In our series In the Bag, wine and spirits sales reps discuss the bottles they’re tasting with customers today.
In an industry that never sleeps, you can bet that the supplier of the product doesn’t, either. Though wine shop owners and sommeliers clock an obscene number of weekly hours, it’s their trusty sales representatives who are on call 24/7. Whether they’re answering emails, making a last-minute order, or exhausting countless resources to get their hands on a sought-after sample bottle, wine industry sales reps are always hustling; in just one hour with Paul Boyer, a rep for T. Edward Wines & Spirits in New York City, multiple emails, phone calls, and an expensive cab ride to his next appointment were all on the agenda.
T. Edward Wines & Spirits is a nationwide distribution company that first opened its doors in 1994. Boyer has been with the company for a year and a half. One of the things he likes best about his job is his coworkers. “I like the people I work with and the way we do business,” he says, adding that his team is “very supportive and provides a collaborative environment—a ‘help you and help each other’ type environment.” Boyer travels at least three or four times a year, to build relationships with existing producers, though seeking out new clients to work with is never beyond the realm of possibility.
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Before joining T. Edward, Boyer used his sales rep skills for a year at Martin Scott Wines. And before his pursuits in wine and spirits, the Minneapolis native received his bachelor’s degree in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. After bartending at countless dives in Minneapolis, Boyer decided to make the big move to New York City in 2002, though a career in wine wasn’t his goal at the time—the real inspiration was his passion for surfing and cheap international travel.
On arriving in the Big Apple, Boyer took a job waiting tables at the restaurant Aroma, followed by a stint at Rice in Brooklyn; it was from the window of the latter that he found Blanc & Rouge, a retail shop across the street where he would spend the next eight years of his wine career. He started at the bottom, breaking down boxes and stocking shelves, and eventually became a full-time sales associate, then a manager. It was at Blanc and Rouge that Boyer developed an affinity for natural wine, as well as “a love of good Burgundy, Nebbiolo, and Champagne, of course.”
For Boyer, a day in the life starts at about 7:30 am. Though there may be missed calls and unanswered emails, he doesn’t start the day without a run through his neighborhood of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The impassioned surfer is currently training for his first marathon, in just three weeks. For Boyer, his early run is a time to “unplug, relax, and provide balance” in his life. As a sales rep, being connected throughout his day is nonnegotiable. “My first call was at 9:25 this morning,” he says. “I would die without my phone.” In fact, his first response to the question of what he carries in his wine-toting bag was, “Two batteries, of course!” Restaurant and retail clients call on him from both Brooklyn and Manhattan, though rarely above 59th street in Manhattan—that is, except for some swanky Central Park hotels.
So what’s in Boyer’s bag besides batteries?
He immediately lists his essentials: a bunch of battery chargers, a corkscrew, sunglasses, pens, business cards, cold packs, and a laptop. And a small, curated selection of bottles—today’s are all from northern California.
Boyer was thinking about the wildfires in northern California wine country when he made his selection for the day. “Hearing the stories about people going through these hard times, I wanted to support them and help; it’s not just [the producers], but also the people working for them,” he says, adding that at T. Edward there’s never pressure from the company to show particular products. At Robert Sinskey Vineyards, he points out “the Sinskeys, for example, were literally putting out fires [because of] the ashes landing in the vineyards just last night.”
Here are the six bottles that Boyer selected to showcase to clients today; they’ll be tasted in his designated order, from lightest to heaviest. (The prices listed are T. Edward’s suggested retail prices for the New York market.)
Bottle 1: Matthiasson Napa Valley White Blend 2014; $31.99
This is a blend of roughly 50 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 25 percent Ribolla Gialla, 20 percent Sémillon, and 5 percent Tocai Friulano. Boyer describes it as “a soulful American wine that’s an ode to northeastern Italy.”
“My customer didn’t want to taste just Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay but wanted whites from California,” he explains. “I think Steve [Matthiasson] is perhaps the best guy in the vineyards in the U.S. No one has a green thumb quite like him. He has this very northern Italian style of winemaking, a light, elegant touch, [and he’s] making super-delicious Old/New World styles. And he’s just a rad guy [and] cool skateboarder.”
Bottle 2: Robert Sinskey Vineyards Pinot Gris, Los Carneros 2013; $37.99
This varietal wine is 100 percent Pinot Gris. “Sinskey went to art school here in New York, and he brings a lot of that [creative] sensibility to his winemaking,” says Boyer. “He works totally biodynamically, making these wines, primarily from Pinot Gris, that no one else is attempting to make in the U.S. They’re unique. His wife is totally amazing, and they’re a real power couple; they both do everything, and they’re really good friends of the company. They’re in trouble right now, and I wanted to help them out [by highlighting their wine]. And I think these wines can sit next to any wines, even some of the best whites in the world.”
Bottle 3: Robert Sinskey Vineyards Abraxas, Vin de Terroir, Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard, Los Carneros 2014; $35.99
This one is a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Blanc from Sonoma. “We have some old vintages of this, and I usually recommend getting three bottles of ’03, three of ’04, and a few of the current release,” Boyer says. “You can have an insane vertical and see how the wines age beautifully.”
Bottle 4: Hudson Vineyards White Study No. 2 2014; $38.99
A blend of Albarino, Arneis, Friulano, Greco di Tufo, Ribolla, and Verdejo, this is a wine that’s lighter in style. “The winemaker here was formerly at White Rock,” says Boyer, which is a winery that lost about 15 to 20 percent of its inventory and many of the buildings on its property in the recent wildfires. The wine is named White Study No. 2 because of “the exploration of what you can do in Napa, as well as people thinking outside the box,” he says. “They’re producing these under-the-radar white wines. Hudson is a place where a lot of [vintners] are getting their grapes [as well].”
Bottle 5: Robert Sinskey Vineyards Orgia, Los Carneros 2013; $49.99
Sinskey’s ramato-style orange wine is made from 100-percent Pinot Gris. The label depicts what look like strips of acid. “He’s basically saying this is a psychedelic wine,” explains Boyer. “It’s just a wine that you have to taste—it comes out this beautiful copper color, with cut white flower notes on it, deep amber in color, honeyed, with an unctuous, viscous feeling on your tongue. It’s just sort of explosive.” Boyer pours a small sip; his description is spot on.
Bottle 6: Robert Sinskey Vineyards POV, Los Carneros 2013; $36.99
“It’s his nod to a Bordeaux blend; mostly Merlot, with equal parts Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Boyer. “It’s a classic California Meritage, also biodynamic, like Bordeaux kissed by the California sun, but still totally in balance.” His statement rings true of a wine at the relatively low ABV of 13.5%.
Boyer goes on to explain his philosophy about the wines he shows daily. “It doesn’t matter what I like,” he says. “It’s about trying to find the right wine for the right customer. One thing I had to learn is that [selling the wines] isn’t about me; it’s really about trying to help people come up with what they need. A lot of my job is listening to people.”
As our meeting wraps up, Boyer’s boss sends him an email with a photo of Hudson’s recent Instagram post attached, showing vineyards burning. “I work at a company that really wants to help,” Boyer says. And then, in reference to the winemakers and winery employees, he adds, “These are the people I really work for.”
Editor’s note: While some of the White Rock property was burned, the caves and the majority of its wine survived.
Vicki Denig is a New York-based wine and spirits journalist and wine educator, discovering the world through the lens of a glass, one sip at a time. When not tasting or traveling, she can most likely be found running through Astoria Park or sipping on Cabernet Franc.