A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
A few years ago, while vacationing in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Dale and I took a day trip to Portland to check out Zupan’s Market, an incredible independent food store that was doing everything right. While wandering over toward the wine section, I heard, “Hey, Randy!”
I turned around and there was the wine manager who obviously recognized me. “I used to sell you wine,” he said, mentioning one of The Wine Country’s suppliers.
After a brief chat to find out what brought him to the Pacific Northwest, it occurred to me that our wine connection had stretched nearly a thousand miles.
It recalled a similar incident in 2004 while waiting for the light to change in front of Victor Emmanuel II National Monument, the famous “wedding cake” building in Rome.
“Hey, Randy!” I heard from across the street. Waving his arms, I recognized Wayne Judah, the owner of the former restaurant Admiral Risty in Palos Verdes, a man I used to sell wine to in my distributor days in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That connection spanned 6,300 miles, and was laughably unexpected.
Then just last week while waiting for our table at Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, our server Mary came up to Dale and me and said, “I love your store.” A couple of her friends had moved to Long Beach and sent her a selection of craft beer for her birthday. Aside from my Covid mask which said “The Wine Country”, I didn’t know how she knew we were the owners of the store, but she must have checked out our website prior to our visit. Once again, there was a connection that spanned 365 miles.
Back when we could ship wines across the U.S., we made connections with people in nearly all parts of the country. Some still communicate with us regularly, through Facebook, Instagram or our website, including great customers who have moved out of state and miss us. We still see many of them when they return to Southern California to visit.
Since we represent products from around the wine-growing world, we have developed lasting friendships with many of them, some who write to let us know about their lives outside the wine business, both their challenges and triumphs.
During Covid, when we had to suspend our regular wine tastings, we lost a major source of connection with our customers, and they with each other. We didn’t want a sense of community to include community spread. Thankfully, during this time, we were introduced to a lot of new, younger customers who had learned about us from their friends and families and now have developed new connections with us, not only as a place to buy craft beer and natural wine, but with us individually as advisors and sometimes as friends.
Almost immediately after opening our doors in 1995, our store began to develop a deep sense of community, where friendships, marriages, and in a couple instances, even death brought people together. Oftentimes my staff and I come to work, do our jobs and go home without realizing how deeply we have affected people, in ways big and small, some so deep it’s beyond comprehension.
One customer, a prominent ophthalmologist in town, sought refuge in our store after having had to give a patient bad news. He would walk up and down our aisles, letting our Burgundies and our Pinot Noirs take him on mental journeys that would relieve his stress until his smile returned.
I recall a couple who were fixtures at our regular Saturday tastings, calling us in the middle of their wedding reception in Lake Arrowhead one Saturday afternoon to tell us they were thinking about us. If they weren’t getting married, they told me, they would be at the store with us.
My high school American history teacher regularly stopped by for visits after he had retired, and when he died, his widow called to ask if I could help arrange a celebration of life in our store! I am certain I wouldn’t have received such a call had he not spoken admiringly about our store with his wife.
I could go on and on with examples of how the community that was born around our store has developed friendships and nurtured relationships that go way beyond our awareness of them. This is profound and humbling to me, and some of the unexpected delights I continue to experience every day walking the aisles of The Wine Country.