What They Don’t Teach You in Sommelier School.

This image has nothing to do with this article...I just really like it.

Lately I’ve started realizing that my wine knowledge has been slipping.
How could that possibly happen?
Well, I did just turn 31, so maybe dementia could be setting in early; but personally I think the truth is that I just don’t seem to use what I had drilled into me from the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Society of Wine Educators.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not knocking these fine institutions…well maybe I am a little. You see, I’ve always seen wine in a different light from most people. Wine is an agricultural product. A very complex and beautiful agricultural product nonetheless, but still the product of fruit that grows from a plant in the ground. Sure, I can wax poetically with the best of ‘em about the meso-climates within this one tiny vineyard parcel within the sub-region of a greater region, which has a sandy loam soil and maritime climate. I just don’t think that’s what most people, even the more wine-savvy, can relate to.

Overall, when talking about wine, I’ve never felt that enough emphasis is placed on “the cool stories”. I know it sounds kind of crass but I truly think that’s what people need to help them get a better understanding of the juice in the bottle. Granted, a lot of the stories surrounding a wine are very specific to that individual product itself, so there’s no way that wine institutions could ever begin to try and run classes focused on labels / brands. No, most of those stories are gained from talking one-on-one with winemakers, wine reps and others in the industry. You don’t seem to find many cool stories buried in wine books.

I’ll let you be the judge. Pretend I’m your Sommelier at a restaurant, and you just ordered a bottle of wine from me. I bring it to the table, and you ask me to tell you a little-bit about it. You tell me which one of the following sentences is most memorable for you:

“The grapes for this Merlot were picked at the height of the season in September at 23° brix, from vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. There are 4 different clones of Merlot grapes blended together to make this wine, which is aged in a combination of 40% new, 60% used mixed stave oak barrels from Limousin.”
“There were only 25 cases of this Merlot made, of which only 2 cases are in this State. You’re going to be drinking one of the bottles from those 2 cases. The wine was named after the winemakers dog who during harvest runs through the vineyard and eats the grapes off the vine. The winemaker himself wanders the vineyard the night before the harvest to double-check the ripeness of the grapes, earning him the nickname ‘The Midnight Rambler’ ”.

Ok, so maybe a little exaggerated, but I think you get my point! There’s much more factual information in the first paragraph, but I just don’t think 99.9% of wine drinkers can relate to it. And that’s who I’m talking to: the 99.9%. My focus has always been on the larger percentage of people trying to learn more about wine. For some reason, the 0.01% of hardcore wine drinkers are catered to by the greater proportion of other wine websites out there. I want to help people learn, and I just don’t think that can be achieved by boring them to death with what for the most part is useless wine trivia.


  • January 5, 2012

    Wine Curmudgeon

    Very well put. As I always like to say, most wine writing caters to the 20 percent of the country that drinks most of the wine, and not the 80 percent that doesn’t. How are we going to get the 80 percent interested in wine if we ignore them?

  • January 6, 2012

    Stuart Williams

    I love this idea!!  When I have done stories about wine, I want to find the funny, or the good instead of the overly technical cause that is what my friends and family want to know about.  Not all of that technical data.  Now don’t get me wrong I appreciate that data due to having interned and made wine, but the general population could really care less.  I will try to get back to writing more and post more of the fun stories about wine!

  • January 8, 2012

    Jake Kodak

    Thanks!!  I have my WSET because there is an expectation of knowledge and education BUT the absolute joy of my wine life is all about sharing and experiencing the stories….the” romance of the wine”

  • March 31, 2012

    Mercenary Chef

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for this, I have been slowly beating the drum of the same tune for years. Hats off to you!

  • April 2, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    :) I think the “stories” are what people remember the most….not the % malo a wine went though…

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