Taking on Tradition (#MWWC14 Entry)











The theme of #MWWC14 this month immediately reminded me that from childhood, I have disliked Fiddler on the Roof.
It seems like our family saw it every year, at the same dinner theater.  Where everything was served medium rare.  The roast beef.  The potatoes.  
The apple pie.
If you have forgotten the story, here’s a highlight from Wikipedia.
It’s about a stubborn father, who stands in the way of his three daughters’ happiness by fighting their impending nuptials.  Not because he disagrees with their fiances’ morals or character.  But because tradition dictates that their life partners should be arranged by others in authority.
Let’s face facts.  When you’re twelve years old, siding with #TeamTevye is like rooting for the Yankees.  At any age.
A Facebook friend of mine, Lindsey Cook, shared this touching story from her childhood recently:

*deep thoughts* Remembering back in the day, my mom chose my music for figure skating performances. One year, tired of an industry rife with stuffy classical ballet pieces, she made my choreographer work with Boyz II Men’s Motownphilly….back in ’91 when hip hop was new to pop mainstream. The day of the performance, I skated out to the center of the rink by myself in the silence–shy 9-year old kid that I was–to prove to a panel of judges that I was worthy of advancing to the next level. The heavy beat filled the cold rink and I started skating. The entire performance, my eyes on the ice and the occasional nervous eye on the judges, some were abhorred, some ended up tapping their feet, all were unsure if I was offending the stuffy figure skating culture. I did end up passing into Freestyle 5. Had no clue at that time, but looking back, just realized that was an extremely formative 3 minutes for me, that my cool ass mom created…a moment of learning to be bold in front of authority, to toe(pick)  that line of trailblazing while having sense of humor…and to teach a shy girl to embrace embarrassment every once in a while. I thank her for that. It’s a central part of my fabric. What an awesome woman and mom she is!!!

First thought: I wish Boyz II Men explored more uptempo material.
Second thought: Ms. Cook’s story reminded me of the challenges we all face throughout our lives as we balance traditions we have grown up with against the potential that new processes, new technologies, may “improve” them. In our youth, the temptation is to crank Boys II Men to Eleven whenever confronted with our elders.
But as you get older, (I just turned fifty), when you can barely recognize half the performers on the Grammys, it’s easy to slip into Falwell mode and just assume The Old School had it right all along.

Everyone confronts his or her Inner Falwell eventually.

The wine business (sorry to put it in such mercenary terms) seems to hold on to their Old School ways at all costs.  This is not a community that takes to change easily.
The MBA side of me doesn’t understand certain the reluctance of those in the industry to embrace new strategies.  Three years ago, a new series debuted on ABC with a female lead often seen on camera sipping or gulping from her wine glass.
Today Scandal is an authentic hit on an actual network with letters. But does it surprise you that no wineries have jumped on the connection and advertised on the program?  Wouldn’t that help create a “rising tide” that would raise attention to all those involved in wine’s creation, not to mention the importers, distributors and sommeliers who tell their stories?
I’ve heard the argument “well, most wineries can’t afford the cost of those spots.”  The Gallos of the world could.  The Kendall-Jacksons could.  The Chateau Ste Michelles could.

And that’s tradition talking too.  Wine information has always been communicated through print.  While hard-copy has taken a hit economically in favor of digital, the businesses that make and promote wine act tone-deaf to that fact. 

As a blogger, and former twelve-year old, I am inspired by those in the business coloring outside the lines, testing the potential of social media to promote their product.  As well as the somms (you have no idea how weird I think that shorthand is) finding new ways to reach customers without the tastevins and power suits.
The challenge, as always, is balance.  Knowing what cards to play when. When testifying at the Supreme Court of Wine, you dress and act one way.  When back at your own restaurant, where you sign the checks each week, you can pick and choose which rules to follow.
The lesson both Old and New Schools should agree on is:  No one has it right one hundred percent of the time.  One reason why wine holds the mystique it does is the push and pull its creators navigate between past and present.

Interview with Jane Lopes – Behind the Scenes at a Sommelier Competition

Jane Lopes (smiling)

Jane Lopes, formerly of Lush Wine & Spirits, now at Eleven Madison Park in NYC.

