Musings on the Wine Life

Six Reasons Why I’m Not a Sommelier

January 5, 2017
Rosé wine in glass

I was having dinner with some friends recently and talk turned to sommelier training. This is a fairly common occurrence in my life, since I’m surrounded by people who either work in wine or are wine nerds like me. And having this blog means that a lot of people just assume I’m a sommelier or some other sort of certified wine expert, despite my best efforts to remind readers frequently that I’m just a person who really, really loves wine.

White wine and flowersNot that I haven’t taken wine classes or learned so much about wine through tastings, books, interviews and other things since I started blogging. In 2016 alone, I took an Introduction to Spirits course and amazing seminars on Bourgogne and Napa. I am constantly learning about wine and loving every minute of it, but as I explained on this recent night (and on many others like it), I’m probably never going to be a sommelier.

There are a number of reasons for this:
1) I don’t want to work in wine service. This is not uncommon among my other wine-loving friends. We love learning about wine, but we don’t especially want to serve it. Now, not all sommeliers are in wine service – many teach, write or do other wine-related things. But the majority of sommelier positions are in restaurants and a large portion of the training is around service and that’s just not where my interests lie. Plus, there’s the whole tremor thing.

2) The tremor thing. I have a condition called Essential Tremor. You can click on the link and read all about it, but essentially I have a slight tremor that will get progressively worse as I get older. When my neurologist diagnosed me many years ago, she told me that I’d be fine so long as I didn’t want to be a waitress or a surgeon. So the sommelier thing? Where I have to pour wine? Um, no. I already have a hard enough time being served wine, as sometimes my hands shake or jerk if I’m holding up a glass to receive a pour. This is always super awesome, I say with great sarcasm, as it means I have to explain the whole tremor thing for the umpteenth time.

3) I am terrible with names. And pronunciations. If you would like someone to butcher the name of your wine or region, I’m your girl! This is a constant source of embarrassment and frustration for me, but I seem to have an unending ability to have the name of a grape on the tip of my tongue or a slightly adulterated version of a wine name tumbling out of my mouth. So unless there is a sudden uptick in the need for sommeliers who feel more comfortable hiding away behind their keyboard so they can triple check that they got the name of a wine/grape/region correct, then I’m likely not going to be in high demand.

4) I’d be the world’s most awkward sommelier. When you picture a somm, you likely think of someone suave and graceful. They sweep over to your table all polished and perfect, chat knowingly about the wine list, make smart decisions based on your tastes. They are awesome and I am always in awe of their skill – especially since I often feel a little bit like a wild bull set loose in a room full of wine glass towers. I knock things over, I spill wine, I once spat wine on myself at a tasting with the delightful owner of Grand Marnier (whose photo should be in the dictionary under debonair). I am neither elegant nor refined.

5) It’s expensive. I love learning about wine so much that despite all of the above, I would probably have already taken my sommelier training (possibly even eked out a pass), if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s really, really expensive. I have a full-time job that I love and it pays for the very expensive hobby that is this blog, but dropping $10,000 or more to become a certified sommelier is just not in the budget. Especially if, as outlined above, I’m never going to work as one. Taking seminars or short courses has the benefit of being affordable and it also fits into my schedule much more easily. It’s also been noted that you can take the exam with just independent study (and it’s not that expensive to do so), but I’m not sure I’d be able to pass that without the classes under my belt.White wine tasting

6) Wine school is hard. Really, really hard. If you’ve taken a wine course, you will know what I mean and understand why I have so very much respect for those who have completed their certification. Because I have a job outside the wine world, I need to study in my spare time, which I currently fill with writing, editing and attending events to support this blog. I also run and go to yoga and try to fit in time with friends and family. When I’m studying for a wine course, most of those other things take a backseat while I try to cram in every detail about grapes, vintages, terroir, etc. Right now, I don’t think I can handle sommelier studies. That could change down the road, but after seeing many a wine industry friend disappear down the WSET rabbit hole, I’ve realized that right now that’s not the best path for me.

Will I change my mind one day and decide to take the plunge? Maybe. Wine is one of the most fascinating topics in the world and the idea of being a certified wine expert is appealing. But for now, I’m happy to be a slightly shaky, somewhat awkward wine nerd who shares her experiences with wine with my amazing readers. I hope that’s OK with all of you!

Are you a sommelier or do you hope to become one? Share your experiences in the comments below or on social!

Holiday Cheer

Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas

December 21, 2016
Pommies Cider Gift Pack

So we’re furiously getting ready for the holidays at our house and most of our gifts have been purchased, but I know there will be one or two last minute things that pop up (they always do). So if you have to brave the long pre-holiday lines at the LCBO or a liquor store near you, here are some great gift ideas for that one you forgot was on the list!

