Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Winos aka Sip, Swirl, and Spit
So...apparently I survived the 48 hour trial by food and wine known as the National Wine Conference, hosted by the American Wine Society. I have not eaten that much good food, had more good wine, or been more inspired to do more of both better - ever. I wanted to shuck my day job and dive headlong into the food and wine industry.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this event certainly blew any expectations I had out of the water. It was amazing. The AWS is a pretty hard core, semi-professional group of wine educators and wine enthusiasts. They are wine geeks of the highest calling, and take it very seriously. I was a bit surprised that the average age of this group, about 750 strong at the conference, was in easily in their fifties. They are also pretty much complete nerds. Don't get me wrong, they were a lovely bunch of coconuts, and I met some terrific people, but let's just say that if you replaced their wine glasses with Star Trek uniforms - they would have fit right into a Trekkie reunion. If I ever see another bad tie with grape clusters, corks, and glasses, it will be too soon. Capice?

The days went something like this:

7:30 - 8:45 AM Breakfast buffet: 3 different kinds of champaigne to taste.

9:00 - 12:30 PM Two educational sessions. Each is 1.5 hours long. An example of a class that I took was "Wines and Cheese of the Empire State". Six NY wines and four cheeses at 9:00 AM in the morning.

12:45 - 2:00 PM Lunch. Lunch was a sit down affair both days. Five wine glasses at each setting, 10 people to a table, 5 wines to taste and score.

3:00 - 5:30 PM Repeat of the morning with more educational sessions.

Of course, in between classes, there were plenty of exhibitors to visit, and more wines to taste. Books on wine, wine making equipment, fine food and gourmet booths, travel agents hawking wine tour vacations in Tuscany and was foodie HEAVEN.

Friday night everyone had dinner on their own, and then there was an open wine tasting featuring more than 160 wines in the Main Ballroom. From 10:30 - midnight, the party moved to the nightclub at the hotel, and all the opened bottles of wine from the tasting, as well as the opened bottles of wine from the judging competition were set up on the bars around the room to keep things going. Tasting the wines from the unmarked bottles from the amateur entries is not for the faint of heart.

A LARGE part of this meeting is the Judging of wines. Both amateur entries and commercial wines. A large part of the AWS is the training program they provide to become a certified wine judge. It takes three years, and from all accounts - is every bit as grueling as a graduate program. My friend D. sat for the first year wine judge exam. She passed with flying colors, but she was glad she studied as hard as she did. She also entered her own wine in the competition and walked away with a Silver Medal for her 2004 Sangiovese!!! That's a HUGE achievement at a national competition of this caliber.

I'm not sure what box I checked on the on-line registration form, but when I picked up my registration packet, I discovered that I was the Room Captain for one of the classes I signed up for. All I was had to do, said the packet, was show up 20 minutes early, introduce the speaker, coordinate the wine pourings and tell the 8 helpers assigned to the class what to do. Simple, no?


The class was titled "Food and Wine Dynamics" and was being taught by a hot shot celebrity chef from Walt Disney World Resort's professional Dream School. I arrived at the room after the five wine lunch of crabcakes, salad, and desert, and he wanted to serve Lamb Curry and Chicken Veronique with a blind tasting of five wines. There were 80 people in the course, so this meant that we had to set eight tables, of ten people with five wines glasses and a service set. That's FOUR HUNDRED wine glasses people! In 20 minutes! We also had to pour all five wines into eighty glasses times five.

It didn't help that Chef made the Soup Nazi look laid back. Barking orders, getting upset, keeping the class waiting 10 minutes while he got everything just right....I was drenched in sweat by the time I had to introduce him. He even had a slide in his Power Point presentation that said "Don't taste until instructed to do so". 100% Control Freak.

I survived, but just barely. My class that followed was "Experiencing the wines of Spain. Discover Murcia". It was a fascinating class and we tasted 14 wines from the Murcia region of Spain - all of which I had never had and all of which were fabulous in their own way. Too bad you can't purchase a single one of them here in Maryland...

That was one of the really great, but also frustrating things about this conference. I tasted some AMAZING wines. Rare wines, specialty wines, $$sive wines, etc. But just when you thought your head would explode from the best thing you've ever tasted, you find out it isn't available in the US or in Maryland, AND you couldn't purchase any of them either. It was a giant tease.

Just to demonstrate how Draconian MD Liquor Control Board laws are, the AWS had to get a National Family Beer and Wine Exhibition Permit for the 3 days of the conference.

This permit allows the AWS to receive tax free family-produced wine (Amateur Wine), tax paid commercially produced wine from Maryland license holders, and tax paid commercial wine from Non-Maryland suppliers and subject to the tax imposed. All wines may be exhibited, judged or tasted, but not sold, pursuant to Article 2B of the Annotated Code of Maryland.

I'll post a list of some of the great wines we had that ARE available later, but rest assured, there are plenty of really good, high quality, affordable wines to be had.

It was a great place to rub shoulders with chefs, wine experts, wine makers, wine distributors, etc. At lunch on Saturday, I was seated next to Rafael. A thirty something fourth generation Portugese wine and port maker from the Douro region of Portugal, Rafael was representing his family's vineyard, Quinto de Ventuzelo, which was named 2005 winery of the year by Wine and Spirits Magazine. I have rarely met a more passionate human being so completely devoted to his family and a way of life that has been passed down through the generations. I learned a lot about the Douro region of Portugal, family, and Port. I truly envy him his love of his work, his country, and his family. It's a rare thing. He was the kind of person that if I ever get to that part of Portugal, and stop in - he'd ask you to stay and treat you like family, just from having lunch at a wine conference. I intend to visit him one day.

The conference ended with a semi-formal banquet last night where the awards were presented. There was barely room at the table for the food since every place setting had 8 wine glasses in front of them for the wines poured throughout dinner and desert.

Things moved back to the nightclub for dancing and more wine till one AM.

It was a tough weekend.
posted by Broadsheet @ 3:39 PM  
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