I was working in a client’s cellar, unpacking, stocking, and just generally tidying up when he came in to ask if I could pull some wines for lunch. After the obvious “what’s for lunch” questions, I asked how much he wanted to impress his guests. His direction was “savvy, but classic…but serve it blind”, and with a wink he was away.
I knew EXACTLY what to pull, and was excited for what was coming. No, nothing nefarious…but he was about to put into practice what he has been studying. A non-graded final exam, if you will and I was beyond thrilled to bear witness. The boxes could wait, there were glasses to polish!
Three wines later, as the mains were being cleared one of his buddies asked about the wine and upon finding out what it was, ribbed him for “cheaping out”. Not because it wasn’t delicious AF, but because it wasn’t a prestige appellation. My heart filled with pride as he shot back “Burgundy is for those in the know. If you’re only buying the prestigiously appellated wines, you’re overpaying and missing out.” WHAMMY! Douchebag touchdown! I don’t remember where I heard the term prestigiously appellated, but I recall my reaction; “Oooof! What a poncy thing to say” and it lived rent free until I found the perfect person to teach it to. I was barley able to contain my grin as I topped wines before heading back to finish the cellar. His friend piped down, lunch concluded and that joyous smirk on his face stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.
After his guests had left, he come downstairs for the high five he so richly earned. He kept saying comfortable he was now compared to a few months ago when we started working together. He originally reached out wanting to learn more about wine, but wanted to learn in private. I spent many evenings at his kitchen table with him and his Dad, teaching a customized curriculum focused of building skills to discuss wine with confidence and ease. He was clear from the word go that his buddies were all “wine guys” and as the newest collector in that group he wanted to get into fighting form quickly.
We started, as I always do, with the basics. Structure, more structure and then the intersection of climate and style. I turned the regional deep dives into treasure hunts for structural elements that showcase vintage and regionality and aromatics that hint at winemaking decisions. I always prioritize teaching my clients how to recognize the patterns in their preferences. It makes it easier to find what you’re looking for but also not invest in wine styles that you don’t like just because it’s popular. 99% of my clients have no intention of taking formal classes or writing exams and I like that for them.
Everyone wants something different from wine education, and I love how many custom education modules I’ve created so far and I always include liners in a tone that is right for each client to deliver when I’m not there. Does everyone want to be like my dearest Chad? No, absolutely not. Many want to engage sommeliers without fear, network with their bosses on a topic they love, order more easily at restaurants and some just want to learn more about their collection as they build it.
In the world of “demystifying wine”; I see things a little differently. Many times, this approach leads to an oversimplifying that feels pandering with a touch of condescension. The mysterious part of wine is mostly just posturing and pretence. Blow hards gotta blow, AMIRIGHT? The honest truth is that you can absolutely navigate the world of with without studying exotic produce for impressive tasting notes, memorizing facts and figures or being able to nail a blind. I want my clients to be confident in expressing what they like, comfortable discussing wine with a wide rage of people and curious about what else they have yet to discover.
On their journey of discovery, I want my legacy to be an appreciation of the magic wine holds, a comfort in knowing that they will never know everything and the confidence to engage in a way that elevates their joy. Education is not a one size never fits all proposition, it’s all about finding the right fit with an educator that inspires thirst and curiosity in equal measure.