You'd have to be an idiot, or living under a rock, or an idiot living under a rock, not to know there is some real despair out there. Yeah, it starts with the economic crisis, but that has rippled through the fabric of our country to an extent unparalleled in our lifetimes (which means my lifetime). In a way, the effect of the present economy is like cocaine in the late 1980's.
No, not the t-shirt, sports coat and three day beard look that Don Johnson was sporting (although that particular fashion trend did spread a real level of horror across America- you knew how bad it was when even the guy pumping petrol at the gas station in some Dakota backwater was dressed like that) . Back then, it seemed like everyone had either screwed up their lives with cocaine, or knew someone who had, or at least knew of someone who had. That particular scourge touched everyone, somehow. It happened to confirm the prescient comment of a guy I knew from Bolivia who told me in the late 1970's that "you Americans don't know what we know about this drug- but someday you will". Which we did, albeit a little too late for some.
Anyways, we all know someone who has been hit by the economy, if we ourselves haven't (and let me tell you, the wine industry has been slammed on many levels by the economy). But really, the fact that rich guys are buying less wine pales in comparison to the thousands of middle class families who have lost jobs, homes and perhaps most importantly, hope. Because if there is one hallmark of America, it is hope. it's what allowed someone with nothing to achieve whatever dream they had- without hope, there are no dreams.
Me? I refuse to quit hoping. I continue to be a guy who believes that anything is possible, that "can't" is a word for someone else, and that today is good, and tomorrow will surely be better. And I'm not alone. There are people everywhere filled with dreams they are pursuing, filled with hope.
This week in Healdsburg, a group of them are coming to be tested for their Master Sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. A lot of people like to tee off on Sommeliers- and usually it's those that have less actual wine knowledge than ego who find fault with them. The somms I know are dedicated to the grape and genuinely enthusiastic about sharing their world with those they attend to in their restaurants. (And the rare Sommelier who has an asshole/supercilious attitude- would be a jackass no matter what they do)
Not every guy who assists you with your wine is a Sommelier. And to get to the level of a Master Somm takes years of study and preparation. There are multiple levels one must achieve before even qualifying to test. The test itself covers theory (wine knowledge in great detail), service (I love the story of one guy who had to try to handle wine service while a couple was having a [staged] argument- I'd have told them to shut up or leave) and tasting. The tasting involves being served six wines with no information about them, and having to identify grape(s), place of origin, appellation if apropos, and vintage. Which, if you consider the hundreds of varieties of grapes, many of which are grown in multiple places on earth, and the thousands of producers, this requires a hell of a lot more skill than a party trick.
My buddy "D" is coming to town (my lawyer says I have to respect his privacy) for his exam. He is like a little brother to me- and I am so pulling for him. If he passes, I think he will be the youngest person to achieve Master Sommelier status in America. Last year, he took the test and barely missed (he nailed service and theory) but he stumbled on the tasting (he called a Pinot Noir a Pinot Gris- which considering we had pounded down some amazing burgs the week before at his place [some over a century old] was so pathetic it was almost laughable, at least to me). Since he passed the other two parts, he only has to do the tasting part this year.
Anyways, he, and others arrive today for the test which begins tomorrow. Tonight I'm going to do "bacon and eggs": some pork chops over a "hash" of sliced fingerling potatoes seared in pork fat, mushrooms (black trumpets, shittakes and chanterelles) with bacon and shallots, and fresh peas with a red wine reduction to bind it all up, and a truffled fried egg over the top. We'll drink some great old wines (he says he brought the perfect wine) and we'll keep it light and fun.
And tomorrow we'll send him off like parents sending their favorite child off to college- hell, I'll probably stand at the door and wave goodbye. And I'll be thinking about him all day in the back of my mind- hoping that he nails this thing and achieves this milestone in his career.
And the beauty of it is that while these guys sitting for this exam are all filled with hope- the ripple effect is touching so many others. There are somms back in his hometown who have called asking me to let them know as soon as I hear anything- they're filled with hope. And their families are surely filled with hope.
And me? I am so filled with hope- not just for my friend- for all of them- hell, for all of us-these guys represent a small portion of the future- the future of one segment of our society. They're all chasing their dreams- and damnit, plenty of them will achieve them. Which plenty of young people (seems like everyone is a young person to me) in plenty of other industries are also doing. And if these young men and women, who have worked their collective asses off to get to this point in their careers, and who are looking forward with hope are a reflection of the future, I say we are in great shape.
Tough times? Yeah- but right now, I'm feeling pretty hopeful.