New York City made me a sommelier. It taught me speed and precision. Seriousness. It rewarded nothing but excellence, and there were many train rides home spent stewing over the slightest mistake: an awkward interaction, a collegial spat over decanting, a missed upsell.
The city delivered an unceasing flow of discerning elite, people who challenged my knowledge as much as my patience, and I was improved by each encounter. Without such interactions, I never could have afforded my cushy prewar apartment, a room so painted-over it looked like Camembert, only funkier, where the cockroaches and mice lived, loved and laughed like no one was watching.
I was warned that the romance of hand-harvesting typically wears off after the first vine, but it didn’t.
Advancements in my career weren’t improving my quality of life. Here was a city you were supposed to love even if it didn’t love you back. It didn’t care that you were exhausted and that your parents were aging in some gorgeous, boring place with orchards and good grocery stores. It gave you pét-nat and Ubers and ax throwing in Brooklyn. It gave you the bodega.
The only thing the city asked for in return was all of your money. That way you couldn’t leave. And still, it didn’t love you.
When the pandemic laid waste to city dining, I felt the sprawl of New York beckoning.
Arriving in the Finger Lakes, I discovered an existence I’d forgotten I was supposed to want. A family of winemakers brought me onboard, and I bore witness to the harvest. We took down an immaculate freight of Riesling. The Pinot Noir we picked by hand, selecting only the finest clusters. I was warned that the romance of hand-harvesting typically wears off after the first vine, but it didn’t. In that perfect weather, I could have stayed in the Pinot for the rest of my life.
Each day, I represent our wines in a room incinerated by sunshine. I toss a ball to a changing platoon of vineyard dogs.
The rewards of my profession are in the hospitality, in making someone’s day. Where I did that used to feel paramount, but it doesn’t anymore. I’ll take the normal hours in a tasting room with a view of the lake and vineyard, where the vines perform the best that they can with what they’re given, and the quality of the grapes at harvest tells us the story of the season.