Rey & Don
I reached out to my friends at Diageo this week about attending a Don Julio-sponsered event going on in Santa Clara Thursday night. Tony and David are the absolute best to work with; not only are they always incredibly helpful, they're probably the two best things to happen to Diageo since I started working directly with the industry giant a few years back. I knew they would do everything they could to help me and my camera get into this VIP event. "As long as you're going, we're coming with you to check this thing out," they said in response to my email, so I met my two buddies for tacos and reposado on the rocks at Taste: the hot nightclub in the South Bay.
What were we doing there? What special event was bringing a retail spirits buyer and two Diageo reps to the backroom of a Santa Clara nightclub? Seeing that it's Wrestlemania week here in the Bay Area, it must have been wrestling-related, right? We were actually there to see a live interview and podcast recording with former WWE champion and lucha libre legend Rey Mysterio Jr. He was planning to meet with ticket holders and wrestling super fans for an exclusive autograph session, but my friends thought they could pull a few strings and get me a few minutes alone with the Mexican wrestling icon. I was thrilled, so I threw down a few tasty tacos, a couple glasses of Don Julio, and sat patiently waiting with my friends for Rey to make his entrance. I absolutely love that a major liquor brand with ties to the high-end side of the market didn't think they were too cool for a professional wrestling event. Don Julio is definitely interested in putting on fun and interesting events, which makes them much more fun to work with than other stuffy brands.
I wasn't expecting much, just the chance to exchange a few words and snap a few photos on behalf of K&L and Don Julio. Our pal Guillermo was able to arrange for a private table, however, complete with Don Julio tequila, ice, and private bottle service. I felt like a famous celebrity.
The best part of the evening was that my best friend Ben (who I'll be attending Wrestlemania with this weekend) was able to drive over from Modesto, and we were able to sneak him backstage as well. We were pouring a glass of Don Julio 70 when Ben said, "Holy shit! I think that's Kevin Sullivan behind you." It was. The former WCW legend and Dungeon of Doom master was indeed on hand to take in the festivities. He was super cool and allowed Ben to pose for a photo with him.
It's funny how trends can change at the drop of a hat in the booze business. I was hanging out with Don Julio brand ambassador Luis Navarro while we were waiting for Rey to arrive, and we were both chuckling about the change of fate for Don Julio 70. Suddenly it's the hottest tequila out there, after a rather inauspicious start. It's not unlike what happened with the Kavalan Vinho Barrique this week. I was almost ready to drop the price on the Taiwanese whisky until the WWA awarded it "Best Whisky in the World" and all of sudden we were selling through our entire inventory in minutes. A similar thing happened in Mexico with the 70. This particular expression, an añejo tequila filtered to look like a blanco, went from a very slow launch to become the current top selling tequila in Mexico. It seemed gimmicky when it was first released, but once enough people tried it, the soft, enticing flavor spoke for itself. Now they're having trouble keeping it in stock.
Finally the man of the hour arrived: Rey Mysterio Jr. I first met Rey outside the Spanos Center in San Diego at a WCW Nitro event in 1997. He wasn't wearing his mask and I didn't realize it was him at the time. I was an eighteen year old college freshman, a gigantic wrestling fan, and Rey made my entire day by hanging out with me and my friends before the show. Almost twenty years later, things had really changed. He had gone from a small, under-rated, cruiserweight sensation to one of the biggest names in all of wrestling. He had a line of fans waiting patiently to take photos and get an autograph. Lucky for me, I was allowed by security to hang out behind him and chat with him while he did so.
Rey had a glass of Don Julio añejo on the rocks by his side, and every now and then he would turn around to take a sip. That's when we were able to exchange a few words. Rey is a big tequila fan, and he iterated his and his wife's love of the agave spirit during the brief interchanges we had. Despite all of the action and attention he was demanding, he was incredibly friendly and appreciative of everyone there. As someone who's constantly watching the behavior of others (also why I like hanging out at these events), I was really impressed by his customer service skills.
The part that most impressed me, however, was how Rey reacted to our secondary task of the evening. My friend Ben is a teacher in Modesto for kids with special needs, and when one of his students found out that Ben was going to meet Rey Mysterio that day, he wrote a letter to his hero hoping that Ben would deliver it to him. We weren't sure how much access we were going to get to Rey, so we explained to a member of his entourage what the letter was and why we were giving it to him. Later, however, when I got some one-on-one time with Mysterio, I was able to tell him who the letter was from and how important it was to this kid that he got it.
"He even wrote his address on there," I said. "That way if you want to take a drive to Modesto you can visit his home. Let me know when you want to go and I'll give you a ride."
Rey laughed, and replied, "Well the least I could do is send him something."
I got the feeling that he really planned on doing it. I headed out at that point and left the major festivities for the hardcore fans. Hip-hop artist Wale was due to arrive shortly and the club was scheduled to turn into a Vegas-style afterparty. I had a smile on my face all the way back to the car thinking about Rey Mysterio sending that kid something in the mail. It's fantastic when the people you look up to in any business are as nice and as caring as you hope they'll be. That goes for the folks at Don Julio, too.