My name is Jennifer Gray (yes, like the actress, but my last name ends with AY instead of EY). I live in beautiful Santa Barbara with my husband, two kids, a mean cat, and a badly behaved dog (we still love him).
I’m a regular person who likes wine. I’ve been an avid consumer and purchaser of wine for many years. My husband and I have even built up a small collection of wines. We built a wine cellar to store them. We dabbled in home winemaking (Chardonnay, extremely limited, only 6 gallons produced; very fun project!).
However, I realized that I was still feeling stupid when out at restaurants or when in a wine shop, desperately afraid to speak to wine sales personnel or sommeliers, afraid I would expose my ignorance. I knew some stuff, but I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I don’t know about you, but I hate feeling stupid.
I’m a big nerd. I went to graduate school. When I want to learn about something, I really want to understand it.
I started setting up informal tastings either just for myself, for myself and my husband, or for us and a couple of friends. I wanted to know: can I taste the difference between Chardonnay from California and Chardonnay from France? Why the heck is Italian wine so confusing? Can I figure out what it is that I like? I don’t even know how to answer a sommelier who asks me what kind of wines I prefer! Can I ever stop feeling stupid about wine?
I started formalizing my wine education, taking classes and gaining certifications from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET, a globally recognized, London-based school for wine education), through a California–based wine school, Napa Valley Wine Academy.
I read a ton. I listened to podcasts. I deliberately set about trying to understand wine. I sampled many, many wines from around the world, near and far.
I worked the production (winemaking) side of things so I could really understand, far beyond what I could read in a book, how wine is made. I’ve walked vineyards with winemakers, sampling grapes. I’ve measured Brix, sorted grapes as they move along on a conveyer belt, monitored fermentation, topped up barrels, done punchdowns and pump-overs. And I’ve done a hell of a lot of tank cleaning (winemaking, as it turns out, involves a LOT of cleaning).
My world started to open up. Things started making more sense. I started being able to look at wine lists, or walk into a wine shop, and really understand what I was seeing. I can talk with winemakers and get super nerdy. And I love it.
The world of wine can definitely be a case of “the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know,” but this sense of there always being more to learn really appeals to me. I love the continual educational part of it. I love learning all the things about why the place a wine comes from matters (climate, soil, wine making practices), I love the social aspect of sharing a bottle of wine, I love the synergy created by good food and good wine together. I love searching out new regions, varieties, or styles to try. I love living in wine country, where wine tasting right next to the field in which the grapes are grown can be a regular occurrence.
Cheers to you, wherever you are in your wine journey!
Jennifer Gray: Educational Background
Bachelor of Arts, Westmont College, Psychology, cum laude
Master of Arts, Claremont Graduate University, Social Psychology
Wine and Spirits Education Trust, Level 3 (Pass with Merit)
Wine and Spirits Education Trust, Diploma Candidate