It Takes A Village – The Support System of ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training Program

Written by Jared Gniewek
Intensive Sommelier Training Program Student

I am blessed to have support from many different avenues as I stumble through the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training Program. I couldn’t imagine going it alone with the sheer amount of information we need to absorb and engage with. Wine is the quintessential rabbit-hole that gets deeper and deeper the further in you explore.

My family, employer, friends, students and faculty at the school create a support system from which I’ve benefited in some vital ways. Frankly, I don’t know if I could succeed on my own. The proverb is “it takes a village to raise a child” and I would extend that sentiment to myself becoming a pinned and certified Sommelier.

My family, who pushed me to begin the program, has truly been there for me. My wife has been the dutiful wine-widow as our schedules clash throughout the program. She hasn’t pressured me to drop hours at my day job or slack on my studies to spend more time with her and the cats and the endless streaming entertainment which haunts all our homes nowadays.

My Aunt, whom I saw at Christmas, received a Coravin as a gift. It was bonus wine tasting time while I showed her how to operate it (prime that needle folks!) and got to dig into a pretty elegant Burgundy 1er Cru followed by a brassy Napa sledgehammer.

My employer at the wine shop has adjusted my schedule to accommodate the class as well as allowing me to have anything in the store at cost so I can expand my palate without breaking the bank (and make me a better hand seller to boot). He has even allowed me to run tastings in the space with some of my fellow class members participating.  Five of us got together on a Sunday, just a few weeks ago and I pulled (at cost) 6 typical wines from France and set up a blind tasting right in the store. It was a great exercise for all of us who felt overwhelmed. Plus we had some laughs, which always help lock in content!

Speaking of my ICC classmates, we have been setting up events and been in constant communication through a messaging app one of my compatriots set up for us all. Keeping abreast of each other’s feelings on the pressures of the program and being able to reach out to each other has made the experience far less daunting.

The ICC faculty has made their availability clear but also that we need to be doing these types of things outside class in order to succeed. Wine must become a lifestyle for the months of the program. (Oh no! I’ve gotta devote myself to something I love! The DREAD!)  I try to keep it on my mind always, and part of my habits daily. This village is pretty rockin’!

icccartoon1

Somm of the Month: IST Graduate, Alan Lane

Written by Daisy Martinez

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing IST grad Alan Lane recently about his experience at ICC and his transition from a U.S. Army officer to a Certified Sommelier. His passion is so infectious; I decided to let him enthrall you with the story of his journey in his own words.

Early interest in wine: As an English Literature major at Auburn University in the 1990s choosing wine at the supermarket or even at wine shops was a mystery to me.  Red?  Yes.  White?  Not really.  Rose?  No, thank you.  I wanted to know more, but I didn’t really know where to start.  Those of us in the industry know that this a common predicament for many consumers.  “Windows On The World” was the first book I used to try and educate myself.  It wasn’t until I decided to transfer to the Reserve Component from the Active Duty Component as a U.S. Army Officer effective April 1, 2015 that I thought I would pursue a career in the wine industry following release from Active Duty.

alan-lane-sommThe Transition – In November of 2014 my Commander gave me permission to work part time in a local Colorado Springs wine shop, Coaltrain Wine, Spirits, & Craft Beer. I wanted to know more, to be better, and that’s when I read about the 10 week Intensive Sommelier Program at the International Culinary Center.  My wife, daughter, and I toured the New York campus.  I knew it was meant to be.  Under the direction of Scott Carney, MS and other Master Sommeliers our class worked diligently to master our craft.  We bonded, we got to know each other, debated, tasted, searched together in the city for new wine lists, retail shops, experimented with pairings, blind tastings, industry tastings, the lot!  Our class now stays in contact mostly via social media, and I have visited Napa and Sonoma with friends I met in the class, visit my friends from class in NYC when I’m in town, and this is one of the best parts of the program at the ICC.  The camaraderie of the Sommelier Program is the closest thing I have found to parallel the camaraderie and esprit de corps of the military.  There is a common bond, a common goal, and a common passion found in the both the wine industry and the armed forces.

 

Fruition – I’ve worked in retail, distribution, and hospitality in both New York City and Colorado Springs.  Currently, I work as the Sommelier at 2South Wine Bar in Colorado Springs, CO.  Working as a Sommelier, with the Chef, the owners, my co-workers in front of house and back, helping diners find the right pairing or simply a unique wine to enjoy that they’ve never had, that’s where I find satisfaction.  After deploying to Jalalabad, Afghanistan as an Infantry (Pathfinder) Platoon Leader in 2008-2009 I wondered if I would ever find the kind of kinship, the kind of common bond that I found with the Soldiers with whom I served.  The hospitality industry, the wine, spirits, and beer industry, they have given me the same opportunity to work closely with like-minded, driven women and men who share a passion for providing value added experiences to our clients, consumers, and diners.  Without the Intensive Sommelier Program at the International Culinary Center I don’t know how quickly I would have found my place.  My experience there was unforgettable, and I encourage anyone, especially veterans who are interested in a career in the industry to check out the ICC.  It is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Student Life: Beginning the Intensive Sommelier Training Program

I started the Intensive Sommelier Training program on Monday. It’s now only Tuesday and my head is SPINNING. Learning wine is daunting. You need to remember that you can’t expect to know everything (at least in a day!) and it’s nearly impossible to have tried every wine available. It’s like film, in that you will probably never see every single movie ever created.

I certainly didn’t come in “cold” as I’ve been working as a wine clerk in a boutique wine shop for four years now. The shop wine experience has been great, the owner, values our opinions in the buying process so we taste everything and debate it coming in, he has supplemented my Intermediate Certification through the WSET and he charges us cost on our take home bottles. It’s been a great recipe for gaining hands on spit bucket experience, but is it a career?

jared-screenshotGreat wine knowledge can open the doors to opportunities working in retail beyond a clerk position. I could move on to a store that needs managers, or could work for a larger retailer that uses buyers. Or even transition to the distribution side and begin representing wine portfolios to stores and restaurants. Will I stay with retail after getting that pin? IF I get that pin?

This is a real study and the last thing I should do is get too cocky just because I happen to know what Tokaji is. [Our instructor] Scott stressed HUMILITY in his first lecture on Monday night. If the current 200-something individuals who have achieved the Master Sommelier level can accept the concept of humility, I think I can too.

Despite my head start, I am nowhere near where I need to be yet to become a Certified Sommelier. I am familiar with a different tasting method, which I’m going to have to unlearn to some extent. I am going to have to learn to slow down and deductively ascertain varietals and regions. I am woefully unkempt in appearance, coming from the more relaxed hardwood floors of hand sales rather than the more refined manner of dress seen throughout high end restaurants and expected for class. I feel like Jed Freakin’ Clampett over here!

My study skills are weak. I managed to read the material for the first class and get my notes taken, but my head and focus are so addled that it took me all day to get through it. In any case, despite what some might think, this is rigorous joyful labor and definitely not a dalliance into a hobby. Not at this level. I am ready to become a Certified Sommelier, but my head? Still spinning!