SOMM Journal "From Cellar to Sommelier Pin"

Posted on Jul 14, 2017

It’s easy to understand why plenty of sommeliers are becoming winemakers, but why would a winemaker want to learn to be a sommelier? Erica Stancliff,  winemaker at Trombetta Family Wines in Forestville, California, explains her reasons for enrolling in the Court of Master Sommeliers Level 1 certificate exam earlier this year.

 

WINEMAKERS USED TO LIVE A PRETTY ISOLATED EXISTENCE. THE grapes would come in from the vineyard, you’d turn them into wine and bottle it, and the sales team would make it all go away so you’d have room in the winery to make the next vintage. 

Now we spend almost as much time in the vineyard as we do in the winery, and once our winemaking work is completed, we hit the road for winemaker dinners, promotional events and sales team visits to help find homes for our babies. 

A big part of that effort is persuading sommeliers that our Pinot Noir will be the ideal match for whatever happens to be on their menu—be it squab cooked in a salt crust or a fiery lamb curry. So I wanted to understand how somms identify the nuances of each dish and then lock in the perfect pairing. They are the gatekeepers between my wines and the consumer, so to truly understand what happens when sommeliers taste wine—and how they think about matching it with food and how they translate all of that to their clients in the dining room—is an important element of winemaking, too. 

The course was eye-opening on many levels, but my first lightbulb moment came when we got into the deductive approach to tasting wine. As a winemaker, I know exactly what I am tasting as each vintage develops—there is not much mystery. But with deductive tasting, the wine in your glass could be anything. You use your knowledge, experience and sometimes intuition to figure it out, and I loved the challenge and the process. 

The class also affected the way I think about my own style of winemaking. How approachable is my wine from a food standpoint? That is a bigger consideration now, and it’s also made me more open to wine styles that I might have dismissed before. Now I can separate my personal preferences from an appreciation for a broader range of wines. And now I’m better at gauging a wine’s quality, regardless of my preferences. It’s important to get away from developing too much of a house palate! 

By the end of the program, I was reassured that I am moving in the right direction. My goal—to make a beautiful wine that expresses the vineyard while being made to enjoy with food—was reinforced from a different perspective. I highly recommend that other winemakers take the plunge and endure at least the First Level Sommelier program—even if the information-packed slides make you feel like you’re back in a college classroom and the exam produces a few moments of terror. What I learned will resonate in my winemaking at Trombetta, and I’m looking forward to beginning my studies for the next level.

{The SOMM Journal} August/September 2015

PDF icon Download PDF (1.14 MB)

Keep up with the latest Trombetta Family Wine News