When I first became curious about wine, I made frequent Sunday visits to Lush Wine & Spirits, to talk and taste with their staff, especially Jane Lopes.  It’s not a surprise that Lush’s alumnae have flourished since leaving the store.  Especially in Jane’s case; she is now a sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan.  She was recently profiled in Wine & Spirits magazine as one of their “Best New Sommeliers” and she recently placed second at an international competition for wine professionals sponsored by the Chaine des Rotisseurs.

Jane has been a great role model to me as I study towards My Dream, and I hope you take inspiration from her recent experience competing in Denmark among her peers.

Can you tell us a little about the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and how you first became aware of their international competition for sommeliers?

I believe it was Christopher Bates, MS, who first told me about the Chaine competition.  Chris is a big proponent of competitions as a way to better ourselves as wine professionals, meet other like-minded people, and have some fun.  I had enjoyed competing in the Guild of Sommelier’s Top New Somm competition, so I figured I would give the Chaine a try.  The Chaine is an “international gastronomic society” devoted to all things culinary, and they do a really great job of promoting a culture of community and camaraderie within that world.

How did you prepare to compete in this competition other than your performing your normal nightly routine as a sommelier?

I study quite a bit in my free time.  I make my own study guides for every region of the world, with maps pasted in, producer profiles, appellation laws, flash cards, etc.  I also attend a weekly tasting group where I practice blind tasting.  I’ll often have the bartenders at my restaurant pour me spirits blind to practice that (which is often a task found in competitions and exams).  I try to make sure my service is “exam ready” when I practice it at my restaurant every night, so that all the minutiae of service becomes ingrained in me — I alawys wipe the bottle lip before and after the cork is removed, I make sure I move around the table in the correct manner every time, I never backhand a guest, etc.  The more I can perfect my service on the floor, the more comfortable and natural it will be in high-stress situations.

If you’re comfortable discussing, aside from the academics, did you focus on anything else to get you ready; either physically, mentally or spiritually?

I believe that once you do the work of preparation, most exams and competitions come down to mental dexterity and your ability to work well under stress.  I used Lumosity, which is an app designed to force your brain to work more effectively and I believe it works well.  I also practice yoga, which helps me remain calm in times of stress.

Jane Lopes photo

Such steady nerves – I would be so nervous!

What was the most stressful part of the competition for you, and how similar or different was the atmosphere compared to a shift at your regular restaurant?

Certainly the most stressful part of the competition was the final round in front of an audience.  While I perform service in front of people at my restaurant, it is a different beast to be performing service tasks, answering theory questions, and blind tasting in front of an audience.  The greatest thing you can do when you’re in competitions or exams is to be able to put yourself in the mindset of being on the floor of your own restaurant.  It’s not always easy, but this tactic will not only allow you to stay calm, but also afford you the right instincts for service and hospitality.

Did you get to know your competitors pretty well at your regional competition and the final in Copenhagan?  Were you pretty friendly towards each other or was the mood a little more, shall we say, intense?

I’ve never been to a competition that wasn’t all about camaraderie!  No one is cutthroat or competitive.  Sure, we all want to do well, but the main point (at least in my opinion), is to have fun, hone your skills, and meet some colleagues.  If I don’t place well in a competition, but I feel good about my performance, that’s all that matters.  If nothing else, in inspires me to push myself a little harder to be better at what I do.  And if you miss out on the opportunity to make friendships, you’ve missed the point.

Did you have time to explore Denmark at all?  What can you share about the food and wine scene there?

Copenhagen is a beautiful city, full of friendly people and exciting food.  I had wonderful meals at No. 2, Le Sommelier, d’Angleterre, and Studio while I was there.  The modern Nordic style of food is all about simple ingredients, contrasted boldly, with beautiful plating and imaginative presentation.  My favorite dish I had while over there was one of the simple:  a cannelle of black caviar topped with a light broth of walnut milk at Studio.  Two ingredients.  The nutty sweetness of the walnut milk against the salty, briny caviar was superb.

Within the wine scene, there’s a “war” (as many Danes called it) between the enthusiasts of “naturwein” versus the anti-enthusiasts.  The natural wine movement has taken hold there, but many are not a fan of the wines, and you can see restaurant wine lists lie staunchly in one camp or the other.  Cocktails and beer are also taken quite seriously there – it’s a good town to drink in!


