Times Square New York City.
Winning the "Video of the Year" by Wine Spectator was a complete surprise as was our award; tickets to The New York Wine Experience. The New York Wine Experience is in its 38th year, just two years shy of the the magazine's success of forty years (which they are celebrating this year). The magazine is the forefront of all wine publications in the United States. It started as a free newspaper subscription and has evolved into a highly circulated color print magazine and has arguably changed the overall trajectory of wine in this country. I wouldn't be convinced of this fact without having witnessed this actual event.
The overall sheer size and scale of the occasion are apparent once you officially attend the weekend. Close to one thousand people have full weekend passes. And all those guests fill one room and often half show up early for each scheduled event resulting in a line that wraps around the perimeter of the hotel floor, which is enormous to begin with. Each day these one thousand guests taste close to thirteen different wines (and sometimes along with food) in the morning/ AM session, followed by a three course lunch with another six to ten wines to taste optionally, then return to the same seminar room for another PM session for another tasting of six to ten wines. Such service and execution must demand a staff of 75-100 people. There are two state of the art movie screens anchoring the front of the stage, and audio to capture conversations among mediators and panels of vintners. Aside from just the mind-blowing logistics and unending glassware, is the loyal fanship in the audience. Close to half the guests would raise there hands when asked if they were here for that discussion in 94' or that moment in 05'. The guests were not only loyal, but have a sincere obsession for the event. So many travel from far to attend, from Denmark to Isreal, I met guests and collectors from across the globe.
Then there were the winemakers. Such as Baron Eric de Rothschild from Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Erwin Faiveley, one of the largest land owners in the Côte de Nuits, to patriarchal wine stars like Phillipe Giugal, one of the best Rhone producers in history, to new winemakers challenging the land in Walla Walla or French winemakers turned on by the land in Oregon. Everyone is tasting wines from great vignerons that are just mind-blowing. And mind-blowing happens more than once during the Wine Experience. That is what makes the experience, those ah-ha moments that don't stop. Speaking of ah-ha, Sting had a surprise acoustic session following his wife Trudie Styler who was recognized as a wine star from their reputable winery and property in Tuscany.
Having to accept an award among the "Wine Experience" crowd to say the least, is intimidating. Wine or no wine, my nerves would not cease. I wasn't as much nervous to speak in front of such a large and knowledgeable crowd, but my attempt to say the perfect thing within this overwhelming situation. I planned to keep my speech as simple as possible and remembered it was about those who provided the opportunity and those in the crowd (and in Italy) who made this event and award even possible.
My husband/ co-director was working, so I was alone to accept the award. I wanted to feel ready and relaxed, so I arrived early and explained to the guard (in front of the hundreds of guests waiting in line to enter) that I was accepting an award and wanted to enter the room to prepare myself. After discussions with three different guards I was finally allowed in. I was sitting alone in this massive conference space while in the far corner the fifty or so servers were having their service meeting, which I could barely hear surprisingly. While taking some deep breaths and settling into my chair, a lively middle aged woman who seemed to be part of the staff came up to me and said, "Getting ahead and preparing for the day?". I said, "Well, I'm actually accepting an award and wanted to get in early." I explained what the award was for and she was over the moon for me. I was touched by her genuine excitement, so I gave her a hug and called her my, "morning angel." After which the doors opened and the eager consumers poured in. I was fortunate to find myself next to a couple who showed their kindness by offering to record video of my acceptance speech for my husband on their camera. I realized I was not alone that morning.
The speech went well, I didn't stutter or fall down and actually heard some laughs too. But upon reflection, I realized there is always something you 'should of-would of-could of' when you have such an opportunity like that. In this case, I was caught of guard when I was asked after my speech by the host how I made the connection with Giuseppe. I was still a ball of nerves, so I simply laid out the sequence of events and said it fell into place, but it was really something more significant than that. Something I realized that I should have shared with every person in that room. When I met Giuseppe Vajra, I felt he was a superstar. A young superstar making his way in a historic and generationally dominated region. I did say we had a connection, but the truth was he and his family are making history. And I felt it. And I wanted to capture it. We flew to Barolo and filmed him and his family doing what they do best, working hard and making wine. I wanted to retell that story.
As I left that morning session and headed to lunch, my "morning angel" stopped me in the aisle with a bouquet of white calla lilies and a handwritten note saying congratulations. As memorable of a morning that was and what I wish I could have said, I will never forget the amazing kindness I experienced that day. And that is a story unto itself.