How Witnessing Failure During Success Changed My Approach To Wine Learning

During one of my proudest wine moments, I stared into the eyes of failure. It changed me forever.

On Saturday, December 3, 2016, I walked into a giant conference room inside the Ritz-Carlton Orlando for the Introductory Sommelier Exam. The multiple choice exams were passed out, and we were told to begin.

Question 1: Which of the following is the principal grape variety of wine production in Barbaresco?

“Nebbiolo. Shit, wait. Is it Barbera? I’ll come back to it,” I said to myself.

A rocky start. I settled in after a few more questions, and I began to cruise through the exam.

When it came time to find out who passed, they called out names from the front of the room. After the 12th person went up to receive their certificate, I began to sweat.

“Am I going to fail because I switched to Barbera and went against my gut? This is unreal.”

Eventually, I heard my name. I returned to my seat staring at my pin, certificate, and glass of bubbles in disbelief.

Shortly after, we were invited to cheers everyone’s efforts. I exchanged big smiles with the people in front of me and to my sides.

As I turned around, I saw a young man without a pin and certificate. He was holding back the pain of his failure as we exchanged nods.

My heart sank as I immediately put myself in his shoes.

When gearing up for the exam, I thought about what it would feel like if I didn’t pass. How the flight home from Orlando to Chicago would suck. How I would have walk into my apartment and tell my girlfriend I failed.

Despite switching to Barbera, I still passed. However, I knew exactly what failure looked like.

As a result, I’m extremely empathetic to anyone wanting to learn about wine, because I know how difficult the journey can be. In teaching, it’s my hope to prevent anyone from ever feeling that way.

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