Time continues to fly by, Second City Sommeliers (SCS) Sommelier Bootcamp 2019 took place Sunday March 3 and Monday March 4, 2019. Since then, I studied and took my test for WSET Diploma Unit 6 Fortified Wines of the World , have been finishing up my WSET Unit 1 paper on the rum industry, so finally getting this post out!!!! The world of wine study never stops.
This was the third year for the Bootcamp and the focus this year was solidly on the Court of Master Sommeliers tasting grid and service. There were absolutely no, nada, nill murmers or whisperings of this. So much time, money, physical and emotional energy goes into preparing (studying, tasting, practicing, traveling to courses, conferences and vineyards) in a field that does not immediately provide the compensation to do all the above, that absolutely everyone present in the room was focused on sharing and gaining knowledge about wine and service experience and bonding with the other people in the room. The enthusiasm of the SCS team was infectious and their dedication to professionalism, comradery and service quite apparent.
A big thank you to SCS Board Members Anthony Minne, Daniel Pilkey, Greg Spaulding, James Bube, MS, Katie Espinoza, Mark Maruszak, Rachel Spekan and Rebekah Mahru. It is a huge feat bringing people from all over the midwest together and the incredible array of wines.
It truly was a privilege to participate and I think we are very lucky in Chicago to have a group like SCS whose facebook mission statement is quite clear: “Chicago based beverage industry professionals pursuing mastery of the field through service, sales and blind tasting exercises. Inclusive mentorship and membership” and says it all. You can track some of their weekly tasting flights here.
There are conferences that take place in other cities across the country that are widely attended and incredible as well. But this Bootcamp focused particularly on small group tasting experiences, discussion and feedback. Individuals had a rare chance to practice their service skills in an exam setting, all without having to travel far and the expenses associated with it. But one note of advice, practice, practice, practice and this is what SCS does themselves every week.
The tone this year for the Bootcamp was a bit different than last year, as much as it was focused on blind tasting skills, a big focus was on the sharing of knowledge and experience by the Master Sommeliers present. It is such an arduous journey and achievement, requiring dogged persistence, resilience, discipline and desire, to reach the Master Sommelier level that one could think after you reach the pinnacle that’s it, retirement, resting on their laurels. Not the case at all. SCS had some of the most senior and renowned MS’s speak to the group as a whole which really set the tone for the experience, I considered it the “Art of Mentoring” and sharing of experience and knowledge.
Day 1 Champagne for breakfast – Not a bad way to start the day..
8:00 am Check in / orientation
8:30 – Champagne Toast – Charles Heidsieck
<< Sign up sheets for blind tasting and service sessions >>
9:30 am – Welcome seminar – Madeline Triffon, MS – Service and Hospitality (Concert Venue)
10:30 Palate Calibration station / service practicals
12:00 pm – Sponsored Lunch – Folio / Bruno Giacosa
1:30 pm – Breakout Deductive Tasting #1
3:00 pm – Winemaking seminar – Robert Kowal, winemaker @ City Winery Chicago
4:00 pm – Breakout Deductive tasting #2
5:00 pm – That’s a wrap! Kindly help us rerack glasses.
Rachel Driver Spekan introduced the morning’s speaker, Madeline Triffon, MS (Madeline completed the Master Sommelier test in 1985, she was the ninth American, the first American woman, and overall only the second woman in the world to pass the exam.) Madeline gave a very heartfelt, informative and very inspirational talk on service and hospitality. Her comments included “not using wine knowledge as a weapon” and “to look customers in the eye at restaurants” and reminders like “over-prepare” and “anticipate needs”. After hearing about her global life, living in Greece, going to school in Rome, acting in college, paying for her college education, forgoing medical school for the wine industry. I knew but realized again that she is one smart person yet very down to earth and able to convey wineisms in easy to understand words.
The rest of the morning was spent tasting and calibrating wine. Advanced Sommeliers like Anthony Minne were at the tables providing feedback and insight on tasting the wines. Now if I had been a strategic person, I would have realized that all these wines that were so well annotated would be the wines we would taste at the blind tasting sessions over the course of the next 2 days. The theme of the tasting sessions and as these labels indicate, the “big rocks” of each wine that aids in identifying it when tasting blind. They were grouped with wines that are similar (MS Tim Gaiser’s The Evil Dwarves) and can be confused for one another in a blind tasting. These notes on the wine bottles reinforced recognizing the structural differences between the 3 and I will refer to these pictures over the course of the next year as I study for Unit 3 of the WSET Diploma Light Wines of the World.
