Chateau Ah-Ha

When I was 21 years old I was working at the local wine and spirits shop. It was, and still is one of the largest shops in my home town of Rochester, NY. I was taking music production classes at a community college in the Finger Lakes at this time. I was had this fantastic vision of producing hit rock n’ roll records for the rest of my life, hanging out with bands, and playing guitar in my own famous band. As unsure as my parents were about this goal, they were supportive. I was having fun with it and was playing with a band at the time.  While all this was going on, there was a chain reaction of events taking place behind the scenes of the music industry. In 1999, the online file-sharing program Napster hit, and dozens of other subsequent programs just like it took to the web. This was a catalyst to the end of big music and all the corporate money being handed out left and right to bands, producers, engineers, A&R reps, promoters, and many more. Since music was now being traded freely without money exchanging hands, the writing was on the wall. I will admit I participated in the acquisition of desired music file too.  I was helping to dig the grave for my very own goals of being in the business of music.

I still had my job at the wine and spirits store.  I wasn’t much into wine when I was 21. I was new to drinking and stuck to beer and whiskey. I didn’t drink in high school at parties or most of my freshman year of college. Not that I shunned the experience, my collective group of friends and I were just into doing other things and none of us were of age anyways. It wasn’t a big deal to me. We were going to concerts a few times a week, playing video games, or watching movies like Zoolander and Super Troopers over and over again. At work, I was doing my best to work hard and keep the shelves stocked. I was learning a lot about spirits and wine at the time, but it was purely book knowledge. I had no real back catalog of tasting notes from world wines yet, nor did I care at the time. I remember one afternoon in the spring of 2003 as my music dreams were fading away and I was just going through the motions at school, I was heard a knock on the window of the office of the wine shops owner.  In the front of the store, he had his office with mirror windows, like a police officer’s sunglasses from the movies. I looked around to see who else was around and I was the only one in that area building a display of Franzia boxed wine. Through the window I heard his muffled voice say, “Nick, get in here.” I knew he was up there with a few people and one of them was a sales representative I knew. I walked into the office where the owner was tasting a lineup of wines. There was a sales representative I knew in there and another gentleman I didn’t. He said, “Grab a glass and join us.” I left the office and quickly headed to the back kitchen area where the glasses were and grabbed a couple of glasses and went back to the office. I had tasted wines in their before for staff tastings, but I was never called in on my own to sit and sip with winery reps and owner. I was nervous, because my wine knowledge was very limited and all I could wish for was to sit, taste, and watch the big boys talk from the corner. I knew I would have no real substantial input to any kind of conversation they were going to have about the wines being tasted. I sat down and the owner said, “Nick, try these wines, they are too good to miss. This is (insert forgotten name here) from Chateau Montelena.”

The name didn’t mean anything to me. There was a chardonnay, and a few Cabernets open. I started with the chardonnay. I tasted it and then tasted it again. I was asked what I thought and I said in complete naivety, with a grin, “Taste like French to me.” You see, I had no clue Chateau Montelena was NOT a french wine, but a Napa Valley wine, or its historic past.  The winery representative said I must have a great palate, because they modeled their Chardonnay after Meurseult-Charmes Burgundy. This put me in a tough spot. First off, I quickly realized when I looked at the bottle that the wine was from California and my comment which was meant to be slightly humorous, just happen to hit the mark. I was really nervous now, because I knew I couldn’t back up that statement with any other knowledge.  I sat back and let our sales rep pour me their Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and I spouted off some standard stock Cab descriptors and again drifted back out of the conversation. Then we tried an older vintage of the estate grown cab from 1995. It was then my life in the wine took on a whole new meaning. I took a sip and in my head, my conscience said, “holy shit.” This wine tasted like no other red wine I had ever tried up to this point. I could taste things I had never tasted in wines before, the stock descriptors were over shadowed by notes of olive brine and cedar wood, and the tannins were fired with pinpoint accuracy at my tongue. This was my Ah-ha moment. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I asked for another taste and all I could do was smell the glass. The aromatics kept changing. I would take a sniff, sit back and imagine what I smelled. I would repeat this multiple times with different outcomes each time.  

I left the office and finished out my shift and headed home. I lived with my parents at the time. My father was a food and wine man. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America and loved great wines. I told him what I tried and I remember his reaction peak with interest and a look of jealousy. Of course he knew what wine I was talking about.  We talked about the wine and I could see my excitement was fueling his. We had a great night.  With my music goals fading and my new spark for wine, the writing was on the wall. I made wine my career choice and kept music as my hobby. Though my early years in school seem to be all wasted, without it, I may have never worked in the wine and spirits shop and never tasted the 1995 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and never entered this business which I adore deeply.