Confessions of a Sommelier

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The following story is true, as told to Kevin Chesley by a sommelier who wishes to remain anonymous. All names have been changed to protect the somm, the winery, and definitely the wine-tasting Mormons involved…

The RV was the first vehicle I had ever seen obey the 5MPH speed limit sign on the long rustic drive that leads up to the winery’s main house. I had often joked about the sign to the owners, who had no idea where it had come from, “I didn’t even know 5 could be a speed limit. Isn’t that just a sign saying you should be walking instead?”

I had seen town cars and police officers alike take that straightaway at what seemed like ninety to a hundred miles an hour. Because you could. There was nothing else around. Yet there it was out there… a lumbering beige camper moving so slow it looked like a shot from Lawrence of Arabia.

“Is that thing coming or going?”

“Moving too slow to tell.”

I was rocking the tasting room that day with my favorite wingwoman sommelier (let’s call her “Kelsey” because she’ll hate that name). Kelsey and I often pretend to be sisters, or girlfriends, or that one of us was going through a huge breakup that day. We’re liars. Never causing anyone harm. It’s not even a trick for tips. It’s like an improv game to pass the time on a long shift. If I’ve poured for you, chances are I’ve lied to you. Nothing but love though, okay?

That day, though, I was gonna pour for guests that would knock the mischief right out of me… as soon as they managed to get here. Which felt like hours later. When that RV finally pulled into our lot, it parked way way waaaaaaay at the back of the lot. The only other vehicle I had seen exiled that far from the main house was a flatbed full of port-o-johns that once arrived for a big wedding a week early. The owner had scowled, “Charge the groom a Luxury Flush Shame Tax for making me showcase a rack of Porta Potties in my lot all week.”

That’s how far back this RV parked, Porta Potty far – and it stayed there a hell of a long time before anyone came out.

Mormon RV

Kelsey gave it a suspicious side-eye, “Are we in a Napa Valley special episode of Breaking Bad?” It was making me kind of nervous, too. In my experience, RVs are for grandparents and meth dealers. This one was moving, so the first guess was grandparents… but they tended to cherish the handicapped spot by the door, and rushed out of their RVs with enthusiasm and a lust for an ice cube in their Pinot Grigio.

No, the Nervous Nellies that came out of this behemoth came out real slow.

It was one of those RVs that make khaki pants look colorful. The kind of brown that threatens to suck the life out of the view. The rickety door cracked open on its hinges. It was like a cartoon turtle peering out of its shell. A tiny blonde woman, suspiciously scanning the perimeter like she knew there was a sniper positioned somewhere, looking for a bead on her.

You have to understand. I work at a winery. 99 to 100% of the people who come here are psyched to arrive. The four people who were urging each other out of that RV were carrying all the enthusiasm of a family visit to an H&R Block that also happened to be a DMV. They were kids at the dentist. Harvey Weinstein is more excited about arriving at the courthouse than the quartet I watched shamble toward my doors that day.

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was also a bit worried about them. I stepped outside to try and relieve them of the stress of having to—shudder—enter a beautiful mansion for a wine tasting. “Can I help you guys?”

It was one man and three women. Each was dressed in exactly half white. Their other half was in… the suggestion of color. He was in a white shirt and pants that were a soft almost-brown. Almond? Two of the women were in white long-sleeved blouses and ankle-length skirts that were thinking about being pink and green. Subdued, though. Like a Paas easter egg that still needs another dipping. The third woman—she must have been “the crazy one”—was in a blouse that was almost-yellow up top (the scandal!). Her white half was her dress (cuz let’s not go too crazy).

“Are you here for a tasting? Are you- okay, hey are you guys okay?”

I tried to level with them. It was just getting too weird. They didn’t know what to say to me. They were looking at the winery like it was Amityville, so I offered the first kind of way out I could muster, “We do the tastings outside too? If you, you know, don’t want to come in? For some reason?”

That won some soft nods from all four of them. They looked so relieved. As I led them to a table on our patio, I gave one more look to the camper and saw one word on their license plate that made it all make sense: Utah.

Oh, they’re Mormons. But wait… “Can Mormons even drink?”

Mormon

I had rushed inside after handing the Mormons their tasting menus. This was a first for Kelsey and she was clueless, “I didn’t even know they could drive.”

I raised an eyebrow, “That would explain the careful speed. Well, okay, here we go. Baby’s first Mormon customers.”

