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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’!

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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.

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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!

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How I Got the Job: Rachel Coe Shares Her Somm Story

After my graduation from the ICC in December 2014, I began looking for jobs in the area as a sommelier. Not sure exactly what I wanted to do with my certification, but having experience in both front and back of house in restaurants, I visited the ICC to get some guidance. Thanks to the career adviser, Nicole Harnett, I was pointed in the direction of Rosewood Sand Hill and Madera restaurant in Menlo Park, a five star resort and fine dining restaurant.  I began in February 2015 as the Lounge Sommelier, the more casual side of the operation. Thrown into the fire of having to learn a 98 page wine list with over 2,300 different labels (that also was a Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence winner), there was no other option except to pick it up – fast!  With three great mentors working above me (wine director Paul Mekis, and sommeliers John McDaniel and Julie Sundean), I learned my way around the cellar and wine list quickly. At Madera, our wine team is extremely fortunate to be able to taste a great number of wines on our list, sometimes even with the winemakers themselves. These tastings proved invaluable in moving forward with me career.

rachelcoe_hm-450x300Three months into my job at Madera I met chef Genaro Mendez, who was in the process of opening his own restaurant in East San Jose, The Creek Eatery. Wanting to expand my horizons and responsibility with a new restaurant, while still keeping my position at Madera, I agreed to be a consulting sommelier & beverage director.  My responsibility was to create a wine list to complement the menu consisting of wood fired pizza and various globally-influenced dishes. For 14 months I met with various vendors, tasted hundreds of selections, researched and ordered wine in anticipation of our summer 2016 opening. This was my first experience working as a wine buyer, where I was faced with the age old dilemma of selecting wine that the customers would recognize and enjoy, not necessarily my geeky somm selections. In June 2016 The Creek Eatery opened for business, featuring a wine list with over 60 selections from around the world.

In August 2015 I was promoted to a position at the Madera restaurant as one of the three full-time floor sommeliers.  Though my title is Madera sommelier, the Madera restaurant is just one outlet in a hotel that brings in over $4 million of profit from the resort wine program. I not only organize the cellar, staff training and tastings, I also help with wine selections in banquets, the lounge, in room dining and the pool bar & grill. Of course, at 5 PM every day my responsibility shifts to being present on the floor, guiding guests through our extensive wine list to select the perfect wine for their meal.

To learn more about the California Intensive Sommelier Training program, click here.

Library Notes Wine

Library Notes // Wine 101

By Sara Quiroz
ICC Librarian

Visitors to the ICC Library sometimes mistakenly think it’s nothing but cookbooks. On the contrary, we have a very wide range of books and DVDs available on almost every subject in the culinary world. This of course, includes everything our Sommelier students may need throughout their course. If you’re not quite ready to commit to the full course but would like to dip your toe in the world of wine, here are a few highlights from our collection to get you started.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack provides a thorough overview of everything you need to know about wine, from fundamentals to styles to regions. Best of all, the content is incredibly visual. Wine Folly is full of great charts in bright colors; it’s a fun reader friendly guide without sacrificing the content. Pick this up if you are brand new and need an engaging starting point.

If you, like me, are more of a literary type, Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch is the pick for you! Lynch is a wine buyer who vividly recalls his travels through France painting colorful portraits of the producers and other assorted characters he met along the way. I participated in a wine book club and all of the Somm alumnus agreed it would have been incredibly helpful to read during the French portion of the class. How rare, to find a engaging and laugh out loud funny memoir that is also informative and educational. This is for the avid reader who wants to learn more about French wines.

Wine Grape: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties may very well be the most beautiful book in our collection. This hefty reference guide from Ecco includes gorgeous, lushly illustrated botanical drawings. Each variety is covered in detail, from color to origins to varieties commonly mistaken for the grape in question. I would recommend this for the amateur sommelier ready to take their education to the next level. Of course the Sommelier program here is not just about wine. The experienced Somm must also be well versed in beer, sake and spirits. Here are a couple selections of the many books we have available on the other beverages.

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While we hear a lot about food and wine pairings, it is rare to hear about how to pair beer with food. In Tasting Beer, author and beer enthusiast Randy Mosher covers the subject with the same care and detail so often afforded to wine. This book has a little bit of everything, history, tasting notes and pairing ideas all with colorful illustrations. If you are clueless about beer, but would like to know more, this book is for you.

There are many students who come by the library toward the end of the program who blind test wine with the best of them, yet are clueless when it comes to cocktails. We have an excellent selection of books on spirits, from histories to bartending guides. The Cocktail Lab by Tony Conigliaro stands out because it is more than just a collection of recipes; it details the science, art and history of a wide range of cocktails. Conigliaro covers the classics of course, but he also details his various cocktail “experiments” from perfumed drinks to sous vide cocktails.

There you have it, for the Sommalier in the stacks. Stop by the ICC Library to check out these and many more beverage books. To keep up with whats new in the library, follow us on Twitter and Instagram via @IntlCulLibrary or follow ICC directly at @ICCedu.