Last Friday, I had the good fortune to be invited to present a 201-level Port class for the largest Pacific NW wine distributorship with a branch here in Seattle and another in Portland. These are seasoned wine sales pros who were attending their 2010 Q1 sales meeting which always includes a seminar and themed tasting of wines from their own Portfolio.
As this distributor carries Quinta do Noval and all three houses of The Fladgate Partnership, it was going to be a lot of fun and I looked forward to putting together notes and to walk them through a half dozen Ports, chosen for the tasting part of the seminar. I had not spoken before a group of 40 people in nearly half a decade. So this was going to be a "stretch" but no pain, no gain. After all, it was Port and if there's anything I enjoy speaking about …
The date was quickly approaching and the week prior to the event, the coordinator got in touch to check on how my progress was and to share the specific Ports in the lineup. All was good until he mentioned that he was looking forward to my Powerpoint presentation. I was speechless. Er, uh, "This is the first you've mentioned that. I hate to admit this, but I've never used Powerpoint before, is this a deal breaker? " He said it wasn't but that the visuals made presentations of this sort, so much more effective and told me to do the best I could. With about five days left before the class, it was an unnerving experience to try to put together a Powerpoint presentation that was to last for 2 hours. I got busy in a hurry and fortunately, my wife had used Powerpoint for the presentations she does for work and spent an hour or so, walking me through the basics of the software. Admittedly, I am a decent writer, but anyone who knows me would say I am a computer flunkey.
It was very painful to try to deduce the ins and outs of the program and try to get everything to fit, including many photos and my notes of course. Very stressful to say the least. Fortunately, by the night before the seminar, I was pretty confident that this looked good and also felt that I was quite prepared to speak for two hours. I slept like a baby and woke up refreshed and excited, just a bit nervous. I drove down to the distributor's main facility and as god was smiling down on my, there was not a lick of traffic (insanely rare for here!) and I arrived a half hour early.
I sat and read a copy of WS and was feeling pretty calm and looking forward to this and knew that there would be at least a handful of the 40 people that I would know from years ago when I was in a tasting group with a bunch of people who worked there. The manager who had invited me, came over to say hello and asked if I would be willing to open up the bottles (3 of each) for the six wines and I was happy to help. He disappeared back into the room where the sales meeting was taking place. I peaked in and my pulse immediately started to race and felt my face go flush.
The room was not just a normal sized classroom, but it was a large auditorium over 100' in width and 25' deep. There was well over 100 people sitting in there and four massive screens across the entire front of the room with 10-15 feet between each. Too late to bail, I had no choice but to face the music and do my best. Did I mention that I hate public speaking? Speaking before 40 would be a stretch, but this many … fortunately I did not know in advance!
The last time I did something this crazy, was in 1997. I had been selected, "Restaurateur of the Year" by an Oregon wine group and was asked to come down to accept an award at a Black Tie dinner and was told I'd be expected to speak on the topic of OR wines and their impact on the restaurant trade. I had a full cast the length of my arm due to a severely broken wrist from a couple of weeks earlier and it was difficult putting on my suit and tie and a girlfriend helped me and actually drove me down to OR to join in the festivities. I arrived and walked in to find there were between 300-400 people there for an annual stockholder's dinner and wine celebration. Unfortunately, I had not been given that small piece of information ahead of time. Let's just say that I was sweating profusely and had absolutely no idea what I had said into the microphone, when it was all over.
Fast forward to 1/22/10 and here I stood, remembering that event and trying to bring myself back to that happy place where I was 15 minutes earlier, before I knew the size of this group. And before I knew it, I was being introduced and credentials and all that jazz. I had given my computer to them a few minutes earlier and they quickly showed me how to advance the slides etc. and there I was.
I walked them through the history of Port from the 1600s to present, discussed fortification, vineyards, all of the Port categories and many other topics related to Port that were part of the agenda, including how to sell to on and off premise accounts. Last but not least I gave my prognostication of where Port is heading and the Ports were being passed around the room at this point. I could tell there was NO WAY that 3 bottles were making it more than half way across the room, so they handed some bottles to the other side. Mid-sentence, I asked someone to pour me some, as I was parched. I joked that there's nothing like drinking a bunch of Ports before noon and got a polite chuckle from the group.
All in all it went very well and after ten minutes of being nervous (ok, minor panic) I settled into a groove and started to walk around and spoke much more confidently and left the lectern, and only returned to change the slides. At the end, I received a nice round of applause and was very glad it was done with. Now they've asked that I do the same for their Portland, Oregon branch, so it must have been better than I give myself credit for.
The Ports tasted in order:
- Quinta do Noval 10 Year Old Tawny
- Croft Fine Ruby
- Fonseca Bin No. 27
- Quinta do Noval - Noval Black
- 2003 Taylor LBV
- 2007 Fonseca Vintage Port