I had visions of grandeur when I began a summer job in 2012 as a pourer at a North Fork winery. Besides naively thinking that I'd hobnob with the likes of East End residents Paul McCartney and Jerry Seinfeld, I figured I'd become an expert on wines. I thought I'd become fluent in oenological jargon and be able to distinguish vintages by their aromas.
No such luck. The only thing I learned was that I liked my job teaching high school English a lot better.
The winery was a circus. The tasting house was next to a barn full of horses and ponies, the patio was canopied by big-top-like tents, the food stand sold hotdogs shamefully priced around $5, and a face-painter busied the kids while Mommy and Daddy got their buzz on in the tasting room.More ExpresswayReader essaysReader essaysGet published in Newsday
I was a performer and constantly juggled tasks behind my patio bar. I poured wine, snatched cash and made change for hours like a trained seal playing horns.
Buses arrived with "the beautiful people" from the city. They were mostly women aged 21 to 35 who wore designer sundresses, rhinestone-studded flipflops and Kardashian sunglasses. They funneled out of buses and bee-lined in their Burberry accessories to the outside bars.
"What's the sweetest wine?" one would ask without saying hello.
"I wanna try the wine before I buy a glass," another would interrupt.
"It's my best friend's birthday. Can you give her a free wine?" yet another would yell out.
I wasn't allowed to give out samples, and I often found myself apologizing to the catty customers. Some asked serious questions about the wine. Because I was taught only to work the register, I fudged my way through answers and poured glasses as fast as I could. Each woman usually paid separately with a large bill. I was lucky if I got a dollar in the tip jar for every 20 drinks I poured.
Women handed me their phones to take pictures of their group. I'd oblige if I was not swamped. Half of the bronzed bunch would flash their toothiest bleached smiles, while the other half would make those odd duck faces. I'd snap the shot, and they'd immediately huddle to see how the picture turned out.
I was moved to the "wine-a-rita" table by midsummer. A wine-a-rita was basically a thimble's worth of Cabernet Franc, flavored syrup and a lot of ice churned in a margarita machine and poured into a plastic cup. I felt bad charging $10 a pop, but on hot days, the line snaked past the food tent.
I sold 200 of these wine slushies one scalding day and made the winery $2,000 from my sales alone. Because they cost more, my tip jar was stuffed with bills. However, we were forced to pool our tips with the food servers, bar-backs and 15 other pourers, so I took home only $30 in tips that day.
I hung up the corkscrew for good after Labor Day. The school year had arrived.
I made some pocket money and added "winery" to my resume of odd jobs, but I never did pour Alec Baldwin a chardonnay, nor did I sample vintages from antique casks. I expected culture and class, but I got a carnival and cotton candy.
Reader Matt Kindelmann lives in Smithtown.