In a troubled world full of violence, greed and often downright evil, it’s the little things in life that restore your faith in humanity.
And so it came to pass last week during a whistlestop visit to Zürich for an informal dinner with The Nuance Group President Roberto Graziani.
Roberto, like me, is partial to a drop of fine wine and to salute his achievements with Nuance (soon to be owned by Dufry) down the years, I stopped off at the brilliant new Caviar House & Prunier store (above and below) at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 to buy him something suitable.
The store has a magnificent range of fine wines including what, at €499,000, must rank as the highest price-point item in airport retail history. In this case make that ‘item’ in the collective sense – a vertical collection of Château Lafite Rothschild spanning 28 vintages from 1984 to 2011. That’s one case times 28 years = 336 bottles. A wine aficionado’s paradise.
Château Lafite Rothschild is one of France’s most revered wines, one of just four ‘First Growth’ Châteaux in Bordeaux. Its wines consistently top the auction charts, most notably the 1787 vintage (thought to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson), which sold for US$156,000. I can confirm that I was not the buyer.
The Caviar House & Prunier selection, described as ‘the most unique vertical wine collection’ (‘most’ unique – ugh, one of my pet hates) can only be sold as a full 28-case purchase. Each case has been stored unopened in a bonded warehouse in Bordeaux.
No, I didn’t buy the collection for Mr Graziani (sorry Roberto but my credit card limit was insufficient) but I did pick up an excellent Clos Henri Pinot Noir from Marlborough in my native New Zealand. The purchase was made quickly for, as is my habit, I was running late for my flight. Just how late became clear as I discovered the Swiss aircraft was departing from just about the furthest gate you could possibly imagine in the race from my Terminal 1 check-in to what turned out to be my T2 departure.
It’s been four years since I ran a decent 10k but it felt like I was back in full training as I raced towards the far-off gate B36 with every FID screen yelling (or so it seemed to me) ‘Flight Closing’.
I made it, just, shoe-horned myself into a window seat, where my sweat-drenched look, I believe, convinced a rather alarmed woman next to me that I may just have arrived in from Liberia.
With no time to store the wine overhead I pushed it under the seat in front of me, and proceeded to cool down from my sauna-like state.
Duly, both cooled and calmed down, I arrived in Zürich, where, again as is my habit, I took a walk around the Arrivals store, snapping the odd picture (and even some normal ones).
I admired a pretty good wine selection (a nice mix of old and new world, with an encouragingly strong range of Swiss labels) and then it hit me… wine… gift… Roberto… oh no!
Regular readers of this Blog will know that I am prone to the odd spot of, what’s that word again?… ah, yes, now I remember – forgetfulness.
Over the course of 12 years at The Moodie Report I have lost around 20 cell phones; numerous blackberries (probably a few strawberries and blueberries along the way); countless (and I do mean countless) chargers, adaptors and headphones; two passports; a briefcase (appropriately, only briefly); half a dozen or so tape recorders; I estimate around four dozen pairs of spectacles; many duty free purchases (well I do believe in giving back to our industry) and believe it or not at least a dozen shirts (do not ask). Certainly I’ve also lost my way (in airports and in life) on more occasions than I care to name and heck, I’ve probably even lost my mind on occasions.
I raced back to the Swiss Lost & Found office and described my plight. Could I get back to the plane to recover my wine? “Sorry, it is too late. The cleaners will find your item but it will take two to three hours to recover it.”
“Is there nothing you can do? It’s a gift for an important occasion tonight.”
“No, I’m sorry.” The official was friendly but firm. Instead he gave me a card with a telephone number for the main Lost Property office.
Cursing my stupidity in a now time-honoured conversation I have with myself on far too many occasions, I trudged wearily back to the Nuance store. Instead of a gift-wrapped bottle I would have to present Roberto a wine in a ubiqituous green Nuance shopping bag instead.
As mentioned, the collection was pretty good but on New Zealand Pinot Noir I didn’t find what I wanted. Given Roberto’s nationality, I opted instead for a good (in this case exceptional and travel retail exclusive) Amarone from Masi (subject of a recent Blog).
“Can I be of any assistance?,” a very friendly Nuance shop assistant named Petra asked.
I chatted away to her, describing what had happened to my original purchase, who the wine was for and saying that I could not get through to the Lost Property department. She confirmed that the Masi Amarone was an excellent choice but didn’t stop there.
“Would you like me to try calling Lost Property on my phone?” she continued. She did exactly that, even chatting away in German for me to the man who answered.
Still, it became clear, I was out of luck. It would be Amarone not Pinot Noir for Roberto, Italy not New Zealand.
At the till, Petra spoke to Shop Supervisor Raphaela Prex, relating my experience. ”Let’s see what we can do,” said Raphaela, who took me back to the Swiss desk. Patiently she described again what had happened, mentioned my significant dinner guest and asked if there was anything that could be done.
We were referred to the main Lost Property office a few minutes away in the airport. As we walked, Raphaela chatted about her life, from her love of football (Liverpool and Bayern Munich) to the All Blacks haka (hey, this is a woman of real taste) and even about English rugby star Johnny Wilkinson (well everyone’s allowed their weakness, right?). She was an utter delight, bright, personable and helpful beyond belief.
When we got there we were met by a nice gentleman who checked for us on the state of the aircraft. “Sorry,” he said a moment later, “the plane has already departed – for Barcelona. Nothing seems to have been found.”
Barcelona! My Marlborough Pinot Noir was heading to Catalonia! The kind man (Mr Santa Croce, I believe was his name, though as I had also forgotten my glasses, I am not sure) took my business card and promised to call me if anything turned up.
And then… something did turn up. Just as we were about to leave, a young man came rushing through to the department carrying a security tray’s collection of items left on the plane. In among various items of clothing, a baby’s dummy (not mine, I hasten to add), and assorted electronic items was the distinctive Caviar House & Prunier bottle bag. And inside it was the now well-travelled Pinot Noir.
It was one of those quietly exhilirating moments of relief that have regularly punctuated my adult life. I thanked my saviours (pictured above) and walked back with Raphaela to the Arrivals store.
“You have been SO helpful,” I said. “I am so grateful.”
“No, it’s my job,” she replied. “I like to serve people.”
But she went further. And here’s what she said: “I don’t just work in a duty free shop. I try to serve people nicely and make shopping part of the travel journey, part of their experience.”
Wow, that should be a mantra for everyone serving in this industry. And she likes (probably even performs) the haka! Does it get any better?
We bid our farewells and I headed to the new Nuance HQ just a few minutes from the airport. Too few minutes in the view of the taxi driver who grumbled relentlessly all the way there about having waited in the queue for an hour before getting such a short journey. I contrasted him with Petra and Raphaela in terms of being an ambassador for the city and for the airport.
Like all good stories this one has a happy ending and I was duly able to present Roberto with two outstanding wines from our respective home countries. Over dinner at the outstanding AC Hotel Palacio del Alfonso we drank a particularly good Tignanello from Antinori, preceded by a brilliantly refreshing glass of Torres Chardonnay.
I told Roberto about Petra and Raphaela. He noted their names and spoke fondly about the company’s strong service culture and about the people he has led down the years at Nuance. It was a nice evening and a reflective one.
I hope that service culture can be maintained within the constraints of a more financially focused Dufry (which, by the way, has an outstanding human resources department). I hope too that Dufry can bring together the retail excellence of Nuance ( Zürich is very good) with its own admirable disciplines. And I hope (and know) that whoever their employer, both Petra and Raphaela will be recognised as the gems they are, as I discovered on a day when nothing was lost (but instead found) in translation.