Pommies Cider Holiday Gift Pack – When I grab a cider, it’s usually from Pommies. This Ontario cider company won my heart years ago and I still gravitate to them when it’s on the menu at restaurants. We have more than enough glassware, but for a new-to-cider drinker, this is a really fun option. Shawn and I both swear that drinks taste better with the right glass and this is a jam-packed gift set with four ciders and two glasses.

Thornbury Spiced Apple Cider is a great last minute holiday giftThornbury Cider – Need something smaller, but still want to go with cider? Create a DIY gift with Ontario’s Thornbury Cider. One festive Spiced Apple Cider and one glass, plus some cinnamon sticks to add to the holiday feel and ‘voila’ you have the perfect hostess gift to head off to that holiday party.

Otazu Premium CuveeOtazu 2012 Premium Cuvee – If you show up at my house with a good bottle of wine, you won’t be turned away this season. Otazu Premium Cuvee has great earthy notes and lots of spicy bramble on the nose. A food-friendly Spanish wine that would pair well with red meat, this is great for winter sipping and a pretty fantastic hostess gift when you’re heading to a party.



last-minute-3Mercat Brut Nature Cava – Bubbles are my go to for pretty much everything, especially when I need a last minute gift I know people will enjoy. This Spanish Cava was a favourite at a recent sparkling tasting I attended and is a nice, dry option that won’t break the bank. It will definitely be appreciated as a hostess gift or at your holiday brunches. I have a bottle set aside for holiday sipping and will gladly welcome anyone who shows up with more.

What are your go-to options for gifts when you’re racing against the clock? Share them in the comments or on social!

* The ciders featured were samples I received and the wines were tasted at events where I was a guest. All opinions are my own. Seriously, bring me some more Mercat.

Holiday Cheer

Wine Lovers Holiday Gift Guide 2016

December 4, 2016
This wine gift box is the perfect gift for the wine lover on your list.

It’s that time of year when you have to decide what the wine lover on your holiday gift list wants. If they’re like me, the answer is John Szabo’s new book on volcanic wines. I’ve worked with some of my favourite wine friends and bloggers to put together a few other ideas for gifts to get the wine lover in your life.

gift-guide5 First, I’m going to give another huge plug for John Szabo’s latest book: Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, which is the perfect gift for someone truly passionate about wine education. This is an informative read that will keep the wine geekiest among us happy for hours. I’ll be following up with a full review in the new year, but for now it’s topping my wish list and I know many of my wine-loving friends are hoping to find this under the tree on Christmas morning.

I’m also going to suggest Icewine. This one is a bit of a surprise, as I love Icewine but have never been big on having it in the house. We like it in moderation, so it’s the type of thing I’d only pull out when we had guests over and even then you hardly make a dent in the bottle. Enter my discovery of Icewine cocktails! Add a little to your favourite sparkling wine for a special treat or mix it into a martini for a hint of sweetness. Now that I understand the versatility of this Canadian favourite, I’m all about having it on hand. The 2015 Chateau des Charmes Vidal Icewine comes in a cute package (perfect for gifting) and is a great pairing for blue cheese or a fun addition to your holiday cocktails.

Charlene Theodore and Megan Munro, Chew Street Blog:
“Chew Street has teamed up with Swell Made Co. to curate two holiday gift packs for the holiday season.  One of them is perfect for the wine lover on your ‘nice list’ this year. The Wine Love Gift Pack is a collection of chic, witty and fun items from stationary to totes specially packaged for the holidays.  For each one purchased, Chew Street and Swell Made will buy a Christmas dinner for clients of the Yonge Street Mission, an organization that has served Torontonians in poverty with dignity since 1896.  The Wine Love Gift Pack ($62.00CAD) is perfect for the oenophile, casual wine enthusiat, or wine newbie who likes eye-catching, minimal design.

The gift pack includes:

  • WINE Pendant + Chain
  • I Got Wine in My Bag Black Tote Bag
  • This Calls For Champagne Keytag
  • Thank You note for your recipient informing them of their contribution to the Yonge Street Mission.”

Fresh sparkling Riesling is a fun holiday sipper from NiagaraAngela Aiello, Wine Expert & Founder of iYellow Wine Club:
“Fresh Sparkling Riesling – one of my local Holiday go-to wines. My favourite grape just got better! Celebrate Ontario with this great bottle of bubbly! I may have bought a couple cases and sent a case to my sister, and a case to my mom too.”

Anne Louise Bannon, Oddball Grape:

“When I’m asked what do wine lovers really want for the holidays, I usually say more wine. Which might intimidate non-wine folks. But fear not. One of the best gifts Michael ever got was a gift certificate to a really great wine shop. It came from my daughter and the shop was in San Francisco, where she lives. We live about 600 miles away in Los Angeles. Michael had a blast picking out his wines – bottles he’d probably not have bought for himself. But better yet, what a sweet way for the kid to suggest we come up and visit. So a well-thought out gift certificate can be a great way to give the wine lover in your life more wine. Unless, of course, you’ve got the funds to hire a sommelier to stock your cellar. That would be even better.

