The classiest glass of wine I ever had didn’t come in a glass at all, but it was life-changing all the same.
It all started with a weekend excursion. For most of my twenties, I had an interest in wine but was satisfied to lightly scratch the surface, attending a class or two at the local wine store, reading an article every now and then, tasting wine with my friends. On a trip to wine country, I finally decided to cross the beams of my personal and professional life and pursue an education in wine.
My sister and eternal wine-tasting partner wanted to go to wine country for her birthday, so we drove the three hours or so from Spokane, Washington, to Walla Walla. It was late morning on our way out of town when we decided to make one more stop before we headed back. After all, to drive to Walla Walla and not visit College Cellars, the student-run tasting room of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture, is like refusing dessert at your last meal.
One of the students approached us and asked if we’d like a taste of the winery’s most recent Merlot vintage. While I was not particularly wild about the variety, she spoke with such passion when describing the wine that I couldn’t wait to try a glass. I later found out she’d had a hand in making it.
Instead of two glasses, our blue jeans and flannel shirt–clad host set before us two paper cups. Before I had time to tap into my layperson’s snobbery at not being provided a glass, she dove into her presentation. The grapes had been harvested from the college’s estate vineyard only last year, so the wine produced was still in barrel, not properly aged yet. However, the tasting room staff had spirited away a couple of bottles worth to offer guests.
So, there I was, drinking young wine from a paper cup at roughly 10 in the morning. It wasn’t quite the glamorous, ceremonious experience that had drawn me to wine, but I was in the company of my steadfast tasting partner and a guest of a most gracious and professional host. It was enough to make me apply to the Institute for Enology and Viticulture myself.
Back then, I had a thing or two to learn about wine culture. And now, after two years as a student of wine, I know there is still a third thing out there I have yet to discover.