It was a bit of a bizarre experience. Ever since I started in the wine industry and working in tasting rooms, I always enjoyed talking to people about wine—learning about what is out there to drink, where they had been earlier in the day or where they were going, other tasting and drinking experiences they had, and the joy of reminiscing to be had in those experiences. But it was on this day I found myself simply not really caring about what the customers across the tasting bar had to say to me. It struck me like a reflex hammer on the crown of my skull: I really didn’t want to be in hospitality anymore.
I am not sure what it was that brought this epiphany about—could have been the tasting room I was in, another cloudy winter day in western Oregon, or the fact that everyone that I had served or seen in other tasting rooms in the Valley and came to not liking them were, in fact, all in that very same room as me. And I was alone in this moment—I silently endured the torture of listening to them drunkenly discuss about how they had this “exquisite” bottle or that “library wine” from “X, Y, and Z wineries” and then asking me if I knew anything or even tasted these bottles that I could care less about. It was like an arthritic attack on my face and hands: it was painful to nod and smile, and to then pour a wine that they could care less about beyond their own inebriation.
I had had it. I didn’t want to be nice anymore.
Drama aside, I knew at that point that hospitality was not a long-term situation for me. In my own development in the industry, I found wine to be intellectually engaging and invigorating—indeed, without the industry, I may not have even gone back to pursuing my own education. There is an excitement in tasting a wine and seeing what it has to say, to get to know it and by extension, any of the people who came in contact with it before the wine reached your lips. Then to lay that wine down for over the years and see how its personality develops and unfold can be something of a romance. Wine is an art form that approaches music in its enigma, frescoes in its composition, and friendships in its dynamism.
Wine is truly better with friends.
If there was a singular thing that has kept me in the industry it would be the people that I have met. Many were not originally from the industry—quite a few from high-tech, financial, and medical. And they all had something interesting to say or something challenging to the status quo. Even to my own status quo. It was this kind of allure that I found captivating and certainly an excellent complement to the wines I drank and were getting to know. And I loved sharing these experiences with people who have grown to be colleagues and friends. Ideas, relationships, and wine were and currently are creating this experience that has bright possibilities. Not a tasting room with special seating or a sommelier that could be paid better in a restaurant than at a winery.
Or cranky tasting room associates who were to provide an “experience”.
From this point forward, my focus will be more on understanding key concepts regarding wine and winemaking, and to broaden my palate to familiarize myself with the wines of other regions. In that I hope to meet more people, make more friends and colleagues, and really just learn the stories of the wines that bring us all together. Whether this leads to a career in winemaking or wine admiration, of this I am uncertain. But I know I thrive in environments of real thought, intellectual challenge, and where possibilities of growth and to do better are indeed possibilities. Not another “night out on the town,” or rather, “after church at the wineries,” but a true desire to get know the wine and how to move our great industry forward.
And for the record, nobody died on that day.