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I built the original version of this wine educational site four months prior to taking the Court of Master Sommeliers Level’s I & II exams (literally on a dare from my brother) as I was not able to attend the 11 week course offered through the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, California. it helped me pass, though I had not the benefit of a tasting group or even a significant knowledge of The Grid used to blind taste. In retrospect, YIKES!
I have re-designed the site to be responsive, I pay for the hosting and maintain the site for those in the wine/hospitality business who know a lot about wine but hesitate to begin the journey to Certification due to time and money, like me at the time…especially you single mothers or staff who do not have the support of their establishment to grow your career.
The impetus to built this site…I’ll tell you a little story…
In the Spring of 2010 the winery I worked part-time for had a visit from Steve Beck, a local wine personality and owner of Sweet Pea Wedding Officiating – Rev Beck
Steve had taken the Intensive Sommelier Training Program held at the Professional Culinary Institute, an eleven-week program, heavily sponsored by the restaurant he worked at as Wine Director.
He was fresh from having passed The Court of Master Sommeliers Level II, the dreaded Certified Exam. When leaving to visit another winery he kindly said “you know, you could do it too”.
So I called them, and after a short chat paid for and scheduled Levels I & II exams, a trajectory that was four months out.
This was to almost give Steve a coronary.
When I told Steve what I had done, his face drained of blood and he committed to immediately start coming to my house to work his well-worn flash cards with me to prepare for the Introductory Examination which is a multiple-choice exam of 70 questions…when I saw the stack I thought it was one of the most frightening things I’d even seen, next to Jaws. hahaha 🙁
After a couple of visits he felt I was doing a pretty good job of memorizing them as home-work and felt it was safe to cut me loose with regards to the Introductory, checking back on me and giving me a tray and set of cheap champagne glasses to practice with for the Service portion should I still be standing when the Certified rolled around…way too soon after the Introductory. I will be forever grateful for his belief in me.
Also My brother Don and magnificent wait-staff pro Brian Woods from Nicks in Los Gatos prepared a couple of international food and wine pairing sessions…at restaurants I bored my fellow diners pouring over the wine lists, subscribed to Wine Spectator and stalked their Best Restaurant Wine Menu recommendations.
But having no restaurant experience, I spent too much confused time with this, and it almost took me down.
I built a precursor to this site, MyPetitSommelier, out of desperation, populating it with a gazillion YouTube videos I watched whenever possible, transcribed my inherited hand-written flash cards and added maps and wikipedia articles, trying to retain stuff as I built it. It was a huge help, and I left it up for others until just recently, when I decided to create this cleaner smart-phone-friendly version.
In a “The Universe Loves Me” moment, Steve Beck had kindly included me in a wine event at the unfortunately now closed DiVine Restaurant & Wine Shop in Morgan Hill. He and some of his fellow graduates were going to have Master Somm Reggie Norito serve them a Barolo before he was giving a presentation in the wine shop, just as a giggle.
It was an eventful experience, with Steve introducing me to Reggie as a newbie scheduled to take the Levels I and II that Summer; Reggie was one of the Master Sommeliers I’d be exposed to during the two-day Introductory Course & Examination, which I will refer to a the Refresher Course…with Steve clarifying he would see me at there but that I would not be attending the 11-week course. Reggie raised his eyebrows briefly, as I’d remained silent when he had asked the group what grape was the Barolo made with (Nebbiolo). His expression was a combination of compassion and surprise, driving in deeper of realization of just how much over my head I was…
But he was such a mesmerizing raconteur that I stood in rapt incandescent delight during his presentation, letting myself be transported…through his wonderful and hilarious tales, told with the playful mischievous joy within which he maneuveres…to Australia, Georgia, Napa…Declaring at one point the love he had in doing what he loves to support his loved ones, he became a peak experience for me, a wine rap wrapped up in warmth and humor.
There is a reason I mention this.
