I've previously mentioned my ever-evolving - ahem - experience in wine sales. But last night was the first time I've ever felt real, tangible fear from just doing my job.
I was asked by a very high-end retail customer of mine to attend a Bordeaux-specific tasting event at a very exclusive private club. He gave me explicit parameters for my samples, and I know that I nailed each and every wine that I brought with me. I am really, really good at my job, not necessarily because I'm an excellent salesperson, but because I love what I sell and I love history; and as a lifelong nerd, I love it even more when I have an audience willing to listen to me blather on about something I'm passionate about. It's really that simple. Except when it isn't.
This event was by invitation only and cost a pretty penny for guests to attend. Last night's event was rife with executives and litigators, small-town politicians and trophy wives. I've found that guests at wine tastings typically fall into one of three groups: one, sincere wine enthusiasts; two, Bordfauxs (the fakers, liars, and wannabes); and three, the drunks. Sometimes, it's actually pretty difficult to discern into which category a person falls. Last night, I added a fourth category: the lechers. These individuals can come from any walk of life and any of the above categories. And while I've been leered at during previous tastings, I've never before texted my fiance in the elevator on the way out of a building, afraid I was being followed.
I noticed early on that, even without a few glasses of vino under their belts, the men at this even who were flying solo gravitated toward me. Yes, my wines were spectacular, but it was clear they weren't simply interested in my Pauillac offering. Mind you, I'm often the only woman slinging Bordeaux in a room full of men who do the same. Much like the culinary field, "plebeian" experiences are considered - by Those In The Know - to be the realm of We Womenfolk, while the "highbrow" ones are reserved for those bastions of good taste, Men. Yes, it bothers me to no end, but it also allows me tiny victories when I can snap someone's attention because I know my shit inside and out and can, with any luck or any measure, dispel their moronic and anachronistic beliefs about women and wine. Bordeaux is fucking amazing, should be celebrated, and should be enjoyed by everyone. (Sometime, I'll write a post about affordable, accessible Bordeaux that can be pizza wine, but that is not this post.)
With all of that in mind, events that focus on Bordeaux tend to cultivate a much more male, often an older male, audience, than, say, events where I am also pouring a well chilled Pinot Gris. (And there ain't a thing wrong with PG, mind you.)
So last night, in my glory, pushing samples of killer wines, I began to notice a few men who lingered too long. And as they got drunker, they stared too long, too. Not at my face, obviously, but squarely at my chest. I dress conservatively at work, for a number of reasons that I don't have to explain or defend, but no matter the height of my neckline or the length of my skirt, I will never be able to fully disguise my not-inconsiderable bosom, try though I have lo these many years. Mutt and Jeff just will not be silenced. Being openly leered at is an experience I don't have a lot of familiarity with, even at age 30. This is in part, I suspect, because I am often in a haze of my own wandering thoughts. However, it's also likely because I have previously worked in female-dominated fields (non-profits. But this was beyond a change from that. I could feel myself being looked at like I had been looking at the prime rib being served at the adjoining table.
I was, all of a sudden, acutely aware that I was being seen as available for consumption as the bottles that stood regally before me. But it got worse.
One individual, in a bizarre knit blazer (we can discuss that later), returned to my table again and again. He plied me with questions, about the wine, about French pronunciation, about what my background was. He said something in mangled/drunk French, which I could neither understand nor translate (my French is very rusty as a conversant language, but not nearly as bad as what he slurred at me), after which he waggled his eyebrows. I looked quickly away to pour a sample for a man with wine-stained teeth who insisted he was a CWE (certified wine expert), but could not for the life of him wrap his head around the fact that there were four grapes in one of my wines, regardless of my assurances. Knit Blazer wandered away, only to return and perch himself on the corner of my table to eat his steak, hunched and slurping. I am quite literally paid to talk to people, especially people who pay to be present at these particular types of events, so I tried to keep it light, breezy, calm.
I had a glass of a really nice Haut-Medoc to help me calm down as he crept ever-closer, and to give me something to do that didn't involve having to reply to him.
