Yes, I mean wine box. Ha! We all start somewhere. But when you take a liking to wine at such a young age, chances are you know exactly what slapping the sack is. #NoShame.
My association with Franzia goes way, way back. It was, and will always be, grandmother’s beverage of choice. The white box with a spout had a permanent parking spot on the counter. I never questioned what this mysterious endless supply of yellowy liquid was; I just knew she liked it. A lot.
Funny thing is, I never knew how inexpensive Franzia was until the moment I decided to buy it for myself. I really wanted to upgrade my college drink of choice and maybe shed a few pounds. Lo and behold, these boxes of wine are still in the same price range as a 30 rack of Keystone Ice! But easier to carry, easier to drink, and a surprisingly different buzz. Not only did I learn a lot about myself through this transaction but also my grandmother. I always saw her as a posh lady who loved to accessorize. Now practical too, I guess. Right on, G-ma.
Fast-forward a bunch of years and other life experiences. Lol KIDDING. I was 23 and just lost, what I thought was, my dream job. I was discouraged and confused. I wanted nothing to do with the career path I chose but had a heap of student loan debt to think about. My roommate, at the time, came home one day and said, “Hey, the wine bar/store next to my work is hiring.” As I was going through a premature ‘eat-pray-love’ scenario, I immediately felt inspired and thought it would be the perfect opportunity. Except I knew nothing about wine.
I said, “Fuck it”. I wrote a bomb-ass cover letter (not going into the lengths of that nonsense). I got an interview with a lady manager right away and nailed it. We didn’t even TALK about wine. Soon after, I get a phone call from the owner of the wine bar (lets call him, Dill). He asked if I could come back for a second interview. YUSSS!
Well, the interview went horribly. I remember being asked two questions, “What do you know about wine?” and “Why do you want this job?” Which ultimately left me rambling; mostly about the colors red and white and my grandmother and her influence on my wine drinking. Cute, real cute. Why do I want this job? Because I want to be a part of this seemingly snobby culture of sniffing, sipping, and spitting. Duh.
I left that interview feeling super embarrassed and wished I had prepared a few more questions, of my own, to give that long 15 minutes of obscurity a bit more value.
But as you probably guessed… I got the job!
My education began in, literally, no time. My first night on the job was an after-hours, staff-only tasting session. Once I was introduced to my coworkers, I grabbed a seat at the bar where I was surrounded with empty wine glasses, full water glasses, neva-betta crackers (I’ll write about these later), and what I later discovered to be spit buckets. Dill, bar owner & sommelier, wasted no time getting started. He handed out wine lists that included about 40 different wines. All of my coworkers whipped out pens and notepads. It reminded me of being back in school. Dill’s teaching style was asking questions and opening the floor to anyone who wanted contribute any relative information about the wine we tasted. I.e. region, climate, varietal, producer, processes, etc. Words I’ve never heard of were being dropped left and right!
I could barely keep up. Sniff, listen, sip, watch people spit into buckets, listen again, nod in agreeance or disagreeance, write notes as fast as possible. Was I supposed to spit? Repeat.
I was utterly amazed. I didn’t allow the opportunity to dislike anything. “Wine, in moderation, can’t hurt anyone.” I think that’s what Mark Twain actually meant. I opened my mind and examined what was happening in my mouth. I enjoyed this process because it was as subjective as most art forms and because I was getting really, really buzzed.
I was lucky enough to participate in these staff tasting every three weeks! The spitting became more habitual because remembering what I learned became crucial to keeping my job. Sensei Dill also thought it was crucial that I contribute to the discussion of each wine to ensure I was confident in my learning.
Consequently, studying 40 new wines every 3 weeks quickly amounted to a substantial pocket of knowledge. Outside of the staff-tastings, I was continuously challenged in new ways. Here are a few examples: carrying six $50 wine bottles up a ladder without dropping them, pronouncing weird French words, the basics of food and wine pairing, figuring out what ice wine is and telling customers we don’t carry it, how to master a cruvinet, explaining the word umami, and memorizing the under $10 wine rack to give cheap customers good recommendations.
I valued each day at work because not only was it an opportunity to learn about wine but also to share it with people who are just as eager to learn. Occasionally, I ran into self-proclaimed, wine expert, bar-goers that tried to discredit me but I still appreciated them because they made me laugh. Wine very much became a part of my everyday life. When I wasn’t working, I was usually drinking…wine. But it was totally okay because it felt like I was earning extra credit. And I got a nice employee discount.
As a bartender in the wine industry, I strived and I thrived. But ultimately, I decided to get back on my original career path. What did I take away from this huge, life-altering experience? Stained teeth and higher alcohol tolerance.
Now I’m here.