I stepped over with our opening salvo, the 2016 Chardonnay Reserve. As I launched into its description—fruit-forward with a fun bit of a zing, new French oak, taste that kiwi?—I started to pour and realized that two of them had turned their wine glasses upside down. Asking about the kiwi suddenly had a strong question mark at the end of it. “Do you-? If you would just-“

The tiny blonde just waved her hand dismissively, then crossed her arms with a bit of a pout. I realized that this entire charade was starting to bother me. If they’re forbidden to drink, why come to a winery? The whole thing was starting to make me feel like a drug dealer at a middle school, or a frat creep trying to get this poor woman drunk. I decided I needed to speak up:

2016 Chardonnay Reserve

“Hey, can I just say-“

“She and I won’t be drinking.”

The woman beside her, the other one with the overturned glass, was a taller redhead with all the poise and sour vibe of an old school marm. I didn’t love getting cut off when I was trying to make sense of the situation and offer alternatives, but still I persisted, “Would you like me to get you some sparkling water? We have Italian sodas. A coffee-“

The word “coffee” went off like an atomic bomb at the table. School marm rolled her eyes and brought her hand to her face like I had offered up some black tar heroin. Tiny blonde was squirming in her seat. I winced as I remembered: oh, yeah… caffeine is a trigger.

The third woman was a brunette. She was the only one with her hair down and, I was coming to suspect, the instigator of this ill-advised train wreck of a visit. She was the only one sipping the Chardonnay and gave me a look that was trying to be as kind as possible while she tried to diffuse the situation. Her eyes were full of regret and the shattered dreams of getting to have a nice afternoon,

“Could you just give us a minute?”

Back with Kelsey, I watched through the window as the male member of the party watched the brunette. As soon as she was looking away, he covertly poured his Chardonnay into a potted plant beside him.

“I don’t get it. He’s not drinking either! I suppose it would have been too much to ask that he know what a spit bucket if for.” Kelsey nodded, “He’s just here to please his wife.”

It made sense to me, but I hadn’t clocked any connection between him and the brunette necessarily, “You think she’s his wife, huh?”

Kelsey looked at me with a knowing smile. She thought it was adorable that I hadn’t put two and two together (or, in this case, put one and three together). “Oh, pigeon. Don’t you get it? They’re Mormon. Those are all his wives.”

Mormon

My jaw dropped. Of course they were. “A blonde, brunette, and a redhead. Quite the Mormon Charlie’s Angels he’s got going on. And he’s pissing off two of them just to try and please the third.” Kelsey snarked, “Hey. I’ve always heard foursomes get awkward.”

Before we could theorize anything more, the entire quartet got up. They were dusting themselves off like they were covered in soot, the tiny blonde was literally shaking as she headed back for the RV. Her redheaded… co wife? Stepwife? I still don’t know what to call it. Anyway, those two beelined for their camper while the brunette led her husband inside. They moved to me at the register and she grabbed the closest bottle she could find by the register.

“I am sorry for the trouble. I’d like to buy this.”

One bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon she was holding cost a month in paychecks for both Kelsey and I combined. I sighed. I love that wine, had only rarely had the chance to taste it, and didn’t even have to come anywhere close to lying,

“Excellent choice. I should warn you that’s a little pricey-”

“It’s fine. I’ll buy it.”

She didn’t even look at the cost on the bill as I slid it over to her. Nor did she seem to notice as I wrapped it and bagged it up just right. After she signed the receipt, and extended an arm to give her the bag…and her husband stepped in front of her like he was taking a bullet.

“We’re NOT taking it with us! What do we look like, smugglers?”

Kelsey and I stood stock still, no idea how to respond as the brunette exhaled. I guess she was just buying a bottle to make a point? I never got the chance to ask, as the two immediately headed out to the parking lot. They climbed up into the RV and, this time, it drove like a rocket ship to get as far away from us as fast as it could. They were probably out of sight by the time I was able to lower my arm holding their… purchase (is that what it even was?).

I looked to Kelsey. “It’s weird. I feel dirty.”

She looked at the expensive bottle in my hand, “Oh yeah? I feel thirsty.”

Wine

So that is my confession. That night, Kelsey and I took that delicious and over-priced (don’t tell my boss) bottle and toasted the night away to the Mormon foursome that, for some reason, dared to enter a winery with no intention of giving in to our sinful elixirs.

I raised a glass, “As a Catholic, I always thought we were the ones that turned water into wine?” Kelsey shook her head, “They believe in that Bible too, dork.”

I had never known that, “Maybe I need to take a religion class?”

She answered by lifting her empty glass, “For now? Just pour.”

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