling each one. All of which were in mint condition.
And then there it was, a Château Mouton Rothschild, one of the most marvelous wines in France and a glorious blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot. Appropriately, the bottles for each vintage of this First Growth Bordeaux have been adorned with labels illustrated by the world’s greatest artists since 1945. Since my parents collect art, I immediately recognized the 1975 Warhol.
Excited to impress my manager Roger with my knowledge, I brought the bottle over to his desk and started a dialogue.
As a joke, I asked if we could taste the bottle. To which he replied, “only if you have $1,125!” We both had a good laugh and I walked back to put it away.
I liked Roger. He was a nice man in his mid-sixties and had been with the company for over 39 years. He looked like a short and skinny Santa Claus, white hair, beard, wore scratched up lenses and always dressed like a librarian.
As I returned to my chores and was reaching toward the top shelf to put Warhol back where I found it, Roger walked in, the bottle slipped out of my hands and crashed to the floor, spilling broken glass and wine all over each label below it.
I was horrified. We both were! Roger and I both stared at each other, mouths agape, paralyzed in disbelief of what had just happened.
Before I could even say “FUCK!!!” — which I most definitely did, twice — he rushed over to salvage the remaining bottles, running them back and forth to the sink to remove as much wine and broken glass as he could from the labels before the stains set in and devalued the inventory.
Luckily, we were able to salvage the rest of the display, but the Warhol was toast. All that remained was a couple sips worth at the bottom of the half shattered bottle. It was a sad moment in wine history. I was devastated and knew my career at BLM was to be short lived.
After we cleaned up the mess, Roger approached me, sat me down and explained the severity of the situation. Then he pulled out a coffee filter and decanted the remaining contents of the broken bottle.
“Looks like you can use a drink,” he said, offering me some of the remaining contents of the bottle. “Am I going to get fired?” I asked.
“Absolutely not,” he protested, claiming that he bought that bottle back in 1975 for $108 a case. “Accidents happen. Besides, we’re insured. Keep up the good work.”
As we shared the wine, I knew that I would never forget that day as long as I live.
So the moral of the story is simple. Try not to break priceless merchandise at your job, especially if you’re still the new guy, because if your manager isn’t as forgiving as Roger, you’ll probably get fired on the spot.
David Blum is an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the consulting chef at In Vino, an Italian restaurant and wine bar in New York City.