So, in the midst and interest of studying, my blogging has become less frequent although the tales continue. In fact, today marks the countdown of 24 days until the big test. As fate would have it, I got a big break in helping me prepare for the final exam.
In thanks to Leslie Rudd, founder and owner of Rudd Winery in Oakville and the Guild of Master Sommeliers, I was one of 10 people selected to travel to the Napa Valley to undergo an intense, one-day wine training orchestrated by Master Sommeliers. It was an incredible opportunity, and I am very thankful to have been one of the chosen ones.
It would not be fair to only tell about the wine aspect of the trip since there were many other facets of the story that may be entertaining to most, or scary to those related to me. That being said, I will start my journey.
On Saturday evening, On the Square experienced their fourth busy Saturday night in a row. Wine flowed like water and the people kept a comin’. We are so excited about this rush of business that we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Of course, the only downside is that I didn’t get home until a little after 12:30 a.m., and my flight to California was leaving at 6 a.m., meaning I had to leave Tarboro by 3:30 a.m.
Stephen and I made an executive decision to call a cab company in Rocky Mount and muster up the $180 (all in the name of safety). The car was scheduled to pick me up at 3:45 a.m.
Dorothy, we’re not in New York anymore. Lesson #1 when getting in the car with a strange person at an ungodly hour in the morning. Make sure the gas tank is full.
How we got to Rocky Mount, I am not sure. It sure wasn’t from driving on Highway 64, the normal way. Instead, we drove through areas of Tarboro and in between that I had never seen before, and 25 minutes into it, we are stopping at a sketchy gas station in downtown Rocky Mount. The only gas station in North Carolina (I am almost positive about this) that was open at 4 a.m. We get gas while I quiver in the backseat. Keep in mind the whole idea behind getting a ride to the airport was so that I could sleep. Believe me, at this point, there was no sleep to be had.
We do make it to the airport in time for me to catch my plane, but we took backroads that were unlit and seemed desolate. Lesson #2 about calling a car in eastern North Carolina in the wee hours of the morning: don’t do it!
Maybe I had already paid the piper, but the rest of my trip to San Francisco was uneventful. I landed in San Francisco around lunchtime, and I got my rental car with no issues. First stop before Napa, the Slanted Door, one of my most favorite restaurants ever.
Treated myself to Chelsea Gem Oysters from Washington, followed by Japanese Yellowtail topped with Thai Basil and Fried Shallots. So delicious I had to order another one. I enjoyed one lively glass of Brundlmayer Riesling, paid the check and headed north to the land of happy.
Our first night in the valley was incredible. We stayed at the luxurious Harvest Inn and at 6:30, a bus drove the 11 chosen ones and the 11 Master Sommeliers to Press Restaurant, a relatively new restaurant owned by Leslie Rudd. We enjoyed a tremendous dinner paired with Sauvignon Blanc from Mount Veeder, Chardonnay from Bacciagalupe Vineyard and the 2005 and 2006 Oakville Estate Cabernets, all made by Rudd Estates. A fabulous evening with wonderful people and fantastic conversation. At 9:00, I turned into a pumpkin and was asleep before I even got under the covers.
The Big Day started at 8:45 in the morning when the 11 candidates met in a banquet room where they were each paired with a Master Sommelier. I was fortunate enough to have Geoff Kruth, founder of www.guildsomm.com. For those of you who have read my earlier blogs, you will know how dedicated I am to this website and use it religiously for studying. The irony of getting paired up with its creator was overwhelming.
Each candidate and Master Sommelier sectioned off to practice theory. Questions came at me hard: What’s in a Sazerac? What is Rausch Beer? What is VSP? Where is Picadilly Valley? Sixty questions were given, and I have to admit, I was a little rusty. It was confirmed that my strengths laid in Australia and New Zealand, Viticulture and Vinification and Eastern Europe. Cocktails, beer, South America were not such strong areas.
After the practice theory, the group reconvened and talked about study habits as well as what helped when breaking down theory.
If I had thought the oral theory was hard, our next practice was identifying 6 unoaked whites as a group. Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, Pinot Grigio and Gruner Veltliner, in that order. It was humbling, but I was incredibly thankful we blind tasted as a group and not as individuals.
After a delicious lunch, we broke off again with our individual mentor and blind tasted one on one. Three whites and three reds. My conclusions were St. Peray, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Australian Shiraz, Barolo and Malbec. Survey says Chablis, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Hunter Valley Semillon, California Cabernet, Brunello and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Eye-opening, to say the least. Work has got to be done or I will not pass tasting again in February.
Once we reconvened, the bus arrived at the hotel and took us back to Press for a mock service exam. First table quizzed me on cocktails, spirits, digestivi and food pairings. Second table was the sparkling wine table and questions were thrown out about the ageing requirements of Franciacorta Saten. Last table was the decanting table, and La Rioja Alta 1981 Gran Reserva was the wine of the night. This, I believed, to be my strongest table.
The day ended to an incredible meal at Tra Vigne with wines from producers like Billecart-Salmon (say yum yum), Paul Pernot, Domaine Pegau, Jean Grivot, Dal Forno and Boxler. My fortune continued as I was seated beside the brilliant and dynamic Napa wine personality, Cyril Chappellet. Completely taken by this charmer, I enjoyed my meal even more so because I was entertained with every bite.
I wish I could say the trip ended well, but unfortunately, it ended somewhat like it began. My flight back to North Carolina was scheduled for 10:25 a.m. the next morning. I got in my car at 6:55 a.m. and started driving south back to San Francisco. With the early morning traffic, buckets of rain and no GPS to guide me, I arrived at the airport at 10:15 a.m. Due to all of the security measures, wine keys are not allowed in carry-ons. With no time to spare to check my luggage (I had already printed out my boarding pass the day before), I decided to risk it and put it under the baggage x-ray. Not only was I detained and searched over and over again, I received a huge lecture from the security officials on having matches and a butane lighter as well as two corkscrews that could double as lethal weapons.
Needless to say, I missed the flight and ended up at home at 2:00 in the morning versus the originial 8:30 p.m. I pray to God this scenario will not repeat itself in any future travels I have. The upside is, I truly believe that this was the most beneficial practice I have ever received in preparation for the exam. Thanks to Leslie Rudd, the Master Sommeliers who donated their precious time and the Master Sommelier who nominate me to attend, I have experienced an invaluable service that will hopefully, allow me to obtain my Master Sommelier.