Making wine at home can be fun.“Assuming the wine lover in your life isn’t already making her or his own wine, one of the most fun gifts you can get them is a home wine-making kit. You can find them online or at a local home brew shop. There are few things more exciting than making it yourself. But be aware, even though that first wine may actually be pretty grim, wine-making can be very addictive. It won’t be long before your wine lover is finding ways to buy (gasp) real grapes and talking about harvest and brix and acetobacters. And talk about a rabbit hole. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard professional winemakers tell us that they got their start when a spouse bought them a kit for the holidays. It’s how we started.”

Have some ideas we haven’t covered? Share them in the comments or on social!


Winemaker Profiles

John Squair at Three Dog Winery

November 21, 2016
John Squair, winemaker at Three Dog Winery,

I first met John Squair, owner co-owner of Prince Edward County’s (PEC’s) Three Dog Winery, when I was just getting started on my wine journey. He was a tireless cheerleader for PEC wine and the region in general, hosting blogger events and promoting local wines every chance he got. Talking to him now, that passion for the area is still very clear, though since we met he has quite literally put his money where his mouth is and built Three Dog Winery alongside his wife, Sacha.

“I stared off making beer in the 1980s at brew your own places and the beer was disgusting, so I stared making wine,” he tells me during a recent phone interview. This ‘do it yourself’ style appealed to his love of biology and chemistry, but he quickly realized that he wanted to do things on a much bigger scale than simple home brew.

White from Three Dog Winery.He and Sacha bought their PEC home in 1998, before there were commercial wineries in the area and long before tourists had discovered the region and made it the go-to weekend getaway for hip Toronto and Ottawa wine lovers. The Squairs fell hard for the County and planned to build their retirement home there, perhaps with a little vineyard to make wine for themselves. That dream inspired them to develop a few test plots in 2000 and then they expanded their planting when they moved to PEC full-time in 2003.

John was soon working for local wineries and continuing to learn about making wine. There was a lot of learning, especially about the cold weather in the region and the need to “hill up” (bury the vines) in the winter and plant at a lower density, and some lost vines before they finally got their footing and decided to go all in with their very own winery. They built their winery building via a crowdfunding campaign (full disclosure: I made a small donation to the campaign) and called in friends for a planting party when they needed to expand the vineyard. There was a sense that Three Dog Winery would truly be a wine community – and that has proven to be the case.

Three Dog is located about 15 minutes from Highway 401 on Fish Lake Road and, while this is a little further from the cluster of wineries around Hillier, he has been thrilled to learn that the climate in his part of the County is excellent for growing grapes. “Initially everyone started planting close to the lake in the Hillier area with the theory that the lake would moderate the winter temperature,” he says.  “2003 showed that was not the case. The moderating effect isn’t really there, but what we’ve noticed over the last 15, 16 years is that where Three Dog Winery is, it’s dramatically warmer during the growing season being further away from the lake. So we’re usually three weeks ahead in the growing season compared to Wellington.”

He’s going to try and capitalize on having a warm area and grow some Cabernet Franc in the next few years. Dan Sullivan from Rosehall Run winery suggested it and John is eager to see if it will be a success.

Three Dog Winery SignageWhile they still have to buy some of their grapes from Niagara, as there’s just not the acreage available to make the quantity of wines they need to sell from their own vineyard alone, John has been producing more and more wine with Three Dog’s grapes. This fall, he’s releasing a new estate Pinot Noir and hopes there will be more estate wines in his future. He’s pragmatic about not being able to do only estate wines, “This is our only income,” he explains. “We didn’t start with deep pockets, so if we don’t sell wine, we don’t eat.”
And they hope to continue making and selling it for the long-term. A production building is currently under construction on the property and they have sold their house in town and moved onto the winery property.

John is excited about this year’s harvest, as the growing season was a good one for him. There was no rot or disease to speak of because of the lack of rain and he thinks the fruit was very clean with high levels of sugar. He’s excited to see how the wines will come together.

And while he’s making the wine, Three Dog will continue to be bustling with activity. Since they are a little outside the main winery cluster, they have had to make the winery a destination and they’ve done an excellent job there. They have big events once a month from March through to September, then in the winter they offer snow shoeing and cross-country skiing on their trails (about 8K). They also have a 15 acre sugar bush, where they tap the old fashioned way starting in February and invite people out to take part in the maple syrup process. If you want a fun County adventure, Three Dog is always a great place to start.

And, as he was when I first met him, John remains a huge advocate for PEC.  “The County itself is absolutely fantastic. The whole County culture is really fabulous. I couldn’t imagine doing this anywhere else,” he says. He is excited about the new crop of winemakers and wine industry members who are developing locally and how young people growing up in the area now have a thriving industry bringing work and creating jobs to entice them to stay and build lives in the area. And with Three Dog a big part of the heart of that industry, it will no doubt remain thriving.