Comparing a wine guy to wine is painfully cliche, but wine words are probably the best way to describe Seth Pollard: complex, but not too serious; hedonistic, but not over the top; showing signs of age, but not ready to give up his youth; friendly, but showing layers of depth. Smooth. Memorable.
Moving over to Beer & Wine from the Bulk Dept at Central Market in 2004, my enthusiasm was not lost on the department manager. Seth relished his role as my Grand Exponent. When we tasted with winemakers or reps, he would often interrupt the presenter and make sure I understood the background context and the important applications - both for my education and my ability to sell to customers with confidence. He would send me home with wine books, and then we would walk the shelves together and make direct connections to the things I was reading about. Over time, he had me reorganize some of the sections to help reinforce my learning.
The education I was getting in wine facts was greatly superceded by the total absorption, spear-headed by Seth, in wine culture. The best way to enjoy wine is to enjoy wine. So I took home Seth's recommendations to test them with new recipes and eager friends. And because of Seth's natural inclusiveness, I was welcomed as an equal among my far more knowledgeable and accomplished co-workers. I may have been the "beer specialist," but I was always treated like part of the Wine Family by the team and sales reps. It seemed like I was being gifted a ticket back to an older, hippy-er time in Austin where everybody cool knew each other and grew up into a fondness of wine together.
For a time, Seth was hosting parties twice a month. Reps would bring the open spoils from their sales day and extra sample bottles, hoping for another opportunity to make a pitch. Seth would pull old stuff from his cellar; kids and pets were running in every direction. People were gathering in the tiny kitchen, and outside on the driveway. Somehow there was always tons of food; and laughter. And whatever were the best wines of the evening, Seth invariably sought me out to make sure I had tasted them.
And this is what I love the most about Seth Pollard. He had enough room for everyone inside his tent. He was kind and chill, but he was ready to party. Everything good I could say about great wine could also be said about him.
The quality of retail wine sets in Texas have improved vastly in recent times. But 10 years ago, there were few fine wine shops better curated than Central Market North Lamar. Before private labels and huge corporate commitments, there was a simpler logic:
“Do you like it?” “Yes.”
“Can you sell it?” “Yes.”
“Is there a spot for it?” “Yes.”
“Then let’s bring it in.”
We all joked about it a lot, but Seth was a great delegator. This was probably a result of burnout from the monotony of retail work, as well as his occasional struggles with low energy. But there was also a shrewd paternal instinct – he took pride in equipping his employees for the next step of their careers. And now as I look back, I see clusters of successful folks in the wine industry that once spent time developing their craft in Seth’s shadow.
His legacy lives on in those of us that still enjoy this line of work largely because we saw the right way to do it in our dear friend and mentor, Seth.