A Cannelle – what wine would -you- pair with this?

Now that you have returned home, how will participation in this competition make you a better wine professional?

Any time you have the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, you grow.  If you don’t keep challenging yourself, you’ll remain stagnant.  Doing things like this pushes me as a wine professional, both in terms of skills challenged during the competition, but also in how it exposes me to how other countries and cultures do things.  I will take back with me all that I learned about myself and my profession from competing, all the feedback I got from the judges, all the insight gleaned from the other competitors, and all the inspiration from my meals and experiences in Copenhagen.

A to B with Elizabeth Smith

Elizabeth Smith photo

Elizabeth Smith went from her “A” job to a “B” dream career in wine – maybe you can too!

This month, I celebrated (if you want to call it that) a milestone birthday.  Yes, one of those where the second digit is “zero” (no guesses to the first one!)  In order to cheer myself up a little, I reached out on Facebook, looking for folks who went from Point A to a Point B job working in wine/hospitality, because that kind of is my dream as well.

A longtime Facebook friend, Elizabeth Smith, volunteered herself for an interview, which I hope will be the first of many. Her current roles are as the Tasting Room Coordinator at Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards and also the Travel Manager for Trentadue Winery (which I kept mispronouncing in my interview – sorry about that, Elizabeth!)  She also blogs as the Traveling Wine Chick.

Click on one of my links below to hear how Elizabeth transitioned out of her professor role after a layoff, and found much career success in Napa Valley.

If you would like to suggest a guest (maybe yourself!) for a future A to B interview, please email me at chicagopinot@gmail.com or through Facebook.

The Dropbox link for Elizabeth’s interview is here:

and I have placed it in my public Google Drive folder here:

Advice From an Award-Winning Writer/Director

As a writer and director, Ken Levine has worked on many television classics, including M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier and The Simpsons.  His almost daily blog is filled with both stories and trivia about his projects but also pragmatic advice for those seeking a career in Hollywood.

Much of his advice crosses over to other fields.  Here’s part of a post he wrote recently.

When you go to comedy movies make note of what works and try to figure out why. Same with plays. Sitcoms are harder unless they’re multi-camera and you’re in the audience. Because through editing, sweetening, and retakes they can make shows appear better than they played. But train yourself to study comedy. And when you feel you finally have a real handle on it then learn this cardinal rule:

No one is always right.

Just substitute “wine” for the words “comedy”, “plays”, and “shows” and always be thinking about the “why?”

How do you study wine?  How do you fight back when the laws and vocabulary start to blur, and studying feels more like a chore, like endless piano scales, than anything else?  Please share in the comments!

And the Seasons . . .

Rioja Bordon (Circle Game)















This is a story of one bottle and two minutes of spellbound observation.

It’s Friday night.  Your humble correspondent, a proud Tasting Whore, is making his usual route North into the Loop to hit up a few of the free samples.

Usually last stop is a shop near Buddy Guy’s club.  Has a solid Riesling collection compared to other stores its size.  Usually the prettiest of Chicago’s wine reps pour here too.

Tonight, a gentleman even older than me (no guesses, please!) is working the bar.  A customer standing next to me, a little shy, shares that he just turned twenty-one.  He seems a bit more curious about the last wine in the flight, a nine year old Rioja, and quietly asks the distributor about it.

What came next left me speechless.  The wine rep gives this newbie a succinct, clear explanation of Rioja, its primary grape, and the importance this region places on aging.  He gives this potential customer three or four easy to remember sound bites to place in his memory bank.

And then, he just kept quiet.  And let him taste.

I don’t think the Gran Reserva sold that night.  But I can just picture this young man returning on payday to purchase a bottle or two.  And later that evening having his girlfriend light up like a Christmas tree when he shares what he learned about Rioja a few weeks earlier.

It brought to mind a song from a true First Growth artist.  Maybe the young couple will open that Rioja and cue up this Elton John hit from The Lion King.

