If you had asked me on July 5th, 2008 when I moved to New York City if I thought that in two and half years I would be sent to Champagne based on my ability to taste sparkling wine I would have laughed in your face. Thanks to Ruinart Champagne and the Guild of Sommeliers, I’ll be there from the 15th to the 17th of June. It still hasn’t totally sunk in.
Two and half years ago, I knew nothing about wine. I mean nothing. I spent a summer in college working in a very large, mediocre Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End. I was curious about wine, but it was so unaccessible. Beer I got, and new a lot about because I drank a lot of it. But we’re talking about 2-3 bucks a bottle versus 10+. On a college budget, I wasn’t doing a whole lot of wine drinking.
Then I got a job in a wine bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Early mentoring from Elmer Contreras at Fredrick Wildman & Sons led me to taking the 6-month Viticulture and Vinification class at the American Sommelier Society. Andrew Bell’s pull-no-punches wine bootcamp was intense. Hristo Zisovski taught the Napa class and happily provided me with his e-mail, telling me to get in touch with any questions. Jake Young taught my unit on New Zeland and South Africa.
Jake suggested a membership to GuildSomm at the end of his class. Hristo’s bio had also piqued my interest in the Court. I took Jake’s advice, signed up, and started participating. I also signed up for the January 2010 intro exam in New York City at Hristo’s encouragement. Laura Maniec was one of the proctors for my intro exam, and soon became a mentor after I approached her following the GuildSomm White Burgundy tasting.
She happily helped establish one of my current tasting groups, connecting me with several other sommeliers, providing a venue, and her time at 9:00 in the morning every Thursday for months. Her mentoring allowed us to become a strong, self-operating group, who are still meeting regularly nearly a year later. I count all of them as some of my closest friends in the world of wine.
I work at a (really great) 60-seat wine bar and taste regularly with people who work at Michelin 3-star and New York Times 4-star restaurants. Not once have I ever felt demeaned, or looked down upon because of the relative caliber of our employment. In tastings there’s nothing but respect for the process, where all of us are at individually in our journey to be more accurate tasters, and what the wine is saying to all of us.
Without the Court, Guildsomm, and all the mentors and peers (What up, BWG!?) I have in my life, there’s no way I would be where I am today. My involvement in this professional community has been the making of me. They’ve opened so many doors and have shown me how beautiful and expansive the world of wine is. Ruinart and the Guild are sending me on an adventure to Champagne, which I am insanely humbled to receive, and will gladly report back on. I’m studying furiously in the hopes of being accepted to take the advanced exam this April. I close my bar tonight, but tomorrow morning I will be meeting my group at 9:30 tomorrow to do a six-glass flight, and couldn’t be more happy about it.
I am just flabbergasted to wake up every morning and find that this is what I do. I hope those of you in the in service industry feel the same way. Hopefully I’ll see some of you in April in Anaheim, others of you in Champagne, and anytime you come to New York, let me know. There’s a lot of us here, so come play.