Napa Valley can be an intimidating place. If the idea of wine with its white tablecloths and sommeliers weren’t intimidating enough, there’s all of that terminology that you need to understand. There are “appellations” (not to be confused with the Appalachians) and “terroir” (which isn’t to be confused with terror unless you’re a southerner who doesn’t speak French very well.) I’ve barely managed to adapt to the new directional perspective required when the coasts changed sides from left to right and the Atlantic Ocean gave way to the Pacific Ocean, and now I am trying to learn the vast nuances of a new industry. An industry that has as much to do with magic and luck and it does with science. But there’s plenty of science. There’s something called malolactic fermentation that seems to be pretty important and a whole host of vermin and pests that require the greatest of vigilance. There’s also “root stock” which apparently has nothing to do with the appearance of your hair, and “chickens and hens” which aren’t related at all to the business of producing eggs.
As a participant in my first pinot harvest last year, I had to learn not to aim for the plump juicy grapes but to seek the more shriveled, seasoned ones for best flavor. While also remembering to keep my fingers out of the way of the clippers.
As a tasting room visitor, I marvel at the different qualities that make each winery unique, while doing my best not to say the wrong thing or to mispronounce the name of the wine I’m sipping. But I am fortunate to work amongst a team of seasoned professionals who understand the nuances of this industry and how they relate to accounting. They have taken me in and led me to wineries and helped me to apply what I know in new ways. And I find in Napa, as everywhere I go, that people are not so different, and they enjoy sharing their passion with others who ask questions, no matter how basic they might be.