The letters on my keyboard are rubbed out from typing this confession yet again: I am not a people person. I sit here, alone, facing the fact that I have never had a job in which I dealt directly with the public.
I am a word nerd with clumsy hands. You would not want me pouring hot coffee on an airplane, seasoning your roasted red-curry chicken at Thai Pepper or taking your order at a drive-through anything.
So from my padded seat in front of my computer, I pay ultimate respect to those who do. I especially applaud the knowledgeable people who pour wine behind the bar at tasting rooms.
Once, after watching Sandra Oh play a smart, passionate, tasting-room employee in the comedy-drama "Sideways," I fantasized about working in a tasting room. As if Bacchus himself could read my mind, I was invited to jump the bar.
"I can teach anyone how to work in a tasting room in minutes," brags Jeff Wiesinger to a table full of disinterested women sipping Twisted Sisters rose at Calcareous Vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif. No takers. Then he turns to me, a stranger staying in the city that night. "You interested?" he asks. "I can get you temp work this weekend."
Wiesinger, who runs Central Coast Wine Temps, says all I really needed to do is pour 1 ounce of wine and answer patrons' questions by reading the wine label.
He is so wrong. These pourers are the power behind wineries where tasting-room and wine-club sales are the biggest sources of income.
"It looks like it's fun work, and it is to a point," says Craig Root, a U.C. Davis lecturer and consultant invited by the Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association to give a daylong seminar on tasting-room tips March 6. "But it's more than pouring wine. A machine can pour wine."
Good tasting-room staffers know the names and preferences of regulars, get newbies charged up enough to commit to wine-club shipments, book musicians for concerts and haul 30-pound cases of wine from storage rooms to buyers' cars. All the while, they are charming — the people customers want to see again.
Thankfully, I never took the temp tasker up on his offer. Instead, I asked to shadow Brenda Walden Pine, who manages one of Oregon's busiest tasting rooms, RoxyAnn Winery in Medford. She and her crew work all but three days a year.
"You have to be a good multitasker," Brenda tells me on a Saturday afternoon as I look over her domain: a converted century-old barn with a two-sided bar, demonstration kitchen and tables with Rogue Valley products for sale.
After standing there, slack-jawed and not helping in any way for an hour, I am exhausted. Brenda, however, continues to crisscross the space, smiling like Goldie Hawn, pouring, selling and peeling off her signature hahahahahahaha laugh.
While I watch, she presents the tasting menu — five wines for $5 — to a foursome settling in at the 16-foot-long bar, then swivels around to ask a group of grad students if they were ready to try the 2008 Syrah ($30 a bottle). A woman nearby says she hasn't tried the syrah yet. "It's in your glass," counters Brenda. They both throw back their heads and hahahahahahaha.
Brenda then calls out, "Thank you for coming, Captain!" to a man in a Greek fisherman's cap who wandered in for a glass of 2010 Pinot Gris and left with two $16.50 bottles. After waving goodbye, her hand swoops up to a rack above her head and brings down two wine glasses for a vacationing Los Angeles couple. Shy at first, they loosen up chitchatting with Brenda about Oregon's rain and wine reputation.
Many RoxyAnn customers use the tasting room as an extension of their nearby homes. Jeannie Garvin of Medford comes in to buy petite sirah, port-style dessert wine ($24) and fresh-baked bread. Brenda places some dough in an oven and, when the loaf is ready, swaddles it in brown paper and secures it with natural twine.
"You look familiar," she says to a 30-something man who asks to buy a bottle of 2007 Merlot ($26). She sets up tasting glasses for him and his parents, swipes his credit card, scans the bottle, bags it and tells him it was good he previously had bought the 2007 Tempranillo before it sold out. His parents look impressed.
After their first taste, the couple from Los Angeles ask to buy glasses of 2009 Viognier ($20), and they move to a quiet corner. "Some couples come for a date night," says Brenda, before delivering a cheese platter to a cluster of women chatting away their worries over a bottle of 2008 Claret ($26). "This is a safe place for women, too. It's not a bar atmosphere, and men aren't hitting on them. Some of us girls just want to have wine and a good time, you know? Hahahahahahaha."
EVENT: Lena Varner and David Traul of Ledger David Cellars are hosting intimate wine dinners at their European-style tasting room in Central Point. A few weeks ago, I attended a crab-centric meal paired with wine made from chenin blanc grapes grown in France and the couple's 15-acre vineyard in Talent. The theme for the Jan. 28 dinner ($50) is Spain, with five courses of tapas, barrel tasting of the 2010 Reserve Tempranillo and flamenco music by Grant Ruiz. Wednesday through Sunday, the tasting room offers 2010 Sangiovese Rose ($18), 2009 Princeps Chenin Blanc ($20) and 2010 Primoris Chenin Blanc ($20) with Rogue Creamery lavender cheddar cheese and Lillie Belle Farms chocolate. Soup from Pomodori Ristorante and live music are highlights on Friday nights. Contact 541-664-2218 or www.ledgerdavid.com.
TASTED: The judges of the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition smiled upon Oregon, awarding gold or better medals to some of my favorites: Del Rio Vineyards 2010 Viognier ($20), Pebblestone Cellars 2008 Syrah ($24), Schmidt Family Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel ($32), William Augustus 2010 Viognier-Marsanne ($16) and Cuckoo's Nest Cellars 2010 Pinot Gris ($15). I have yet to try the bronze-winning 2010 Pinot Noir ($22) from new winery Deer Creek Vineyards. Owner Katherine Bryan says the wine is available at her Selma tasting room (www.deercreekvineyards.com), Harry & David Country Village in Medford and Cartwright's in Grants Pass. For a complete list of winners, go to www.winejudging.com.
Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.