As the parade of tasters came by - some more than once or twice, partially because my wines really were the "best" ones at the event - Knit Blazer would come and go, as well. At one point, he asked me about the wines of the other presenters there. No, I had not had a chance to sample them. No, it was really okay, he didn't need to get me a glass. Really, I was just getting over the flu, but thank you.
Eventually I capitulated and handed him my glass. At least I would give myself some respite from his interrogation. He rapidly returned with a glass of St. Emillion. I politely tasted a small sip, sniffing, swishing, gurgling, and promptly evacuated the wine into the spit bucket.
"Oh, you're going to spit it out?! THAT is such an insult," Knit Blazer hissed, standing over me, blocking my table from other potential tasters.
"It's a wine tasting, not a wine drunkening. I don't imbibe while working," I said as I reached around him to pour a sample for a delightful older gentleman who wanted to tell me about the '79 Pauillac he had bought at auction this one time. I have never before listened to a rambling story about a bottle of Lynch-Bages with such ferocity. Knit Blazer turned away and the rest of my glass went - insultingly - directly into the bucket.
The night wore on. Wine-stained teeth abounded, but people loved my wine. I hadn't yet seen my customer, the organizer of the event. He needed to taste my wines, his was really the only opinion that counted; if he didn't like my wines, I wasn't making a sale and the four hours of harassment I had endured would be for naught. The other presenters were packing up. Their blue sport coats and bowties slowly left, one by one, until it was just a few stragglers who were picking at their food and asking for fourths and fifths of my samples. Knit Blazer had mumbled something about the bathroom and left about 30 minutes prior.
My customer showed, and I presented my selections to him. After a not-disappointign reaction from him, I packed up, stuffing my remaining bottles into my wheelie bag, and beelined for the elevator. I had been at sales since 8:30 that morning, it was now 9:30 - and I hadn't been lying about the flu. I trundled off to the elevator, that I swear was built by Otis himself. As the creaky doors started to close, I saw Knit Blazer and he saw me. He was standing at the top of the stairs, opposite the lift.
I texted my fiance, "Need to take self defense classes. I think there's a creeper following me."
"Are you okay? Call 911?" He urged. I didn't have time to respond.
Knit Blazer was waiting for me when the doors opened.
"Come have a drink at the bar," he urged when the doors opened, taking my arm.
"No, thank you," I said, calmly, resting my arm from his grasp, and walking pointedly toward the exit. "I've been working all day and want to go home."
"All the more reason!" Knit Blazer slurred, walking a step ahead of me.
"What is the easiest way to get into the garage?" I asked the security guard as I passed his mahogany-walled office. I had entered via the elevator from the garage, but knew I couldn't access the elevator building this late at night.
"Easiest to go out of the building, down the alley, to the small cement stairs in the middle of the plaza."
OH OKAY. JUST A BARREN COMMERCIAL PLAZA AT NIGHT. GOOD PLAN. But then...
"[The guard addressed Knit Blazer by name, he must be a member of the club], do you want me to call the valet for you?" The security guard was looking pointedly at Knit Blazer. "Did you drive the... Audi tonight? Oh I think there may be a problem..."
Knit Blazer froze and turned his full attention to the security guard, "What kind of problem?!"
I took my opportunity and bolted, shoving through the large double doors of the old building like a 5'5" rhinoceros, only later wondering if the guard was just giving me an escape route. I have never trundled that wine bag so quickly or buzzed to be let into a garage with such fervor. I heard Knit Blazer call my name just as the garage access door, which was controlled by security, slammed shut. I sprinted to my car across the garage, threw roughly $300 worth of wine into my car with abandon, and leapt inside.
Shaking, I dialed my fiance and as I drove out, profusely thanked the attending security guards at the garage, even if they may not have known why.
My fiance was an intriguing mixture of rage and relief when he answered, but in his typical way, relaxed me with humor by discussing absurd things, like how I should carry a garrote for self defense, like The Black Widow. "All you have to do is just reach behind you, flip your legs over your head, and kill the guy. Simple!" His voice was shaking a bit.
I got home last night and crawled into bed, feeling silly for ever being afraid. I woke up this morning and Googled "Krav Maga classes" near my home.
What I'm Drinking Tonight:
Every open bottle in the house. Trust me, there are plenty.