The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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{ }  55 diverse perspectives, and different approaches. The Mariani family, proprietors of Banfi, believes very much in education and the Cru Artisan College brings that across in a great way. Is there anything else you do outside of the Cru Artisan College, educationally speaking? I also lead two or three trips a year with the Guild of Sommeliers to Italy with somms chosen by the Guild and sponsored by the Banfi Vintners Foundation; that's pretty cool as well. In a sense, I consider that the study-abroad program of Cru Artisan College. We visit 13 wineries over ten days, travel over 1,200 miles through seven regions and formally taste through over 150 wines; we walk the cellars and vineyards, literally taste the terroir, and break bread with winemakers, sometimes meeting their family or being invited into their homes. It literally brings the culture alive. With Cru Artisan College, we bring the winemakers to the somms. This will be our third year of doing it and we're really starting to hone it down. Every year it changes, it gets a little bit more focused. I like to think a little bit more utilitarian. We want to be very careful to focus on topics that are interesting and bring out material that, frankly, is relevant and testable for a lot of the somms that are attending. Many of the somms I've traveled with have told me that one of the more challenging parts of their studies has been Italian wines . . . A lot of somms have access to California to understand the vagaries there, but Italy is always a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Getting to see it first hand is ideal, but short of that, getting to hear about it from the horse's mouth—the wine - makers—hearing from them what's behind it all is a tremendous asset for somms. I think that's one of the things we're proudest of: being able to bring that value to the somm community. You mentioned you've honed in on the course material over the past few years. What other ways will the Cru Artisan College experience be different in 2016? In the past two years we had a walkabout tasting element; that's been taken away because we found out that anybody who is attending wants to spend their time hearing from the winemakers and not just waiting in line to see them and taste their wine. We also got rid of the lunch hour because our students expressed wanting to use that time to learn. Two of the seminars involve food and wine pairing so nobody will go hungry. This year will be non- stop: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., running straight through, intensive semi - nars and a lot of information coming at them but they'll have little ten-minute breaks in between. It's basically four meaty seminars preceded by a reception and concluded with a reception. The first year we did this, we painted in broad brush strokes but in 2016 we'll be getting into some very specific topics. We've also realized that we want to try to give each winemaker more time to talk. So instead of having 12 wines in a 60-minute seminar, we're having six wines in a 90-minute seminar. This gives winemakers a chance to go a little more in depth. There will also be a competitive blind tasting run throughout the day with scholarship dollars at stake. I imagine you've gotten to know everyone on tour pretty well. Any stories? I had already worked with each of these wine makers over the years before Cru Artisan College. This is going to sound strange and a little funny, but the first time they all came together in a room in New York in 2013, I walked down to the bar of the res - taurant where they were all waiting and it was like walking in and seeing all your ex-lovers together! [He laughs]. I was like, oh my goodness, there's Mauro [Merz of Fontana Candida] with Enrico [Cerulli of Cerulli Spinozzi], and Rudy [Buratti of Castello Banfi] with Salvatore [Geraci of Palari], and I had never pictured those individuals together in the same universe, let alone in the same room! So it was a little shocking and I had to ask myself how this was going to work, because you know, winemakers are characters; like chefs and tech guys, they really prefer to be back of the house, so how were all these crazy characters going to get along and work together? But it's been incredible; they really all play off each other exceptionally well . . . And it's kind of fun to see this synergy that they have together. Last year they put together a WhatsApp account. It was great during the trip because they'd use it for things like "Wear a tie to dinner" or "Don't be late." But it later developed into "Happy holidays" or "Cooking barbecue tonight," or "I was in Rome and I saw so and so's wines." They've created a sort of fra - ternity among a dozen Italian winemakers, which is pretty unique and to me—that's what wine is all about. It's a sharing thing. Last year we broadened the exchange with the Pacific Rim's Nicolas Quille, and this year we'll also be joined by Noelia Orts of Chile's Emiliana. Wine is a very personal business and seeing the person - alities behind the wines literally brings it to life. If I look at a wine list, I don't see brands, I see people. [He laughs.] That almost sounds like a line from the movie Sixth Sense, but I see people, and stories and families and that's what wine is really all about. Q: Q: Q: In a session of the 2015 Cru Artisan College in San Francisco, Lars Leicht (far left) joins in discussion with Christian Scrinzi of Bolla, "Head Master" Christopher Sawyer and Andrea Sartori of Sartori di Verona, among other visiting winemaker "Professors."

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