Chardonnay. Gewürztraminer. Riesling. If you’ve ever stared cluelessly at one of these words before picking out a wine based on the design of its label, or thrown around descriptors like “full-bodied” and “oaky” in an attempt to impress your father-in-law, you may be interested in Autour du Vin — a wine-tasting school that will be offering classes locally in September.
Based in Bordeaux, France, the school was recently launched here by Newfoundland native Tracey Dobbin.
Wine is a fairly new career path for Dobbin, who worked as an occupational therapist for many years, before realizing she was in need of a change. An avid lover of wine since her youth, it seemed a natural fit.
“More like a European family, we often had wine at our dinner table, and we were allowed to have a glass when we were younger. I remember our dad showing us how you smell it, how you taste it. I was always really fascinated by all the aromas,” said Dobbin.
“When I went to university and most of my friends were buying beer and wine coolers, myself and my girlfriend were buying wine. Shortly after, we started buying textbooks about wine, and the more I learned about it the more it was fascinating to me.”
In 2008, Dobbin took her first wine course — the same one she will teach in St. John’s in September. Soon, she was hooked and she continued taking courses, including an MBA in wine management and marketing.
She is completing the master’s of wine program in Bordeaux.
“The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn about it,” she said.
“The story behind every glass of wine is fascinating. It’s about history; it’s about people. It’s also that sharing piece — people don’t drink a bottle of wine on their own. It’s something that you share with people. You could sit around and talk about a glass of wine for hours. It sounds silly, but it happens all the time.”
In September, Dobbin will be offering the first-level course in the Wine and Spirit Education Trust certification — an internationally recognized standard in wine education.
The one-day course teaches basic wine-tasting vocabulary and technique, and is open to everyone, from seasoned connoisseurs to wine-illiterate newbies.
Dobbin says regardless of experience level, no one should be intimidated by the class, which she aims to make free of pretentiousness
“We taste together; it’s very interactive, and I help guide people through the process. I teach them the basic language, and teach them how to actually taste,” she said.
“We taste. We talk. Everyone gives their opinion. We move on to the next. It’s fun adult learning.”
She emphasizes that if you are spending any kind of money on wine, a bit of knowledge can go a long way towards enhancing the value and pleasure of your purchases.
“This is what’s fantastic about wine: a little bit of knowledge can help you so much,” she said.
“I’ve done many sessions at dinner parties, and you almost hear this light bulb go off in people’s heads of, wow, I didn’t realize that I could taste. There’s such a fear around it in so many cases, and the idea of this course is to make it fun, to make people realize that, hey, I can taste.”
Dobbin says she once taught the beginner course to the cabin crew of a Middle Eastern airline, many of who were Muslim and had never before tried wine.
“I was teaching people to taste that didn’t actually even put the wine in their mouth,” she said.
“But so much of wine tasting is about aroma. All the sudden, people who had never tasted wine before were not only tasting, but tasting incredibly well, saying ‘I smell… ’ and giving me the textbook aromas without even having learned anything, because they had experience with it.”
The class is offered at Clovelly golf course on Sept. 7. There are 20 spots available; registration is $320 per person. There will also be two, two-hour master classes offered in St. John’s, on Aug. 15 and 20. The cost is roughly $110 per class.
Dobbin says she plans to teach classes in Atlantic Canada several times per year.