A "Life of Wine" (Looking Back 40 Years)
|1977: Randy & Heather Caparoso|
2017 marks my seventh year living in Lodi wine country. Although I am originally from the Hawaiian Islands, Lodi has become my adopted home; and in many ways, this residency represents a culmination of a career as a full-time wine professional spanning 40 years.
|1979: The young tastevined sommelier (Cavalier French Restaurant, Honolulu)|
Yet wine, to me, was more than a living. It was an obsession. From the moment I first fell into it (after attending a restaurant staff tasting at the age of 18) I began planning trips to wineries and vineyards in California, then the Northwest, later to Europe. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the wine industry around the world was just a fraction of the size of what it is now, and not nearly as many Americans even touched the stuff.
|1982: With my wine competition tasting "buddy," (the immortal) Andre Tchelistcheff|
Mind you, in this day and age, there are still advantages to being young and gifted with opportunities. Today’s sommeliers, frankly, are required to be significantly more knowledgeable than we were, 30 or 40 years ago. But hey, there are advantages to reaching the far side of the mountain, especially if you still carry a burning desire to hone your craft.
|1989: Mes amis Kermit Lynch and Gail Skopf|
I never got the opportunity to actually sit for final MS or MW exams. Why? I was busy being a husband and father – attending the games, playing in the park, enjoying the family meals, the things parents are supposed to do with their kids – while working 60, 70 hours a week managing wine retail stores by day and walking restaurant floors at night. At the same time, bolstering my ability to do my job (and, frankly, my value and pay) by plotting never-ending swings through the vineyards all along the West Coast, favorite parts of Europe, and occasionally Down Under and in South America.
|1994: With Roy Yamaguchi (front-left), alongside Bradley Ogden and moi|
By 2001 I had helped open no less than 28 of these “Roy’s” restaurants, specializing in cutting-edge French-Asian cuisine and equally innovative wines, which I traveled the globe to find. In doing so, I got the opportunity to spend tons of time in markets from coast to coast – in multiple cities in California and Florida, from Washington to Georgia, Chicago to Austin, Denver and Scottsdale to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and more – while working out of home offices in Honolulu and Newport Beach, California.
|1998: At a Bacchanalia with Robert and Margrit Mondavi|
|2001: Leading an "aloha" at a Carneros Alliance luau with Rob Sinskey|
This Colorado connection led to the founding of Sommelier Journal (in 2007); which eventually morphed into The SOMM Journal, for which I am currently the West Coast Editor-at-Large – covering wine regions as a journalist, while leading sommeliers on frequent 3-day, on-site studies from British Columbia all the way down to Santa Barbara. I think of these sommelier “Camps” as a way of making it possible for today’s on-premise professionals to learn the trade in the same ways I was fortunate to experience in my 20s and 30s – in the field, not just through books or surrounded by four walls. The SOMM Journal has over 50,000 subscribers (mostly restaurant/hotel wine buyers), in every state of the union.
|2000: Cover of Sante Magazine with my "big Pinot"|
But here’s another funny (or not) thing: No matter where you go – and I’ve been most everywhere – you find that all consumers crave real, genuine wines, at their finest (no matter what the price point) when they are expressive of the places they are grown; while growers and producers of the world’s finest wines are cognizant of pretty much the same things. It’s like the old Paul Simon song about “All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints”: There’s no doubt about it... I’ve seen them all and man they’re all same.
|2000: With Oregon's "Gang of Six" (standing with Harry Peterson-Nedry and Ken Wright; and seated, Mike Etzel, Steve Doerner, Rob Stuart, Laurent Montalieu and Lynn Penner-Ash)|
|2008: In-the-business-for-the-fun-of-it (with two favorite characters, Greg La Follette and Luke Porter-Bass)|