Updated: Apr 18
Zero-to-Sommelier in 730 days. It seems everybody is doing it now. But I feel like I did it prettay, prettayy, prettayyy good. Why did I get hired to manage the wine program at the highest-grossing restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts organization? Why wouldn't they hire someone who had more experience, or some formal education? I had none of that. I had a year of wine sales experience under my belt, where an extra 35 pounds gained from eating, drinking, and repeating on the company dime was also hiding. I wasn't even qualified to take the job I left to work as a sommelier, which was another wine job that I couldn't figure out how I ended up doing.
The danger, you're thinking, is that I had some unfair advantage that allowed me to get really good at wine, really fast. I'm not like you, you're thinking. I must be a freak of nature, some kind of super-taster or savant. I must have come from immense privilege and had been drinking back-vintage Ridge Monte Bello since I was 9.
Well, my dad has a small construction company. My mom is really into neat stuff and has a wonderfully creative brain and sense of humour. They both like drinking.
I got a good education in Canada. Played sports. Received a golf scholarship at a good university. I was always really focused and obsessive about whatever I was into. I was really good at English. Good at writing. I played music, sang, and danced. I played hockey for a while. Played baseball for a year. I became really interested in spirituality and eastern religion for a while as a late teenager, even though I was raised as a catholic. I don't subscribe to any religion or spirituality now. You're more likely to catch me ripping on it and making fun of it. But there's value in understanding it because you actually committed to it for a time. Remember that when we start talking about wine.
Why does all or any of this matter? I was into a lot of shit. As a kid running around a local golf course, I learned how to talk to everyone. I met tons of different people at a young age. My parents let me experiment, with no judgement. As a 3 or 4 year old boy, I remember my mother taking me shopping to buy a bathing suit to run around through the sprinkler in. I spotted a purple, polka-dotted, frilly girls one-piece bathing suit. I want that one. No judgement. I wore it, and I loved it. My parents let me go to music lessons wearing a cape. No judgement. I never cared what people thought about me very much. I have never been afraid to do what I wanted. I realize the privilege present in that statement, and I am very grateful for it.
I think there are a few reasons why people wanted to pay me to deal with their wine problems before I really knew about wine myself. I feel like I can talk to people without making them feel judged, even though I probably am judging them on the inside. I feel like putting someone else's shoes on is fun, not a burden. I like to make people laugh, put them at ease, or on the flip side, behave in a way that they might be too afraid to. I think that's attractive.
I knew how to speak construction worker, sailor, but also how to impress a banker, a business woman, liberals, conservatives, kids, elderly people. I think that comes from getting paired up with all kinds of people on golf courses as a kid. I think it comes from having really good English teachers at school, and learning how to cuss from carpenters at a young age. If you can only present yourself one way, you are limited to who you can connect with. I could present myself any way that I wanted, and therefore, make an intimidating subject like wine seem approachable to a wide array of people.
When I feel like it, I consume information voraciously. This always allowed me to stay a few steps ahead of the people I was talking to about wine. I didn't have to know everything, and I always admit when I don't know something. But I always knew enough to be able to help someone who didn't know as much as I did, and I always knew how to hang with someone who knew more without trying to appear as someone who knew more than I did.
At the end of the day, I am not the most knowledgeable wine person you'll ever encounter. But since I've drank and read more than most, I know enough to pass on valuable and helpful information. And my conversation skills never got in the way of that.
You see, a customer who wants to enjoy wine more doesn't need a lot of technical information about wine. They want some form of knowledge that can A.) allow them to drink something pleasurable, and B.) allow them to enjoy the absorption of some new knowledge. I believe that learning something new about what you are drinking is almost as enjoyable, if not often more enjoyable, than the drink itself. I always knew enough to pass that along, and I intend to pass on a lot of it to you here.
I have no formal wine education. As a result, few people in the wine business or who drink the stuff at all think like I do. If you want to take courses that millions of others have taken, you'll probably end up thinking like those millions of others. Fine for you if you enjoy sheepdom. I'm more into unicorndom. If you learn to teach yourself, the knowledge is yours exclusively. I think that kind of knowledge is the most satisfying.
I've been paid to do shit with wine for almost 10 years now. The funny thing is that the reason I get paid to do shit with wine hasn't changed from when I got that job as a sommelier or as a fine wine salesperson. The wine comes second. You come first.
So, enough about me.
Let's work on you.