I’m a Teacher’s Kid.   Watching knowledge pass effortlessly from one person to another never gets tired for me.  I felt equally entranced  a few days later when one of my study partners poured for a small group at another wine shop. Watching her engage each customer, patiently answering every question, taking an extra minute to gift wrap a package for one patron’s supervisor, I am reminded anew Why I Want This Dream So Much.

And it reminded me of another classic “Circle” song.  Remember this one from Joni Mitchell?

Reflections From a TEXSOM Virgin

TEXSOM 2014 Banner





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.

Badge #1The 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.

Badge #2

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.

WiTEXSOM Banner #2th 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!

Taste of the Nation Preview – with Anna Batcke

SOS Taste Nation Chicago Logo

If you’ve attended one stuffy, overly formal benefit too many, you may want to consider the upcoming Chicago Share Our Strength event as an alternative.  Next Wednesday, August 13, at 7:00 p.m. at Navy Pier, Chicago’s finest chefs and mixologists will team up for a fun evening supporting long-term anti-hunger programs throughout Chicagoland.  Tickets are available at this website and  don’t forget to use the code SAVORSUMMER14 for $30 off your tickets.

 In a My First Growth exclusive, Anna Batcke, the Midwest Director of Culinary Events for host organization Share Our Strength, gives us the background on this event, and what makes it a unique addition to the benefit calendar:

What are the origins of Share Our Strength and how would you describe the overall theme of your organization?

Share Our Strength has what I would call a very inspirational story.  Our co-founders, Billy and Debbie Shore, who are brother and sister, founded this organization 30 years ago.  At the time of Share Our Strength’s founding, both Billy and Debbie had very distinguished careers in politics and public affairs, and in that work, both had the opportunity to witness the famine in Africa firsthand, at the height of its severity in the 80s.  Both were moved to change their life and their work to create Share Our Strength with the belief that everyone has a strength, and everyone has something to share.    They started Share Our Strength in the basement of a DC row house with a small advance on a credit card.   The mission of the organization was focused on working to end hunger across the globe.  As time went on, our organization started to focus more and more on domestic hunger, and then on the crisis of childhood hunger.  In 2010, we launched the No Kid Hungry campaign with long-time hunger relief advocate Jeff Bridges as our spokesperson.

We have always been known as an incredibly innovative, entrepreneurial organization, but I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted we would be making the progress we are making in ending childhood hunger.  One of the reasons I think we have been so successful is because of the fact we hold ourselves accountable to end childhood hunger in this country – we know it can be done and we intend to do it.  The other thing that I think makes us so unique is that we have stayed true to ourselves as an organization – sharing strengths.  We have made the progress only because everyone who works with us – states, governors, mayors, corporations, small businesses, individuals and hundreds of nonprofit organization across the US – is sharing their strength and resources.   Our work today is about convening thoughtful, goal-focused collaborations, with everyone bringing their best.  That is what’s moving the needle on child hunger in this country.

Lillies Q

How many years has Share Our Strength been active in Chicago? Where can we see its work during the year outside of this annual benefit?

We are honored to have supported wonderful work – programs and organizations – in Chicago since 1988.  We are very fortunate to have the Greater Chicago Food Depository as our partner in No Kid Hungry Illinois – they have been incredible partners who have been leading the work to connect kids across the state with summer meals, school breakfast and other nutrition supports to ensure kids are surrounded with the healthy foods they need to thrive.  We also work with EverThrive Illinois, our partner in Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program.  Cooking Matters has been around for over 20 years and has taught thousands of families how to prepare healthy, low cost meals on limited budgets.  And we continue to support the Illinois Hunger Coalition, who work tirelessly to advocate for stronger food policies for struggling families in Illinois.    Funds raised from Taste of the Nation Chicago support these organizations and the No Kid Hungry campaign.  When you hear about summer meal sites across the state, or hear about more children in need getting breakfast in Chicago, or more families learning how to stretch their SNAP (food stamp) benefits and use them to make healthy meals that help to keep their children healthy and strong – Share Our Strength and our partners are there!


Chicago is definitely a home to many splashy benefit events; how do you try to make TotN special each year?

