Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Young Connoisseur part 3

“David Grega is a certified sommelier and wine consultant living in the Napa valley. In addition to consulting and wine writing David made wine for his own label “Bellum Cellars” in 2008. E-mail for more information."

A few rays of natural sunlight peer through the partly closed window blinds of an office at The Professional Culinary Institute (PCI) in Campbell Ca. The light almost seems to dance across the gleaming hard wood floors that wrap around the modern curves of this food and wine Mecca. I don’t believe I should be in this part of the building; I kind of snuck in when someone opens the electronically locked door. Curiosity has gotten the best of me I suppose. I knew even then, before my training had begun, that there was something special about this place. I had a feeling that my life would be changed here forever. I felt as if I had finally found what I always knew I was searching for. Class at PCI would begin for me in a week, but I felt a little reconnaissance was in order. Just then the door to the cellar and wine classroom opened. Out came David Glancy a Master Sommelier and wine department chair at PCI. I introduced myself and asked to take a quick peak at the classroom where I would be learning how to become a sommelier. The room was amazing to say the least. Three rows of seating where each student had his or her own sink and tasting station equipped with under lighting built into the desks. Flat screen TV’s hung on either side of the classroom and a giant projection screen in the middle. Facing the students on the opposite side of the classroom was a giant glass wine cellar that looked to hold at least a thousand bottles. This was going to be home for the next few months, this is where I would learn the art of the sommelier.

In any profession or craft it is important to seek out the very best mentors to learn from. To be the best you have to surround yourself with the best. At PCI a Master Sommelier David Glancy oversees the sommelier program. I opted for the night classes because I was driving from Sacramento to San Jose every week to get to class and wanted to make time for traffic etc. The primary night class instructor was a Master Sommelier as well, Catherine Fallis. Both Catherine and David are outstanding instructors who really seemed to be dedicated to the proper training and preparation of their sommelier students.

So what was a normal day like at PCI? Classes were broken up into modules, each module covered a separate area or region of wine i.e wines of Germany, wines of France. Those modules were divided up into smaller sections focused on important sub regions etc. Each day we began with a few hours of lecture on a particular sub region we were focusing on. These lectures were very interactive and entertaining to say the least. The hard data we needed for our studies was provided along with fun and interesting stories from our Master Sommelier instructors that added the comical and real dimension to learning. After the lectures were over, the class would run through practical trials of wine service. Opening Champagne bottles properly, decanting old wines from sediment using a candle and decanter according to the court’s standards and proper service of both. The day would end with a tasting of 8-12 wines from the focused sub region we were reviewing that day. The Master Sommelier instructors would walk us through the tasting and discuss classic characteristics of the wines and what made them standard representations of their respective regions. At the end of each module a final exam was given along with a blind tasting of any classic wine from any classic wine region. Upon completion of the final exam the students (which numbered around 20 per class) would sit down together and enjoy a meal prepared by the expert chefs and students at PCI’s culinary school. These meals would consist of the cuisine from the module we had just completed. As an added bonus the students were allowed to open any wine they wanted from the cellar to drink with dinner! Wine was certainly not the only focus of the program at PCI. All together we spent nearly four weeks studying liquors, spirits, beers and cigars. A sommelier must have a working knowledge of all these beverages and luxuries. The learning did not just happen in the classroom. We took a trip to both Cooper-garrod winery in Saratoga and Testarosa winery in Los Gatos. The winemakers were sure to give us a hands run through the wine production from the vineyards to the final product, as well as barrel tastings. Needless to say spending three days per week for 5 and a half months attending these classes was a pure immersion into the world of the sommelier. As part of an agreement with the Court of Master Sommeliers and PCI, the Level 1 and 2 exams were given to all students one after another at the end of the program. Thus is how I received my certified sommelier pin. I view PCI as a sommeliers boot camp in a way. The relationships I built there have continued to grow and benefit as the time goes on, from a networking point of view PCI is priceless for the young connoisseur.

I have the training; I have the pin on my lapel, now what to do? Dive into a sommelier position at a restaurant, right? I very well could have gone that way but I felt like there was still something more out there for me to learn. I felt that even though I had so much great training something was still missing. I wanted to learn more about the production of wine, something I knew little about. A friend of mine and a mentor Jason Moore of Modus Operandi wines in Napa asked me if I would come work a harvest for him after completing my sommelier certification. Without a second thought I said yes and moved to the Napa Valley. I haven’t looked back since. My time in the Valley as a young connoisseur has been full of beautiful moments, tasteful adventures and above all else food, wine, and the pursuit!


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