It was a daunting start. But apparently, nothing good is worth having unless you have to work for it. At least, that is what I had to tell myself every week for a month and a half.
My tutor said that it would involve 84 hours of study. I wasn’t sure I had 84 hours at my disposal and worried about that a bit. But there is nothing like sheer panic to make a person knuckle down and learn something. Quickly.
One day per week I wandered into a classroom on Bermondsey Street clutching my box of tasting glasses, before setting them out on the table like a proud child with a new pencil case. It was always the simplest part of my day – the reminder that this was about wine – for those moments I could convince myself that I was about to embark on a lovely drink with some pals. I mean, how 'full on' could it be? As it turned out, rather 'full on' indeed.
Level 3 is certainly the ‘confidence level’ and I noticed how at this tier my classmates (all ages and nationalities) were rather vocal with their answers to questions from all corners of the room. Some answers that I had not yet learned. During those times, I skulked at the back avoiding eye contact. My tutor said that everyone reverts to the version of themselves they were when they were at school.
I guess that old habits die hard. There was that time I realised I was doodling and not listening to something about rootstocks. I had to be quite strict with myself. Listen, Jessica, listen.
…something about Phylloxera and grafting.
Then it all started to get a bit more real. I was scribbling mountain ranges on maps, penning notes on altitude and climate. Making margin annotations that said things like “a grape that likes its own company” and I realised that when learning something new we often need to put it into our own language to make some kind of sense of it. If the outcome is to encourage others to give wine more of their attention and time then we really do need to become ambassadors of the craft.
It made me want to visit a winery and get involved in the practical side of things too." I need to see this with my own eyes," I thought. I watched videos, I drew flow charts. I understood, but was also mentally planning my next holiday somewhere with a continental climate and chalk underfoot.
And that’s the point where you realise that learning about wine has well and truly got you. I’d come home after a long day at work and want to say “I’ve not changed” but I’d be doing that while thoughtfully drinking a buttery Chardonnay with a different level of satisfaction and considering its development both in the barrel and the bottle. Uh oh.
The most important thing to take away from the experience of learning about wine, for Level 3 and beyond, is really to envisage the entire process as an ongoing journey for yourself; one where your appreciation and understanding of wine grows exponentially along the way and you get to reconsider how skilled people are at nurturing something with a new kind of complexity out of something seemingly simple. Like a grape - a simple grape, just on a bit of a journey to become something better.
I started to think that maybe I was a metaphor for the grape. Then, I realised it was just that I had finished the bottle of Chardonnay.
Despite gaining something of a new lexicon, as any wine-loving person will know, you will also begin to use it without realising. By the end of the course I was meaningfully describing the merits of different wines for different needs, expectations, meals or venues. All with words that, just weeks ago, I had never cared to try to understand.
This was unprecedented. It was also something of which I had been quite wary. I wanted to know about wine without becoming a wine bore. Had I slipped into that realm? I had. I’ll try my hardest to get better at reigning myself in. At being strict about how and when to deploy the wine chat.
But still, a grape can dream.