somm

rusty shed vineyard

I have an obsessive personality.

When I was in university, it was not enough to get straight As. I had to be at the top of my class. When I stumbled upon a Mormon blogger many years ago, so fascinated by her unwavering faith through a horrific tragedy, I had to learn everything (me, an atheist) there was to know about Mormonism. Though my friends and colleagues all wear them, I couldn’t sport a Fitbit because it would impede my healthy living, both mental and physical — I know I’d become obsessive to the point of destruction about tracking and counting and exceeding my goals.

It’s a curious thing because I never have been, nor am I, a competitive person with others. But I am hyper-competitive with myself and obsessive in my pursuit of anything that grabs my attention for more than a moment.

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate this quality in my personality. Constantly striving, I figure, is preferable to approaching things in a half-done manner. I’ve learned that by reining in my obsessions and focusing them, it’s a pretty useful trait to have. When I care about something — people, goals, assignments, hobbies — I am all in.

It’s no surprise, then, the reaction I had about a year ago when I watched the documentary, Somm, about four oenology students studying to become Master Sommeliers, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. At a particularly incredible moment in the film, one of the potential Masters blindly rhymes off, with seeming ease, the country of origin, region, appellation, vintage, varietal and producer of a wine — with just a sip and smell guiding him.

I turned to Austin and said: “I could do that.” I then grabbed my computer and googled “Canada female master sommelier”. As it goes, I’d be the second Canadian woman to earn this title, of 25 women total, in a hypothetical world when I embarked on a pursuit so crazy.

Since then, I’ve had a nagging desire. The obsessive part of me kept whispering: sommelier, sommelier, sommelier. I love wine. I love learning about wine. I grew up in a family that allowed simple table wine with Sunday dinner and parents who encouraged our responsible exploration of alcohol. My ongoing pursuit of fine dining has led me to many elaborate paired tasting menus, featuring wines way (way) outside of my budget. Austin and I always have a good time in LCBO tutored tastings, gaining both foundational knowledge and an appreciation of niche areas of oenology. And we spend half a dozen weekends each year in Ontario’s wine country, stocking up on our favourite wines (I am a steadfast Ontario wine booster — but that’s a conversation for another post). All this was no longer enough.

They say the more you know about something the more you realize how shockingly little you know about it. Compared to the average person assessing a wine list in a restaurant, I know a lot. I can speak intelligibly to a waiter so he understands my preferences. I can walk up to a tasting bar at a vineyard and hold my own in a conversation. I can stand in a wine store before racks of bottles and make an informed purchase. Compared to what’s out there to know about wine, though, I still have near-infinite knowledge to amass.

So last night, I went back to school. I donned my little backpack and packed my notebook and pens and walked to campus. I stepped into the sommelier lab for my first class in a very long process: the (I’m told) gruelling, fascinating, soul-crushing, wonderful road toward becoming a certified sommelier, and maybe, one day, years from now, if I’m obsessive enough, a Master.

I’m terrified, I’m excited, and I’m brimming with that feeling I get only when I happen upon something that spikes my obsessiveness, makes me insatiable to know more, and propels me to be the very best. I love the possibility of how very little I know and how much I’m about to learn.

(Photo, my own: the beautiful rusty shed vineyard at Flat Rock Cellars)

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