Trying to rehearse, audition, study for my sommelier certification and keep up the restaurant job that paid my pricey downtown rent was taking a toll on my enthusiasm. Acting was starting to lose its magic and I wanted more out of life. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled anymore and wine was starting to look pretty intriguing.
The more I read about vineyards in far-off places the more fascinated I became with the idea of starting a new adventure and changing course… again. But studying wine isn’t always as romantic as it sounds. Memorising Château after Château, all the regions, river crossings and climates, every varietal and clone, soil types and vine diseases, and, and, and. I loved it, but its complexity intimidated me – like acting I suppose!
The time I spent in classrooms was full of highs and lows. To be honest, I spent a lot of time looking around thinking “whaaat? How do they know that already!?”, “did I miss a class”, “is that even a word?!”. I never had the feeling that I knew as much as my peers, which (aside from being super freaking intimidating) probably helped fuel my curiosity in a way!
There came a time though, when I realised that the classroom setting wasn’t enough for me. I am more the hands-on, learning-by-doing type of girl and suuuure, the books were interesting, but I needed to be immersed in order to actually make real sense of anything that I had read in those pages.
I mean, you can read about Riesling and learn that it has soaring acidity and considerable extract; that its intense flavour and stunning elegance make it one of the world’s most noble grape varieties. You can read tasting notes and recall childhood memories of biting into fresh ripe peaches, melon and juicy apricots, and if you’re really invested, you can even go out and lick some rocks to try and understand exactly what it means to taste minerality – Of course you can also just go out and buy an assortment of quality Rieslings and taste them for yourself – but I wanted to actually taste the Riesling grapes (or the Pinot Noir, or Sauvignon Blanc, etc.) right off the vine. I wanted to taste the grapes and then I wanted to taste them again once they were a wine.
That is my idea of wine education!
So what did I do?
I freaked out!
My class and I were preparing for our upcoming certified somm. examinations and before the real test our teacher and some of his advanced students had prepared a practice scenario for us.
So, I’m on my way to do the mock exam and I’m getting pretty nervous; on account of the fact that I really didn’t feel like I knew enough and I was absolutely certain that I was about to make a fool out of myself in-front of all my peers…
So I walked in and sat down at my place. There were two wines in front of me – a red and a white and I had three minutes to identify each one using the Court of Master Sommelier’s tasting grid – after that would be the written theory test followed by the service bit. Standard.
I did my best to identify the wines and get through the written theory and then I got up and handed in my answers (without meeting the eyes of the student-volunteer, whom I knew through friends). I kept on thinking about how embarrassing it is that he would mark it and see how many mistakes I was sure I had made. Would he tell my friends? I swear I had myself so spun out of sorts that it felt like junior high school again. It was ridiculous!
Then came the champagne service…
The task was to professionally approach a table of guests (my teacher and a few volunteers) and recommend a wine that paired with their spontaneous meal orders, before perfectly presenting, opening and pouring a bottle of champagne.
It was the final part of the exam and the part that I should have been the most comfortable with after working in restaurants for so many years, but I couldn’t do it.
I just froze up with fear and snuck out down the back stairwell, tears brimming in my eyes.
I was so disappointed in myself.
How on earth could I have so easily self-destructed over such a simple thing?! There was no realistic justification; after-all it was only a practice exercise! But I knew that the reality was coming soon. The real examination was just weeks away and I was already registered.
When I got home and wiped away the last of my tears I started to think… Did I really want to build more of my life around this? I had tried so many things already and I needed to be sure that it was something I liked enough that I would want to work hard for it. I knew that I could love a life built around a career in wine, but the idea of working endless late nights in restaurants and spending my days with my nose in a wine atlas was dispiriting.
So maybe being a sommelier wasn’t the right path for me, but was it too late to admit that? What about my exam?
I remember thinking “Maybe I should just go and try it… Check all my fears at the door and if I fail I can simply chalk it up as a learning experience and not let it discourage me! Easy, right?”
Well, easy or not, I never did write that exam.
In fact, the very fear that I had built up towards it ended up being a lot more useful to me than the exam could ever have been (at that point in my life) because I managed to channel it into the positivity and excitement that lead me to where I am today. I turned my fear into a new idea; one that seemed a lot more natural and a hell of a lot more fun!
So now here I am in Europe, living the life I dreamed about then and loving every minute of it!
Wanna know what that idea was and how I made it a reality?
Stay tuned for Chronicles, Part 3.