A couple of years ago I was in a San Francisco natural wine bar and proffered my card to pay my tab at the end of the evening. The young French manager looked at it and handed it back to me with a shake of his head.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t accept this.”
Being British I naturally apologised profusely and started yanking $20 bills out of my wallet.
He put his hand up to forestall me and smiled. “No, I meant that it is an honour that someone from the famous Les Caves de Pyrene is in my bar. Put your money away!”
I experienced a momentary thrill as if the voice from the Amex ad had just announced that the CDP charge card signified more about my status than money ever could. In the same instant, I was whisked back to some of my first ever “phonetic cold calls” as a rep, which followed the following invariable pattern:
Doug here from Les Caves de Pyrene
Lay Cow Doo Peer-On?
Um…Les as in Les Dennis (who?), Caves as in our where our ancestors lived, De as in Marquis de Sade, Pyrene as in the sort of Pyrene.
Lay Cows doo Marquis de Sade?
Lez Cows Pyrenaze?
No, Pyrene – Hercules’ girlfriend.
Pyrene was Hercules’ girlfriend.
Where did you say you were from?
And endless variations on these themes.
One of the great life lessons was that I learned that it was an undeniable advantage to be able to thoroughly mispronounce the name of the company you work for, in order to find common ground with a potential customer. The trouble is, that by reinforcing the error, when they did ultimately find out the truth, they perceived you as a complete idiot.
What has prompted all these recollections is that our thirtieth birthday is tolling this year. And the feeling that we are in a different place to where we began as two men, a woman, a battered van and a tiny clutch of unpronounceable wines.
Fast forward back to San Francisco and now I didn’t even need to pronounce – or mispronounce – Lez Cows Doo Peer On. I had the visible Lez Cows aura, and the company credit card to boot. Respect had been given. And in case the inflated ego needed any more priming, then a notable journalist started an interview with a statement that we were one of the universally recognised wine companies. Although I do believe that there are remote Amazonian tribes and the soupdragons in deeper parts of Alpha Centauri who literally have no idea who we are.
What has prompted all these recollections is that our thirtieth birthday is tolling this year. And the feeling that we are in a different place to where we began as two men, a woman, a battered van and a tiny clutch of unpronounceable wines. For a start there are many more of us now, the family has proliferated, and several ancillary businesses have been spawned. The barely local flicker has become a kind of global flame. At least people keep on telling us that. And it was worth a free drink in San Francisco on one occasion.
And so I thought I might retrace the timeline, the ups, downs and myriad cul-de-sacs of CDP. It would be instructive to bear witness to how a company could grow from virtually nothing to virtually something. Business gurus and commentators would have you believe that there is a perfect formula to success. But I don’t believe that success is inevitable, even with hard work or lofty ideals. It is also founded on dumb luck and there-but-for-the-grace-of-etc-etc moments mixed with stubbornness and stupidity. But there is beauty in trying to do the right thing, and we have become great believers in karmic realisation. Our transformation from ugly ducklings to slightly scrawny geese is perhaps more akin to a wild fermentation (no inoculation of investment capital if you please) but driven by a raw native intelligence with the product developing organically. We never existed to grow; we simply existed and grew.
As it were.
Our progress, such as it is, and the wine that we love, such as it is, has been occasionally pure and simple, and equally flawed and complicated.
Business gurus and commentators would have you believe that there is a perfect formula to success. But I don’t believe that success is inevitable, even with hard work or lofty ideals. It is also founded on dumb luck and there-but-for-the-grace-of-etc-etc moments mixed with stubbornness and stupidity.
There is no point at approaching this tale logically or sequentially. At this point in time the narrator inevitably becomes an unreliable one, memory being what it is. Perhaps, the best way of chronicling our adventures is to examine how our wine list grew from a ten-page document sprinkled with a few unknown south west French growers into the 400 + bin doorstopper that it is today. Like a seed that has somehow become an enormous prize turnip, the list grew and grew like Marvell’s vegetable love, reflecting our excitement at discovering new growers and ever-so-tasty wines, allied to no-little-success in selling some of these wines. Curiosity piqued, our journey (it is always a journey) began to take us all over the world to explore wine cultures old and new.