A tasting experience led me to study oenology

The classiest glass of wine I have ever had was not in a glass at all, but it still changed my life.

It all started with a weekend excursion. For most of my 20s I was interested in wine, but I was content to just scratch the surface lightly, attend a class or two at the local wine store, read an article every now and then, taste wine with my friends. During a trip to wine country, I finally decided to cross the shelves of my personal and professional life and to pursue a training in the field of wine.

My sister and eternal wine tasting partner wanted to go to wine country for her birthday, so we drove about three hours from Spokane, Washington to Walla Walla. It was late in the morning on our way out of town when we decided to make another stop before heading back. After all, driving to Walla Walla and not visiting College Cellars, the tasting room run by students at the Institute of Oenology and Viticulture, is like turning down dessert on your last meal.

One of the students approached us and asked if we would like to taste the cellar’s newest vintage Merlot. While I wasn’t particularly crazy about the variety, she spoke with such passion when describing the wine that I couldn’t wait to try a drink. I later found out that she had helped make it.

Instead of two glasses, our host in blue jeans and a flannel shirt placed two paper cups in front of us. Before I had time to tap into my layman’s snobbery of not getting drinks, she dove into her presentation. The grapes had only been harvested in the college estate vineyard last year, so the wine produced was still in barrels, not yet properly aged. However, the staff in the tasting room had taken a few bottles to offer to the guests.

So there I was, drinking young wine from a paper cup around 10 a.m. It wasn’t quite the glamorous and formal experience that drew me to wine, but I was in the company of my loyal tasting partner and the guest of a most gracious and professional host. That was enough for me to apply myself to the Institute of Oenology and Viticulture.

At the time, I had a thing or two to learn about wine culture. And now, after two years as a wine student, I know there is still a third thing to discover.

Posted on November 28, 2021

About Marion Alexander

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