Monday, August 15, 2011

The Questions

On a regular basis I get asked

"How did you learn so much about wine?"

"When did you get into wine?"

"How do you stay in such good shape when you drink so much & eat so much good food"
Seriously I have been asked this question often enough. My answer is that I swim laps & lift weights on a regular basis.

The other questions aren't answered so quickly or easily. I was raised in a multi cultural household where chicken-n-dumplins, spaghetti & fried chicken lived alongside lengua (beef tongue) & saltenas (empanada style stuffed pastries). My mother & grandmother cooked Latin American & Spanish dishes for us, my grandmother spoke Spanish to us as much as she could. Along with the more exotic family food there was always wine. My parents drank wine & my grandmother would bring wine from South America & Spain whenever she would go visit family. Keep in mind this was in the late 70's & into the 80's when wines from those areas were not readily available much less even heard of. Every once & awhile my sister & I would be given watered down wine to drink alongside the family's full strength glasses. At the time, of course, I thought nothing of it. It was just the way I was raised so I didn't think it was different. Only after I started going to friend's houses did I see that in fact yes I was raised differently. Throughout college I started exploring wine somewhat at the local Southern Illinois wineries. Yes there are wineries in So. Ill. After college I felt like I was drifting. Took an internship & then position at a publishing company in San Francisco. Left SF & moved to Memphis. Worked in restaurants for years & then took a job at a non-profit. Left the non-profit & took a job with Coletta & Company (now Smart City Consulting). It was here where I had a huge realization--I was simply working--. I didn't give a damn about what I was doing. There was no passion & there never was throughout any of those previous jobs. I had no idea what the hell I was doing nor why I was doing it. I was in awe of my boss, Carol Coletta. She was this force of nature that seemed to subsist on biscuits with a little lemon curd & her workload. She was easily one of the most intelligent people I'd ever met. What really amazed me was her passion & dedication for every project that she touched.

I wanted that. I wanted to feel so strongly & passionately about what I did that it was simply second nature. I wanted to work hard yet not realize how hard I was working because I loved what I was doing. Most of all I wanted to believe in what I was doing as if I was meant to do it.

As scary as it was to do I mustered up the courage & quit my job. I was completely freaked out but I knew in my heart that it was exactly what I was supposed to do. While I was working at Coletta & Company I took a part time job at Great Wines & Spirits out in East Memphis. Dipping my toe in the water just made me want more. I studied my ass off & took the Introductory Sommelier Course offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Much to my surprise I scored the highest in my entire class! Achieving this really propelled me to take on the Certified Sommelier Exam so soon after the Intro. The Certified exam was the most difficult test I had ever taken, or at least it felt that way. After the three part exam we were released for a break before the results were announced. I remember calling Kelly & telling him "I'm sure I failed. There is no way I passed. I completely screwed that up." He talked me off the ledge & I returned to the hear the results. I passed! Oddly enough my criticism was flipped. What I felt I did well on was actually what I did poorly on & vice versa. It was an interesting moment to say the least.

Soon after that a friend of mine asked me to help out with a wine tasting that her employer was putting on. I said yes & I guess I really impressed them because the store owner, Brad Larson, offered me a job soon thereafter. Working at Joe's Wines & Liquors has been an incredible experience. I've grown so much, learned so much & experienced a great deal.

I'm living proof that you should be doing what you love. I can't imagine doing anything else.


Becca said...

I love you Michael! What an inspirational story. :)

Benito said...

Love the story of your journey, and it's proof that there's a million different ways to end up at the same destination. I always loved the tastings you hosted at Great Wines, because the folks doing the pouring were my own age. I'm happy to hang around with people of all ages, but at some point you get tired of being the only person under 50 in the room.

Anxious to see the next chapters in the Michael Hughes story!

Michael Hughes said...

Thanks y'all!