Taste of the Nation is the legacy fundraising program of Share Our Strength – it’s been around since 1988 across the country.  Chicago’s first Taste of the Nation event was held here that same year, and has grown to become the premier culinary benefit in the city.  A big reason for our success is our chefs – we have always had amazing support from the culinary community here and across the country.  About 6 years ago, Chef Mindy Segal came on board and totally retooled the event, to make it much more trend-forward and authentic to Chicago’s food culture.  The result is what you see today – a fantastic event that is equally loved by guests and the chefs who help us produce it. 

One of the ways I think our event stands out is that it’s really built FOR chefs BY chefs.  When we plan this event, we put our chefs first, and figure out what is going to be best, easiest and the most fun for them.  The guests follow.   We hear feedback every year from chefs that ours is the favorite event, and that they look forward to participating.  That’s extraordinary when you consider that they are asked to a huge number of events each year, and we’re asking them to come and contribute food and staff costs to our event.

TOTN Chicago-1655_0

What are some ways we can volunteer to help Share Our Strength, either at the event itself or during the year? 

We’re always looking for great volunteers!  Share Our Strength has a way for everyone to share their talents, time and resources.  The easiest way to support us is to attend the event (tickets at nokidhungry.org/Chicago) or make a donation at NoKidHungry.org.  Folks who have labor and time to give can contact me (abatcke@strength.org) for information on how to volunteer at the event.  Our partner EverThrive Illinois is always looking for good volunteers with culinary or nutrition backgrounds to help lead Cooking Matters courses, and there are ample opportunities with the Greater Chicago Food Depository as well.  Share Our Strength also offers individuals the opportunity to participate in other programs, such as the Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry, Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, NoKidHungry2.org  – our youth site – and with Personal Fundraising, like running races or hosting private events to benefit our work.  All those opportunities are available on our website, nokidhungry.org/programs.






Megadeth Meets the Symphony


Dave Mustaine of Megadeth – Unlikely Classical Music Ambassador?


One of my favorite online discoveries this year was Sandow, a blog written by Greg Sandow.  Subtitled “On the future of classical music”, he writes prolifically about the challenges, from both artistic and business standpoints, to cultivate new audiences for what often seems an intimidating art form.

He posted recently about a collaboration between the San Diego Symphony and Dave Mustaine, founder and lead guitarist for Megadeth.  Even though metal and classical usually aren’t on my Spotify, I cheered reading Sandow’s account of the concert as well as the ingenuity of the symphony’s programmers for bringing two seemingly disparate types of music together for one night.

As a now-regular reader of Sandow, I often consider the similarities between cultivating wine’s fan base, if you will, and the struggle to bring a new generation to classical music before more symphonies and orchestras have to fold.

I’m not merely applying MBA thinking here; just concerned about bringing up the numbers.  If we’re talking total wine consumption, the U of S A is now in front. (Per capita?  That’s another story).

It’s not about kitschifying wine.  One aspect about the wine industry I really like is that its marketing isn’t always in your face.  You don’t see countless commercials for it like you do for, say, beer.  Print is the primary medium for advertising, and that allows for more creative use of photography and the written word to sing a bottle’s praises.

But that also means that wine’s allegiance to tradition puts it in a place that sometimes feels a little too much like church.  Where there’s a silent dogma that it’s assumed you know and respect.

And you know about the financial struggles for print media.  We are living in a world where information is circulated more and more through electronics.  Are we reading less?  I’m guessing no.  Are we reading shorter? Definitely.

And that’s troubling for the providers of the special pleasures of our world that require more study to fully understand.  The challenge is to bring more “swing-voters” into your tent; without dumbing down your product (hate that word in this context!)

As I budding wine professional, I want to help create a culture that can’t always been expressed by hard numbers.  To have customers not be afraid to ask me questions while I am pouring samples for them.  To get them curious about where their wine comes from, places that most of us won’t have to chance to visit in person.  To know that every great bottle has several great stories to tell, and once you open one, it should inspire you to share your own.

If you have stories about how you have introduced new audiences to wine, or creative ways of presenting  it, please share in the comments below.  And start reading your Sandow.  You may get some inspired programming ideas!



First Growth Interview – Nancy J. Sabatini of Mainstreet Wines & Spirits

From my Video Vault on YouTube, here is an interview with Nancy J. Sabatini from the suburban wine store, Mainstreet Wines & Spirits.  She was a panelist at the NRA (National Restaurant Association) show discussion in May about sparkling wines.  It was a pleasure to get her insight on trends in Champagne and sparkling wine sales!