As the day progessed my picture and note taking dwindled as I processed all the information imparted by people like SCS Board member, Greg Spaulding, who led my table’s blind tasting session for the afternoon. Greg reinforced paying attention to the fruit quality in a wine, tart versus ripe and the aromatics of the grape. Sitting next to Dexter West, who exudes love of wine and food and whose quirky and witty instagram I follow, made the first round of tasting fun and less stressful.
After Round 1 we had a great talk by City Winery Chicago winemaker Robert Kowal who got into the nitty gritty and his process and methodology of making wine. He described the yeasts he uses, reductive winemaking and we tasted some of his wines that were still in the tank. At this point my picture taking came to a halt but I do have a picture of Robert from several years ago when I worked the “Crush” at City Winery, which is the time when the grapes arrive and they are sorted and processed before going into the tanks to ferment. (Highly recommend participating in this at City Winery if you haven’t.)
Our Round 2 Tasting was guided by SCS Board Member Rachel Driver Spekan whose grounded and highly knowledgeable presence was really helpful as we worked our way through the different levels of oak and winemaking in whites, a Puligny Montrachet , an oaked Sauvignon Blanc with its notes of chives and a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay by Paul Hobbs. The reds included a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon by Paul Hobbs, a Chateauneuf du Pape and a Loire Cabernet Franc.
The quality of wines poured during the day was outstanding (the fun part of tasting wines) and something that would be incredibly hard to replicate in a small group. After the entire group rallied to ready the room for service that night which amazingly happens in the blink of an eye, I left with my head filled with thoughts of “big rocks, fruit, acid, tannin, oak, lees” .
8:00 am Check in / orientation
8:30 – Champagne Toast – Delamotte
<< Sign up sheets for blind tasting and service sessions >>
9:30 am – Sake Presentation – Jonathan Edwards, Certified Sake Professional, from Vine Connections
10:30 – Breakout blind tasting #1
12:00 pm – Sponsored Lunch – Vineyard Brands
1:00 pm – Seminar – Alsace, France – Doug Frost, MS / MW
2:00 pm – Breakout Tasting #2 (Main Floor)
3:30 pm – Breakout blind tasting #3 (Main Floor)
4:00 pm – Walk Around Comparative Tasting + Service Practicals
4:30 pm – That’s a wrap! Kindly help us rerack glasses.
Monday opened with champagne (which I missed) and then a morning of sake education and tastings given by Jonathan Edwards, Sake Specialist at Vine Connections. Sake has firmly established itself in Chicago as a branch of fine wine and spirits on restaurant menus and on retail shelves like Perman Wine Chicago.
Day 2 Blind tasting wines (not in order)
Morning tasting rounds with Anthony Minne included a Rudi Pichler, Gruner Veltliner, Albarino Rias Baixas, Chablis Premier Cru.
Lunch with an afternoon talk on Alsace by Doug Frost (MS and MW – 1 of 3 in the world today) and Michael Corso of Michael Corso Selections. (Note to self – listen to the Levi Dalton, I’ll Drink to That Podcast with Doug Frost).
Afternoon rounds with Alex Ring, Alsace riesling, viognier, Hunter Valley semillon, Willamette pinot noir, Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly gamay and Bordeaux Margaux 2004. The final timed rounds of the day with Kat Hawkins. James Bube, MS sat in for a few rounds and then Fernando Beteta, MS sat in for a few rounds of tasting. Sitting next to the multi-talented actor/sommelier Nathan Drucker and the friendly and focused Amy Yancey, Sommelier at Mon Ami Gabi were great table partners.
If you are interested in finding out more about Second City Sommeliers follow them on Facebook which has their contact information as well. To see what they are sipping follow them on instagram. The Guild of Sommeliers aka Guildsomm site is here, and for classes on WSET, Fine Vine offers classes at City Winery and the American Wine School offers classes at Binnys and the Sofitel Chicago. Cheers!!!