The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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Page 45 of 119

46 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 TEACHING A WINE CLASS IS A LITTLE like walking a tightrope at times, wanting to stick to the path ahead and the subject at hand but sometimes being swayed by the curiosity of the students and the overall complexity of the discipline. In my 16 years with The Culinary Institute of America, I have had the pleasure of working with, observ - ing and learning from a few dozen of the college's wine educators. Some are Master Sommeliers, some well-regarded wine writ- ers, some vintners, some successful business people, and all unique in their styles of teach- ing. Here are the attributes and instincts I've noticed that make up the gestalt of our faculty: Class organization skills that allow for a little bit of risk-taking Regardless of planning, class activities do not always go the way we think they will. Wines may be flawed, uncharacteristic, spilled! Corks break, A/V doesn't work, and sometimes the essential message that we are trying so hard to convey is simply not comprehended in the way we expected. Memorable mid-stream changes, like a new venue (during a recent power outage, not unusual in a 125-year old-building, Bob Bath simply took his entire Advanced Wine Studies class outside—wine, glasses and all— and delivered his lecture via an iPad), sur - prise blind-tasting, ringers, multi-media and turning questions back to the students can refresh the lesson plan on the spot, even reinforce the underlying sense of hospitality. Broad knowledge of their field with a generous attitude toward the unknown At the expert level, it's not unusual for an instructor to have selected some special - ties from the many micro-subjects that make up the world of wine. Christie Dufault is our resident Francophile. We all know and love French wines, but Christie's gift for the language and time spent living and working there give her an advantage that we are happy to defer to. Wherever the dirt on your shoes is from often becomes a natural source of passion and enthusiasm for your instruction and your own continu - ing education. The ability to quickly instill confi- dence in students while still challeng- ing them John Ash starts his food and wine pairing class by immediately breaking into teams and giving students a set of eight aroma standards to identify, first individually and then as a team. Afterward, as the scents are revealed, the team who gets the most correct wins a prize. John wanders around the class as they work, peeking at answers and giving advice and internally identifying for himself the strengths and weaknesses of each student. This prepares him for the individual abilities and group dynamic to come. The natural suspension of disbelief when tasting wine with the class All of our instructors exemplify this ability, but it is a muscle that develops with time, constant tasting practice and acceptance. With so much wine on the planet available to teach with, explaining each one at the granular level that students in this Google- able, DNA-testing, Coravin-ing world in which we now instruct is sometimes impos - sible. With alcohol and RS levels explained to the fourth decimal point, thousands of wine grape varieties, and the transparency of grape growing and winemaking good, bad or questionable, we are sometimes only a few degrees from having the answer to whatever question may come up in class. A balance of old and new, good and bad, exotic and simple experiences to share My own philosophy of teaching my stu - dents, mostly consumers, is easy: I like wine, I'll presume I like you, and therefore, I want you to like wine, as though my two friends were meeting for the first time. The surest way for me to accomplish that is to be myself, explain my journey and never leave out the hard parts. While I'm proud and happy to share my favorite wines, the amazing people I've met and the incredible places I've been, I've learned so much from all the moments that make up my career. A life of wine, whether professional or personal, is absolutely attainable and that, along with the many scientific facts, regula - tions, maps and myriad details we pass on, is what makes the lesson stick. Five Qualities of a Great Wine Educator by Traci Dutton, Wine Director, Culinary Institute of America at Greystone John Ash teaches a wine class at the CIA. While we may want to only focus on having an entire group of students make it to the same finish line and check off that "learning objective," what's also important is to ensure that the entire group has traveled the same distance from their unique starting point. They may all finish the marathon, but at different times. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CIA AT GREYSTONE

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