The question for 2019: How do you stay excited about wine, fit in ongoing learning, all while staying interested and avoiding wine ennui?
I'm at that in between stage: post Diploma and considering the MW; definitely wanting to keep my knowledge fresh, and most importantly to stay curious and inspired about wine.
My planning for the year started with 1) travel (Porto, Paso Robles), added in 2) some wine festivals and seminars (Vancouver Wine Fest, will I see you there?), and sprinkled in a liberal dose of 3) tastings, 4) books, and 5) wine buying. That way there's something to look forward to on the calendar each and every month. There's still time to plan out your year, here's an outline of my plan to stay excited about wine this year, and how you can make your own plan too.
I start with travel so that it actually happens! If I leave things to later, invariably, things get ‘too busy’ or something or another comes up to thwart vague plans. This year, it’s a mix of big trips and closer to home mini-breaks (Bridget Jones ref here). That way I have trips to plan for and look forward to, and room for surprises too!
March - Walla Walla (returning to explore and see what’s changed in the past few years)
April - Lisbon, Porto, Douro (my dream trip, Port is my #1, the big one for the year), plus London to judge at the IWSC, Verona, & Bordeaux
June - Willamette Valley (Pinot hound here, ready to scour for the cellar)
Oct - Paso Robles (never been before, love the wines, looking for your recommendations)
2) WINE FESTIVALS & SEMINARS
Next, I look into the wine festivals happening through the year. My favourite is Vancouver Wine Fest (VIWF). It’s well run, brings fantastic wineries around the world, and also puts on top class tastings. This year’s theme region is California, and I’ve already registered for several seminars (hope to see you there!). I’ll also be attending Vinitaly in Verona this spring. If there’s a festival you think I should add, please comment below and let me know.
FEB - VIWF
APR - Vinitaly
3) WINE TASTING
I attend a smattering of trade tastings and blind tasting groups, but starting in Feb, will be running a blind tasting group geared specifically towards Level 3 students. A good friend is taking WSET Level 3 online after challenging Level 2 (he’s a professional from outside the wine trade), and I’m organizing biweekly sessions geared to getting his palate ready for the exam. This is a great opportunity for me to buy classic wines and do some review too! I’ll also continue mock MW exams in the lead up to applying to the program in June > if you’re thinking of applying, please send me a message to be included in my pre-MW online study group.
Another option in this vein is wine clubs. Generally, I don’t like signing up because I don’t want too many wines from the same producer, but I do belong to Turley and Ridge (classic, and always welcome gifts and popular with guests).
FEB-APR - biweekly Level 3 tasting sessions
MAR-JUN - Mock MW exams to prepare for applying to the program in June
Are you like me in that you have a billion wine books in piles everywhere? OK, that’s hyperbole, but there are so many good books and only so much time to read them, plus it’s so easy these days to order yet another. I’ve set out a book schedule, that way it isn’t so daunting to see the stack, and here it is. Hope you’ll join in my ‘informal wine book club’ :)
FEB - Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste by Rajat Parr
MAR - Vines & Vinification by Sally Easton MW (the new WSET textbook)
APR - Volcanic Wines by John Szabo MS
MAY - The Wines of Burgundy by Silvain Pitiot
JUN - Bordeaux Chateau: A History of the Grands Crus
JUL - Champagne by Peter Liem
AUG - Wine Folly: Magnum Edition by Madeline Puckette
SEPT - Reading Between the Wines by Terry Theise
OCT - Barolo & Barbaresco by Kerin O’Keefe
NOV - The Wines of New Zealand by Rebecca Gibb
DEC - Wine and War by Donald and Petie Kladstrup
5) WINE BUYING
One of my favourite audiobooks is by Brian Tracy. In it, he says that the number one indicator of success in any person is how far into the future they are able to plan for. That got me thinking about wine. A statistic commonly thrown about is that almost all wine is consumed within hours of being purchased. Not only does having wine on hand make it remarkably fun and easy to host dinner parties (Oh, you like Italian reds… would you prefer a Barolo or a Chianti, honoured guest?), and saves times during holiday rushes (no need to race to the wine shop), but there is real joy in researching and purchasing wine with the intent of cellaring it. Maybe this is old hat to you, but it’s only in the last few years I’ve started to do this, and with serious intent over the past two.
I can’t plot this on a calendar like I did with items 1-4 above, but I can share that I give myself leeway to buy two wine purchases a month! There are criteria though! The wine must be ageworthy for the next 10+ years, ideally come from a classic region (aka blind tastable), and a recognized producer. Bonus points for high value to price ratio (aka I’m not generally buying expensive Bordeaux, but I do like Port and Champagne). This means by the end of a year, I will have set aside between 6-12 cases of ageworthy wine within my budget.
To start, if you don’t already subscribe to your local wine importer or wine store newsletters, it’s a great thing to do. Some of my favourites are Somm Select, Kermit Lynch, and Sedimentary Wines. Not only are their emails fun to read with an eye to investing, but you pick up great wine producer knowledge along the way.