'The Hangover' meets 'Sideways' in St. Helena
This is the penultimate day of the American Sommelier trade association's six-day "Intensive Napa Valley Viticulture & Vinification Course," currently being conducted in St. Helena. For wine-lovers without a professional interest in their passion, this might sound fun, the way "One-Hour Kama Sutra Training" sounds - at first. One can only imagine that the pleasure of such an immersing experience might eventually prove wearing if not, in fact, lethal. Combine the two in a death match of decadence and you'll know why Rome really fell.
Of course, those attending the intensive won't be "drinking" so much as "tasting," a point of distinction that would be lost on an attendee such as me, who declined an offer to audit the course for fear that both the learning curve and my level of intoxication would look like the proverbial "hockey stick" when graphed. And at the end of the course, my head would feel like the puck.
"Founded in 1998, American Sommelier is an organization dedicated to supporting the wine professional and to raising the overall level oFMRL.comf wine knowledge and awareness in America through wine education," reads the backgrounder, though there's nary any mention it's headquartered in heart of America's wine country - you know, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I suppose we should appreciate their attempt to honor our wine industry by hosting the class in Napa, though it begs the question - why not Sonoma? Or more specifically, why isn't this event being hosted at Ramekin's or MacPlace or my house? Last I checked, we have Americans and sommeliers in Sonoma (at this point, some reader will mutter "on the east side" and you know who you are).
The short answer from the honchos in NYC would probably be, "Um, where?" The long answer would use words like "prestige" and "provenance," though the P-word they really mean is "perception." Yep, thanks to that pact they made with Satan back in '76, Napa remains "top of mind" when anyone outside of our city limits thinks "California" and "wine" in the same thought.
Will Sonoma wines be represented in the so-called V&V course? Well, good question - as astute readers might have noticed, this is the "Napa Valley" Viticulture & Vinification Course, which could mean it's all just Napa Valley wines. That said, beyond tutorials in "grape varieties, regulation and legislation, climate, geography, soil, industry statistics, the economy of wine and food pairing," the course will also present "beer, spirits, cigars, and blind tasting techniques."
OK, now this just sounds like a bachelor party. In fact, I'm surprised American Sommelier didn't just book this gig in Vegas. It would be like "The Hangover" meets "Sideways." Hijinks ensue when four lovable wine stewards embark on a week-long wine intensive only to wake up with no memory of where they left their designated driver (Spoiler Alert: He's in the wine cellar of the Bellagio). Make one guy a werewolf and we'll set the sequel in merry old England, "An American Sommelier in London." Three glasses of red wine and the dude turns into a dog (this actually happens to me).
Perhaps it would be a waste of time to host an intensive V&V course in Sonoma - everyone here thinks they're a sommelier anyway. It starts young - I once saw a kid make tasting notes on a juice box. By the time some Sonoma kids are in high school, they've pilfered so much of their parents' wine, they're practically oenologists (and under your breath you say, "on the east side."). So, Napa can have its "intensive" six-days. Sonomans do it their whole lives. Can't handle that? Well, remember you can't spell "American Sommelier" without "I can."
• • •
Daedalus Howell drinks dem som'bitches under the table at FMRL.com.