I first encountered wine as a teenager. Immediately, I knew I was in love. I’d established a fondness for eating well, thanks to Molto Mario and PBS reruns of Julia and Jacques when a mentor and father of a friend introduced me to fine wine. I knew how to eat well, but Mr. Shu knew how to drink well.
I was transfixed with the idea that, among sophisticated people, wine was the vocabulary for elegant conversation. It was a portal to the world’s geography and a universally accepted currency. I wasn’t right about much from my teenage years, but I was certainly right about this.
Recollections of college often include regrettable drinking choices. And while I regret the volume I consumed, I maintain enduring respect for the quality of my choices. Travel was one of my vices.
After a year at the University of Oregon, I decided to enroll in hospitality school in Portland. I found the curriculum compelling, particularly the wine courses. I felt far better suited to study drinking than the materials in my impending liberal arts classes.
John Eliasson was my instructor. He was a garage winemaker who brought a fondness for Chablis to Dundee. He made Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a scant volume of Aligoté. I was enamored. I started taking wine classes in addition to John’s.
On my 21st birthday, I drank 2002 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir and 1996 Produttori del Barbaresco. I went on to work as a sommelier for nearly a decade. I thought my destiny would be an advanced wine diploma.
But I got bored.
It’s a strange thing finding love early in life. It’s as random as our genetic lottery, based less on our own instincts and more on our fortune of arriving in the right place in the right moment. But as we grow older, we change, and there’s no certainty that what we loved will change with us.
The same curiosity and restlessness that made me fall in love with wine led me to venture outside of it, eventually publishing a magazine called Whetstone.
It considers where the things we eat and drink come from, their terroir, asking sincerely, “What is this?” It turned out that once I learned the language of wine I’d always coveted, I didn’t want to study linguistics. I wanted to practice it worldwide. And so I did.