I’m beginning to believe that it will take me 40 years — at least — to truly learn wine, and since I’ve only been drinking wine seriously for about 20 years, I have some time left, and some serious work to do. The good thing about owning a wine store, though, is that part of my job is learning.
It may sound odd, but I know very little about wine. I’ve never referred to myself as a “somm”; I’m still not convinced that a $40 Chablis is better than a $14 Aligote; I love to drink a chilled bottle of zinfandel and as an apertif (and I remember when it used to be called red zinfandel, back when white zinfandel was still popular).
The truth is that I opened a wine store because I was a frustrated new parent that wanted so badly to buy a bottle of wine that I enjoyed drinking. I knew enough about wine to know there was something better out there than the Rosemont Shiraz being sold at the store on my corner. And whatever that something better was, I wanted it.
True to form, I decided to learn on the job — I opened a wine store in Long Island City on a dark and mostly desolate stretch of Jackson Avenue that I was convinced would one day be a great boulevard (it still hasn’t quite made it). So you can only imagine my fear/irritation/surprise when an older man in spandex shorts and clip-on bike shoes came in one evening and began a barrage of questions about the inventory, who I was and what I was doing. I felt simultaneously put on the spot and ready to call the cops until he finally admitted that he was a wine importer and that he wanted to sell me some wine. A perfect, sweaty, uncomfortable introduction to Joe Dressner. (Not that Joe sold the wine — luckily he had young showered sales reps to do that.)
Apparently I was on Joe’s route from work to home and he biked past the neon blinking VINE sign (thank you to Sean Krainik of redandwhitewines.com for pushing me to get it) enough times to want to check me out. For a while, Joe took to stopping in and chatting on his way home for a few minutes and he did in fact drag in one of his sales reps. And he didn’t care how unlikely it was that I would ever sell more than a case of his Rucche. His book is full of quirky wines that are often very difficult to sell. But the reason you buy his wines is that you like them because they’re full of life. It’s like the difference between eggs from a farmer’s market and eggs at C Town. Joe liked what I was doing. And I knew I’d met a kindred spirit who cared more about your expression as you tasted a wine than what you said about it.
I could tell myriad of other Joe stories, including the time when I showed up at a Louis/Dressner tasting with my then-4-year-old (who had been bribed with a My Little Pony castle to come with me). I had forgotten to RSVP and was very nearly turned away because I didn’t have a business card, until Joe swooped in and, with his most welcoming side, showed me in and right to a bottle of red that he liked — and that I liked too. (Meanwhile, my daughter played happily in the corner of the room for the next hour while I power tasted.) Months later, Joe and I had a very public accidental-on-purpose falling out and I stopped carrying his wines for years. When I moved the store to Brooklyn, however, I called him. We talked about the ridiculousness of it all and his much-missed wines made their way back into Vine.
What makes me saddest when I think about Joe’s passing is that he knew everything about wine, but more importantly he loved wine. And in a weird way, there are moments when I taste a Dressner wine and I get the feeling that I’m understanding it — and loving it — in the same way that Joe tasted and understood and loved wine. It’s not because of vast knowledge or experience — it’s because the wine is delicious in the glass. You can ascribe any of the words that people love — natural, biodynamic, etc. — to why those wines are so good; the real reason is that they are damn good to drink. Joe, wherever you ended up, I hope the wine is delicious and inspiring. Thank you for believing in me and my tiny shop in LIC.
Monday - Thursday: 12-10
Friday - Saturday: 12-11
Join our mailing list
Wednesday, May 22, 6-9pm: Provencal Wines from VOS
Wednesday, May 29, 6-9pm: Selections from Indie Wineries
Wednesday, June 5, 6-9pm: Selections from Savio Soares
Wednesday, June 12, 6-9pm: Oregon Wines from MFW
Wednesday, June 19, 6-9pm: French Wines from Selection Massale
Wednesday, June 26, 6-9pm: Selections from Polaner
- No public Twitter messages.