Two weeks after graduating from college, I got a job in a wine shop. Six months later, I was still working retail. My parents began to worry. All of my friends were in graduate school or law school or training to become titans on Wall Street, while I was selling half pints of Smirnoff and bottles of Beaujolais. "You're working in a liquor store?" my father asked, bewildered (doubtless considering the cost of my education). "No," I replied, "I'm learning the wine business."
Of course, Morrell & Company, the store where I worked some 17 years ago, was a lot more than just a liquor store. It was (and is) one of Manhattan's top wine shops. I'd taken a job there on the recommendation of a wine importer, who told me, "If you want to understand the business, you gotta work retail." The fact that this piece of advice was delivered to me over a 50-cent hot dog and a tropical-fruit punch at Papaya King on East 86th Street should have been a warning that this would not prove a particularly lucrative career.
But never mind. At Morrell's, I was in the middle of it all. Critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., had only recently made his historic pronouncement about the greatness of the 1982 Bordeaux (none of which I could afford), and Americans had begun to think seriously about wine. The 53rd Street store was crowded with converts. And yet, as I look back from the distance of nearly two decades, I realize now how small the wine world was in those daysand how much it has changed.