Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Searching for the Veritas in the Vino.

I wake up in the dark of the night, out of breath and in a panic.  Failure is on my mind and for the rest of the night I toss and turn in and out of sleep.  Some people motivate themselves by building themselves up, by telling themselves they can and will achieve their goal and then they begin to believe it.  That’s never worked for me.    I motivate myself by living and re-living the shame of failure over and over again, night after night in what should be sound, peaceful rest.  It’s the sort of spur I need to keep me plowing through the studying.  It’s the guardrail that keeps me from skirting too close to failure. 

I am studying for yet another sommelier exam.  It was just last March that I received my certificate and tastevin from the Associazione Italiana di sommelier.  The certificate and tastevin are carefully stored, but it is almost as though I don’t feel that I know enough yet to wear them.  I have done a couple of tastings wearing my full uniform, but I hid my beautiful shiny tastevin in behind my apron.  It is a prize that I still don’t feel qualified to wear.   It sounds easy enough doesn’t it?  Becoming a sommelier is not a degree; I don’t have to defend a thesis.  I just have to have encyclopedic knowledge of all wines ever made on the planet and the grapes from which they were made, the character of their terroir and their aroma and taste profile as well as best vintages and be able to tell you all of that in a blind taste test. It is no wonder there are barely over 180 Master Sommeliers in the world!   That's about the same number as there are astronauts in the world!

So for whatever deep psychological need that I may have to be more knowledgeable, for whatever shortcoming I may have that I am trying to compensate for, I’ve signed myself up, at quite a financial cost, to write the introductory course for the Court of Master Sommeliers in Torquay, Devon on December 4 and 5th.  If I do well enough on the introductory exam, I will be invited to write and perform the exam to become a Certified sommelier with this most distinguished of wine service examining entities.  This is not the Master Sommelier certification to which I referred.  There are two other exams that must be written, recommendations submitted, and 5 years experience under one’s belt in the wine business to be able to even consider writing and performing that exam.

And what do I hope to achieve with all of this?  I think it all started as one of those “one thing led to another scenarios”…. we wanted to buy an Italian vineyard; we had better know something about wine, especially Italian wine … check.  Now, what?  Why the self-imposed torture of memorizing wine control laws, and details about wine areas in the old world and new?  No one is depending on me to learn this really well. What do I want to get out of this?

I really don’t know the answer to that question.  What I do know is that wine is as complicated a body of knowledge as anything that I have ever studied at university.  I feel compelled to better understand it.  I know that in order to wear my tastevin with pride, I need to know more. If in vino veritas, then surely that should also be true of your sommelier.

But this time...I'm really scared.