I’d really gotten hung-up on which wines with which to create my international wine menu, needed in order to pair with what my “guests” were having during the Service portion of the Certified. I was SO scared that when my group entered the pseudo-restaurant and were debriefed on the Champagne we were serving, the gender, age and food choices of my invisible guests, my heart was beating so loudly that I could not focus; I gingerly shifted the weight off my funky left knee and asked could I please leave and come back in with the next group as my knee had suddenly seized up?
With their surprised but concerned consent I limped slowly into the empty hall, my ill-chosen black mules irregularly slapping my heels, leaned against the wall…contemplating the repercussions of pulling out…This was the final test, and I was folding. I could blame it on my knee.
But there was Reggie…
During the blind-tasting exercise during the Refresher I’d watched with awed trepidation as a line of students, sitting next to each other in the auditorium’s row below me, were called upon by Reggie…he was mentoring this portion…to stand up, one-by-one, to analyze what the wine was we were blind-tasting…via appearance, then smell, taste, and lastly, to tie it all together and then make the call.
96% had taken the 11-week course…They sat in the room as friends, having tasting almost 2000k wines (that’s what the brochure said) over the 11 week-long class to my maybe dozen; methodically they called out an assortment of descriptors from THE GRID as though from a sacred genie jar, one that they had rubbed many times.
I had depended upon a simple analysis method demonstrated by Certified Specialist of Wine Guru “Miss Jane” Nickles’ video series, author of the workbook/study guide for that certification. What I was hearing below had the rhythmic confidence gleamed from a timeless Homer-like chant of a cult I did not belong to.
As they sat down in surprised resignation Reggie announced he would like just one person to do the exercise…Vaguely hearing the auditorium let out a collective murmur, I barely sensed them as I was standing up, gazing down on him as though back at DiVine, just Reggie and me, talking wine.
A way-too-short time later while preparing for the drive to Campbell on the morning of the Certified I had powered up my old Mac with the CD drive to listen to “The Everyday Guide to Wine” by M.W. Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan one last time. She had a way of helping me understand, in a cerebral way I could taste, what the wines I’m supposed to know taste like. This morning she was talking about Old World blends again, whose secrets still loomed over me like a medieval coat-of-arms shield over a spent peasant…
Sitting down at 8:00 am, I would look at the Blind Tasting exam, THE GRID, something I’d looked over but not worked with much, mostly as I had not joined or formed a tasting group. Without being in the course, I simply did not have a connection with people in the same boat. I proceeded by pretty much just writing the name of the wine I believed it to be.
Handing my scantily filled-out paper back to Reggie, he quickly walked back over to me and said quietly, “are you sure you want to hand this in like this?” Damn so I had to use it to articulate my identifying the wine, like the row below me had; I got busy using the time we had left to flesh out my decisions with their language with sweat popping out of my forehead, face red with embarrassment and a sudden surge of high blood pressure.
So, Reggie did not have to do what he did, and I don’t know if he even remembered me at DiVine and felt sorry for me…
Back before the Service portion, before I was on the edge of quitting, the Master Somms were heading up-stairs, passing quietly through the gaggle of stressed-out students in the reception area waiting to be called up in fives for the Service test…Some took the elevator, but Reggie was using the stairs, one of the steps of which I was sitting on as I was not part of any of the huddling cliques in the packed room.
Just as he passed me, without moving, without thinking I suddenly heard myself say “thank you Reggie”…I was thanking him for enchanting me at DiVine, for handing back my test, for working with me during the blind tasting exercise, leading down a path to where we ended up with an Old World red blend.
His leg hung in the air for a split second, then his accent continued, my gratitude momentarily lifting my gloom.
Not much later, leaning against that wall, I heard the footsteps of the next group, minus one… Holding Reggie in the back of my mind, we entered the room, with my shoes slapping smartly as I began to serve a Master Sommelier, and his table of elegant, hungry ghosts.
At the end of that day, at the end of the exams, we were going to be kept waiting for a long time for the results; a student that was taking the exam for the second time said this was an unusually long wait. Just then one of the admins emerged from the closed door of the sanctum holding our future, ran down to the desk and grabbed another graduation packet, barley glancing back as she raced back and slammed the door.