Saturday, September 02, 2006

My day with Jost

Monday of this last week, I had the distinct pleasure of riding around with Jost Hopler, an Austrian winemaker whose line we carry.

Jost is a tall, somewhat reserved man in his early 60's who completely captures the old-world European charm that Americans tend to fantasize about. Dressed modestly in a neat button-down shirt and tie, he opened every door and never once let me touch the bag that we used to tote his wines. He was soft-spoken, but seemed to have plenty to say.

Jost has been in the wine business since the mid-1960's when he started out as an apprentice in Australia. He started his own winery in 1980, and not only serves as the winemaker, but also as the front-man and voice for his business, traveling to the States at least three times a year, not to mention his other markets around the world as well.

We went around all day to a diverse assortment of my clients, and Jost talked proudly to them about the methods used in crafting each of the six bottles that were with us. I watched as he slowly captivated the sometimes cynical buyers with his sincerity, and could tell that they were not only impressed with his gorgeous offerings, but that they, like me, felt a bit enamored with the man himself. When we left each destination we would chat about the person we were just with. I would give him the scoop on how they usually behaved around me, and he would give me his assessment of the situation, speaking from years of experience dealing with buyers all over the world. He was usually very polite with his observations, but every now and again he would catch me pleasantly off guard and be a bit more mischievous - like when he described one banquet manager as a "country bumpkin", which lead to a whole discussion about rednecks.

How could I not love this day? Is there any other job in the world that can land you in a half-joking, half-serious discussion about rednecks with a 60 year old Austrian man?

It was after this particular snippet that Jost invited me to join him for dinner that evening. How could I possibly refuse? After a few minutes of thought, I knew the perfect place for us to go. The French brasserie near my apartment is the perfect side of Richmond to show a visitor - the wine is good, the people are pretty, the decor is relaxing, and best of all, the wine buyer is an old friend of mine and I knew that he and Jost would hit if off perfectly.

As we sat at our table and enjoyed our monkfish entrees, I watched as the wine buyer and Jost bonded. I could have listened to them talk all night. They both share the same unique situation - they have been in the wine business for 40+ years, but neither are stuffy about it, in fact they are incredibly current with new producers and trends. I am boggled at how much I could learn from both of them.

As the evening continued, I probed Jost for more information about his home town. Oddly, Vienna sounded a lot like Richmond. Rich with tradition and good people, but currently battling a lot of crime and poverty. In fact, Jost and his wife had experienced a break-in at their home last year, right around the same time I did. I was oddly comforted by this fact - it's nice to know that you are not alone in situations like that, and we chatted about the different feelings that are evoked when that happens to you.

I asked for more details about how interesting his travels must be, and how gratifying it is to see people all over the world enjoying his products. I almost cried when he told me how the hustle-bustle of travel is exciting, but how when he goes home a long walk through his vineyards grounds him again, and he remembers what it is all for. He shared how honored and pleased he was when his daughter decided to get married in the vineyard, and when his son came to him wanting to get into the family business.

This is what it is all about, this bond between family, the work, and the land. Beautiful simplicity is hard to find in today's world, and it is what draws me to this industry. Yes, there is a lot of excitement and running around and hard work, but at the end of the day it's the beautiful simplicity of it all that keeps me coming back.

Plus, it's nice to know that I now have an open invitation to visit and stay in Vienna whenever I would like to.


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