Every Day Give Yourself a Present

I was definitely overwhelmed by the response yesterday’s tribute to my grandmother garnered. I had almost one hundred emails by the day’s end from customers all over the country who took the time to drop me a line; many who felt a certain kinship with Helen and her love affair with gin martinis. Let me say this: my grandmother would have been absolutely thrilled had she been alive to read all of these messages. She would have been downright giddy. So thank you to everyone who chimed in. My family is extremely thankful for your sympathy and well wishes.

I learned one of the most important lessons in my booze career from my grandmother, when she taught me that giving people exactly what they want is sometimes more rewarding than expanding their horizons. When I first got the job at K&L I told her specifically how much great Champagne we had in stock, and how I couldn’t wait to send her some; Helen being a big fan of the bubbly. She responded by telling me she had always wanted to try Dom Perignon, but had never been able to afford it. She had always pictured the monks out in the field (back when that was still happening), tending to the vines, making one of the world’s most revered liquids, and she would tell me how just the thought of having a glass would often send chills up her spine. Me being new to the industry and eager to show off my chops, I told her about all the other incredible K&L exclusive Champagnes we carried; many of which were cheaper in price and higher in quality than Dom Perignon, in my opinion. She thought that was interesting, so I sent her a bottle of Frank Bonville “Belles Voyes” (the best Champagne we carry, in my opinion) which I know she enjoyed. She told me later on “it was nice.” She thanked me profusely. “Oh, it was just lovely,” were her words. But I could tell from the tone in her voice that it hadn't really moved her the way a bottle of Dom would have. Drinking the Bonville wasn’t going to go down in history as a memorable moment for her, which is ultimately the experience I had hoped to give her.

The next year when my mother went up to visit Helen, it was Mother’s Day weekend and a Champagne shipment was most definitely in order. This time around I didn’t make the same mistake. I sent the Dom Perignon—a Champagne that wasn’t nearly as delicious as the “Belles Voyes” in my opinion, but was what I ultimately knew she wanted. At that point, I was completely focused on my grandmother’s dream of living out one of her most-coveted fantasies, and the romanticism she felt towards Dom Perignon the brand, which was far more powerful than the elegant and refined flavors of the Bonville. It wasn’t about drinking “the best” for her, or deciphering quality. It was about feeling special, and getting the chance to experience something she never thought she would have the chance to enjoy for herself. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with her the next day after she and my mother drained that bottle. She was so happy. She was absolutely thrilled. That bottle of Dom Perignon had made her entire year.

That moment created a serious sea change in my customer service philosophy, and ultimately in the way I looked at the intentions of my job. Up until that point I considered my responsibilities as a wine store specialist to include both knowing which wines were best, and informing our customers of my own personal opinions as to which selections represented a better value. If someone came in and said, “My dad loves Johnnie Walker Blue, what can we get him?” I figured it was my job to say in return, “Well, I have something even better.” After realizing how happy the Dom Perignon made my grandmother, however, I started asking people what they specifically wanted, and then did my best to give them just that. Being a specialist of any kind can cause some of us to get a little preachy. We think our main purpose is to enlighten people and educate them, but it's not. We're just here to connect the dots. If someone asks me a question, I'll be happy to answer it, but I'll never force my opinion upon anyone at this point. Because let tell you about my grandmother and the time I tried to convince her there was a Champagne "better" than Dom Perignon. It didn't work out the way I had hoped, unfortunately.

The other thing my grandmother believed in deeply was a daily ritual—a moment each day when she would stop, sit down, relax, and give herself something special. That moment usually included a gin martini, as you all know. One of the emails I received yesterday actually recommended that I lobby to make June 29th “National Helen Felber Gin Martini Day”; an honor which I can tell you my grandmother would have enjoyed whole-heartedly. Except that Helen Felber didn’t believe in indulging herself merely one day per year. She never even considered the word “annual” when thinking about her martini. She believed in the idea of daily indulgence—that every afternoon was an opportunity for reflection and reward. So I say to you—those of us who want to do the memory of my gin-loving grandmother a certain dignity—we should make each day a memorial. Or maybe I should leave you with this classic line from Twin Peaks; a show my grandmother enjoyed greatly seeing that it was filmed in her own backyard:

Every single day should be "Helen Felber Gin Martini Day" because every single day we're alive to celebrate with a cold drink is worth recognizing.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll