Roll back your calendar nine years. It’s 2005 and you’re attending the first edition of a conference for sommeliers and others passionate about wine. You are about to receive some of the most to the moment information about wines and regions that your customers and friends will be name-dropping years later. You’re on the ground floor of an event that a decade later wine professionals circle on their calendar months in advance.
Where are you and your wine besties meeting? San Francisco? NYC? My hometown of Chicago? Maybe other great foodie towns such as New Orleans or Boston.
But Austin? Dallas? Would they even make your top six or seven?
Welcome to TEXSOM, the Texas Sommelier Conference, now in its tenth year, which began in Austin and now is held just outside of Big D, in the suburb of Las Colinas. It’s my first time attending, and honestly, I arrived at the Four Seasons a little intimidated. Even while registering, I glimpse several wine professionals whose blogs I regularly read or have seen profiled in magazines such as Wine & Spirits.
The expression “Social Butterfly” isn’t part of my DNA, so I wonder if I could hold my share of a conversation with any of these folks.
Upon reflection, now that I am home, I realize how welcomed everyone at TEXSOM made me feel. It was truly the jump start I needed for my blog and wine studying.
The heartbeat of TEXSOM is the two days of seminars. The programming was pretty creative; these are topics not typically covered at your local wine shop. You need to make some difficult decisions when you register because once a program starts, you are not allowed to leave and catch part of another one!
For example, here are several seminars I reluctantly decided not to attend. You can tell TEXSOM is addressing some pretty Jeopardy-level subjects!
Beyond the Big Three: Exciting Regions of the U.S. Beyond the West Coast
What is Old is New Again: Recurring Trends in Wines
Regional Focus: Franciacorta
I chose some topics that would hopefully fill in some weak spots in my knowledge, so I will be more prepared for my next Sommelier Exam. Here are some bullet points I took away from several of them.
On Day One, I started with Sommeliers’ Guide to Oak. This was a solid overview to the contributions oak barrels make, from adding tannins, reducing a wine’s bitterness, interacting with the wine to create more complex aromas and enhancing a wine’s minerality and mouthfeel. I also learned that site selection for potential oak trees to cut down for barrels is just as important as the location where a grapevine is planted.
We blind tasted three examples of the same 2013 Chardonnay from Fisher Vineyards (Santa Rosa) in barrel sample form – each aged in a different sized or aged vessel. None of these wines has made it to market yet, and were all still in a pretty incomplete state. There was spirited discussion of what each of the different barrels was adding to their respective sample.
The highlights of Day Two were Regional Focus: Rioja and Variety Focus: Syrah. In addition to a history lesson about how Rioja earned its way onto wine lists from throughout the world we learned how much more common the use of French oak is compared to a generation ago. The Artadi Tempranillos we sampled, from 2008 and 2010, for example, were aged completely in new French Oak. Definitely not Old School! The Syrah seminar gave me a new appreciation for the versatility and ageability of a grape that can range from the mint and eucalyptus flavors of Jasper Hill, from Heathcote, Australia, to the almost Burgundy-like Matetic, from San Antonio, Chile
My friend and author of the much fruit blog, Sheri Patillo (nice job on your #Certified exam, Sheri!) took a morning trip to South Africa and she emailed me her comments:
The presenters (Master Sommeliers John Blazon, Andrew McNamara, and Matt Stamp), tackled the task of helping participants grasp the history of South Africa along with its present reality: huge economic disparity, high unemployment rate, continued political strife, and relatively young export market. I enjoyed laughing and tasting. They brought humor to the table with tales of animals and vines – travels and wines.
This seminar brought to life the Semillon grape for me through a stunning example: 2004 Boekenhoutskloof Semillon (Franschhoek). Even after a decade, it tasted youthful and crisp. In reference to Semillon, John Blazon said, “It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of grapes…it gets no respect.” Well, this wine ushered in respect and placed South African Semillon in a seat of honor.
I placed a PDF about this wine in my public Dropbox file; you can access it here.
During breaks of the seminars, I had the opportunity to taste samples from portfolios represented by over a dozen different wineries or importers. Some of the featured portfolios included Becky Wasserman Selections, Serendipity Wines and Huneeus Vineners.
Let’s just say networking comes a little easier to me with a glass of wine in my hand!
The finale of TEXSOM came Monday night with an extensive wine and food buffet which culminated with the “Best Sommelier in Texas” award, which over twenty Texas sommeliers competed while many of the TEXSOM seminars took place. This year’s winner was Joelle Cousins, from the Red Room Lounge in Austin. Definitely a place I want to visit before next year’s event!
To the founders Drew Hendricks and James Tidwell: Thank you for two days of incredible fun and educational opportunities! I enjoyed all the seminars, and look forward to trading notes with folks attending the ones I couldn’t attend. The seminars usually started and ended on time, and the speakers were for the most part, engaging, and left time for questions either during their presentation or at the conclusion.
To the volunteers: Thank you for all the efficient work you performed behind the scenes that made the conference run so smoothly. How you managed to set up and break down the rooms so quickly, polish thousands of glasses to a shimmer, and pour for hundreds of guests without spilling a drop – let’s just say as a wine newbie, I was entranced – you are all First Growths in my book (and even after a full day of work – you still looked flawless in your suits!)
To the attendees: SO inspired by the knowledge, friendship and yes, love, that flowed from all of you like a beautiful fountain. I hope to stay in touch with all the new friends I made – please look for me on Facebook and, if you’re a member, on the GuildSomm site.
With love from Chicago,
P.S.: If you’re a sommelier or even mere enthusiast, like myself, and live here in Chicago, I have one question for you: Could we put on a similar event here? I would love to try!