He�s your largest customer

My Wine Epiphany


Robert Mondavi 1987 Reserve Cabernet $100, bought in February 1992

He’s your largest customer…

That line kept going around in circles in my head as the sommelier turned from our table and walked away. Here I am with my father/mentor and good friend/biggest customer trying to enjoy myself and all I can think of is that bottle of wine he just ordered was over $100.00!

The setting was perfect. I was in Florida in February 1992 while there is a snowstorm back home in Ohio. I am spending quality time with my dad who has lived here now for the past several years, I played golf the last two days with Mike whose family owned several independent retail grocery stores and my biggest customer as ranked by dollar purchases and we are dining at this great restaurant called Explorers at the PGA National in Palm Beach.

I wondered if Mike noticed my squirming when my dad asked him to order wine for the table. I knew Mike had a taste for fine, expensive wines, but my dad and I are just beer drinkers. I had no idea who Robert Mondavi was, how to spell Cabernet Sauvignon or where Napa was on map, but that bottle that arrived at our table had all three of those on the label, along with the word “Reserve.” Mike had insisted this was “a huge vintage… 1987… that was good juice.” I can still hear those words today, but that juice was going to cost as much as all three of our meals or more.

Mike looked very comfortable drinking his “juice,” smelling, gazing, swirling and sipping; almost sophisticated for a grocery store owner. Heck, yes I was going to try this wine, but mostly out of spite rather than attempting to mimic the style points he was generously tossing down in front of my dad. To this date, my experience with wine was limited to bottles with wicker as I was brought up in an Italian neighborhood and we would try to sneak a drink of wine occasionally when the grown ups where not watching… and I hated the taste, but enjoyed the thrill of getting away with a sip. “Okay, this is a red from wine country in California made by a very good producer” was Mike’s comments as the waiter poured some of the contents into what I thought was a pretentiously large wine glass. Rather than mock my friend by going through the pre-drinking ritual he displayed, I just swallowed a medium sized gulp. Hmm, not too bad, actually it was fairly pleasing. Not at all what I had expected, it was smooth with an enjoyable trait I was told was “full-bodied.” I really had no idea how good a bottle of wine I was drinking, just how expensive it was, but by the time the bottom of that bottle was exposed, I was hooked. I cannot recall what I had to eat, what my golf scores were or what business was discussed that eventful night, but I will never forget the wine: Robert Mondavi 1987 Reserve Cabernet. It was truly my wine epiphany!

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