For those unaware, in the wine world there exists a rather standard practice wherein at the end of a tasting event such as a fair, remnant bottles are casually given by the winemakers to those in attendance who will “do” something with them. This “do” is rather crucial to the giving part of things as “do” typically implies that you’re a writer who will write about them or a shop owner or distributor who will sell them. As you can see, the “do” is the keystone in all of this and the bottles aren’t just handed out for people to enjoy with friends in a parking lot after they’ve discovered the thing sitting in their trunk six months later.
I’ve been on both sides of the table in this situation. Behind the table you scope a person out and see if they’re just trying to mooch a freebie or are actually serious. A business card is an important first step, also not hearing, “Hey, what can I take home?” is an important second step. When in front of the table I present myself as a wine writer and ask if I can have the bottles to spend more time with them (tasting 30-50 wines over a couple of hours doesn’t make any love) and share them with others who write or are in the wine world.
This unspoken system works pretty well overall once you get used to it because it allows both parties much faster and cheaper access to wines than having to Fedex the damned things around the world and deal with customs. Then of course I applied the same system as I’ve done in California, New York, Croatia, and Serbia to a Rioja event here in Spain. This didn’t go as well as expected and much like flying in coach on a red eye, I’ll never do it again.
It’s important to back up a few steps and look at the greater culture of freebie-ism here in Spain which is no better illustrated at this trade fair that was only for professionals. In general, if a freebie is to be had, your base level Spaniard reverts to a primitive locust mode and devours it. If you think you’re pretty swift in making a meal of the samples offered in Costco, you would starve in Spain my friend. Again, look at that example which was just stupid umbrellas, not an oxygen tank in the cold darkness of outer space.
Now back to the fair wherein I’m standing in front of a winemaker and the distributor in Catalonia and asking if I can take some samples to write about later, but naturally asking in a mix of broken Castilian and work-in-progress Catalan. The guy happily boxed up some of the wines and then told me the total. Thinking he was just giving me the prices for reference I wrote them down and said thank you to which he reiterated the total, hands firmly atop the box.
At moments like these I refer to what a friend told me is the Golden Rule in Sub Saharan Africa: never get in an argument in a public space for a mob will appear faster than a group of Spaniards can take down a cart of umbrellas. Drunken wine people started to gather, staring at this bizarre tall foreigner with a large head. We got in to a horribly awkward discussion that only seemed to get more misunderstood with each word. Again, remembering my friend’s African advice, I just started apologizing profusely, stating that the misunderstanding was my fault and attempting to beat a hasty retreat of the public space.
Ultimately the distributor and winemaker insisted that I take the wines as despite loving freebies, Spaniards also don’t want to look like an asshole with a guest in their country (well, I live here, but whatever, I’m obviously not Spanish.) Then of course I was carrying this Box of Cain with me when all I was really interesting in was the Rosé given that it was one of the few wines I actually found interesting at the fair.
Realizing that I was the only butthole to be walking around with a box and as I was sure that word was already spreading about this mooching American wine writer that everyone should look out for as they were closing down, I got out of there (sampling one last bit of the food as it was a delicious Basque dish) and vowed that I will never request samples again in the Spain, although ironically when I encountered some of these same winemakers at a Spanish wine fair in San Francisco, they were literally trying to force bottles on me to take. Wonders will never cease, much like how the Basques make such delicious things.