You can watch the interview from this link:

She wanted me to remind viewers that it was Mireille Guiliano, not Lily Bollinger, who served as CEO of Clicquot, Inc. Ms. Guiliano also has written several books about French cooking; here’s her Amazon page:


Intentional Dining – Even For One

Me and Diane

Me and Etiquette Expert Diane Gottsman


The men and women who succeed at a Court of Master Sommeliers exam almost always have that sense of intentionality or purpose.  There’s a sequence, a discipline to how they taste wine and diagram each one similar to how we broke down sentences in English class (do kids still learn this?)

During their Service role play, there’s a reason for each word they speak and a confidence to every move they make around the table.

Now, I don’ t work at a restaurant (yet).  I have about a year of retail experience at “America’s Most European Supermarket“, but that didn’t allow me many opportunities to discuss wine with customers one on one.

But no excuses here.  Upon reflection, I do perform wine and food service every night.  For a customer who should be more demanding about my performance.

I’m referring, of course, to myself.

If you work as a server or in a wine store every day, that sense of purpose probably comes more naturally to you.  As someone looking for that first entry into the professional side of wine, I need to recreate that atmosphere off the job wherever I can.

Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert, author of Pearls of Polish, and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, has often been my Facebook and Twitter lifeline whenever I have a question about proper behavior.  It’s surprising how many of the basic rules you forget, especially when just dining alone!

She offered some excellent advice about how to make our nightly home meal, perhaps not the equivalent of Alinea, but more focused and thoughtful.

Set a pretty table. We spend a great deal of time making our home look nice when we invite guest’s to dinner. We use our best china, glassware and napkins to show respect to our valued guests. It’s just as important to respect ourselves, taking the time to show honor and respect to the one person that we live with 24 hours a day – even if it is only a “meal for one”.

I prefer the Continental style of dining; it is more efficient than American style.  It is less noisy and allows more eye contact and focus on your guest.  

(In this case, me!)

Here is an excellent tutorial from Diane which describes the differences between the two styles:


Author Colleen Rush

Fine Dining

And her book, which I recommend to all dining enthusiasts (great for aspiring servers and sommeliers, too!)

Colleen Rush, author of The Mere Mortal’s Guide to Fine Dining also offered some insightful advice:

She began with how to shop more attentively:

Shopping for ingredients – wandering grocery store aisles, finding oddball produce or spices at ethnic markets, basing a meal off of peak season finds at a farmers market – is where the fun starts.  Grocery shopping should never be considered a chore.  It’s an adventure – the new foods you discover, the people you meet (butchers, wine buyers, cheesemongers, farmers – you name it), the closer connection you have to what’s on your plate – all of these elements add up to a better meal.

Ms. Rush then discussed a little about how Western Culture doesn’t always give its full attention to dining enjoyment, especially compared to Europeans:

Americans can get a little too preoccupied with the idea of speed and efficiency and perfection, and when applied to food and dining, it doesn’t work.  A great meal isn’t about how quickly you can refuel or even how delicious and beautiful everything is on the plate.  It’s about enjoying the food, the company, the conversation, the moment.  Even if you burned the chicken or the wine isn’t as great as you want it to be.

She mentioned the importance of quality lighting and music in setting a mood:

Good music can make or break a great dinner.  Florescent overhead lighting is ghastly.  You should treat music like it’s an ingredient or dish in your dinner.  You select the type of music, the songs the volume, the playlist order – it’s like creating an audible dish.

And for this multitasker, Ms. Rush reminded me to disconnect.  From everything.

When I take the time to cook, even when I’m only cooking for one, I take the time to enjoy it and I always enjoy it more when I give eating my full attention.  I’m not watching TV or checking email or scanning Facebook.  I set the table (nothing fancy; just the proper flatware, glasses and plates), and completely disconnect from distractions.  It sounds hokey, but there’s no denying it – you’ll enjoy the meal more if you take the time and block out the “noise” of everyday life.

Thank you for the suggestions, Diane and Colleen!  Please share your ideas for making a home meal feel more special in the comments section below.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: