The Test of Time
I'm pretty sure I've written about this story before, but I don't feel like digging back into the archives right now, so I'm just going to write about it again. When I was a kid I had (and I still have) a friend who was exceptionally good at sports. Not just any sports, mind you, but the big ones: baseball, basketball, and football. He made each of our high school teams effortlessly and was a star forward for our championship basketball squad. His brother, while hoping to follow in these same footsteps, was not as gifted. No matter how hard he practiced, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't live up to the self-imposed expectations of his older sibling and it was very difficult for him to handle. How did he deal with it, you ask? By searching out sports and activities that few others were participating in at that time, which—by default—he instantly became the best at. In-line roller hockey. Junior rugby. These weren't sports many kids were interested in back in Modesto circa-1992. While my friend's brother managed to excel at a few of these side-sports, he became equally dismayed when no one seemed to care. The problem for him was that, unless you played one of the big three sports (or maybe soccer as well), it didn't really matter how good you were at anything else. My friend's dad was a huge sports fan, and was notorious for his sideline antics at games. What this kid really wanted deep down inside was for his dad to be as proud of his own achievements as he was of his older brother's. But.....let's be honest.....how excited can you really get watching ten kids wobble around on roller blades, tripping all over one another, chasing a rubber ball around a tennis court for the very first time in their lives?
I see a similar phenomenon in the wine and spirits world all the time. People get tired of competing with other drinkers for their beloved beverages, so they switch to something less popular. It doesn't always scratch the same itch, unfortunately. We know who the big players are in the wine world: Bordeaux and California cabernet (and pinot noir to a lesser extent). We know who the big players are in the spirits game: Scotch and Bourbon. There's a reason the biggest stars within these coveted categories demand the prices they do. There's a reason the prices for your favorite beverages continue to rise. Let's put this into perspective, shall we?
There's a reason a court-side seat for a Warriors game will cost you $1200 or more, while a front row field seat for the Earthquakes (our MLS soccer team) will run you only $140.
There's a reason a premium club seat for a San Francisco Giants game will cost you $175, while a premium ticket for our now-extinct professional lacrosse team (the Dragons) was about $15.
It's for the same reason that the bottle of 1982 Château Margaux I sold to a gentleman in the Redwood City store last night cost $700, while the incredible old Rioja I sold to another customer was under $100.
It has to do with enthusiasm. Excitement. Belief. Or, as we call it in the business world: demand. It's the difference between an experience regarded by millions as rewarding, and one that's considered great by merely a few. That's not to say that one is better than the other, or that there's a pure qualitative difference that can be effectively analyzed. It's not an apples-to-apples analogy, nor is it an apples-to-oranges analogy either. It's only to say that a shit load of people want to go see Steph Curry hit fifty foot three pointers, just like a similar number of folks wanted to watch Barry Bonds jack 600 foot homers back in 2001. Hundreds of thousands of paying customers from all over the world are interested in experiencing that. These are the feats and accomplishments that our society values over others. These are the human skills and abilities that people will pay to see.
As I was looking at other rare Bordeaux bottles with my 1982 Margaux customer last night, I learned that he was a newcomer to the genre looking to discover what the fuss was all about. I told him he might want to try a few of these bottles before going much deeper. "It would be a pity if you got home and popped all these big guns, only to discover you don't like old wine," I said.
"I'm not worried," he said with confidence. "These wines have stood the test of time for a reason. I want to understand why that's the case."
I knew exactly what he meant.