To some in the city where I live the closing of Fine Wines of Stockton will go unnoticed. To frequent customers of Lincoln Center the closing of Fine Wines may mean just an empty storefront. Those who appreciate fine wine will certainly notice. To the regular customers of Fine Wines the loss will be more acute. With the shuttering of Fine Wines gone is ready access to the wine knowledge accumulated by George and Gail Herron during a lifetime of tasting wine, traveling to wine regions and 39 years in the business. Knowledge they enjoyed sharing with everyone who entered the shop. Gone are the recommendations for wines to pair with family meals, anniversary dinners and holidays.
A large part of being wine merchants for the Herrons has been wine education. For many years they taught wine appreciation classes at University of the Pacific in the evening. That was how we first met the Herrons nearly 20 years ago. Thursday night wine tastings at Fine Wines of Stockton have been a regular occurrence since well before we started attending them after taking that wine appreciation class. Over the years the number of tasters attending the Thursday night tasting has expanded and contracted, but always there has been a core of regular Thursday-night tasters.
As I contemplate the closing of Fine Wines I realize just how much I have learned about wine and wine tasting from George and Gail (and my fellow tasters) at those regular tastings. I would likely not have otherwise developed the critical wine tasting skills I have today. Tastings were always organized around a wine region or grape variety and we always tasted wines blind. George put them in bags labeled 1 through 6 (or maybe it was it A through F), so our opinions would be objective. He taught us to taste wine in a methodical way. First the color and then the aromas. Flavors came next, then acidity, tannins and length of finish. And don’t even think about beginning the critical evaluation of a wine with whether you like it or not. No, that was never allowed, not until the ordered and objective evaluation was complete.
This style of wine tasting isn’t for everyone. Casual wine tasters would sometimes become frustrated with George’s strict protocol, but he was absolutely right and I appreciate learning to taste wine in this manner. When I studied for the Certified Specialist of Wine certification through the Society of Wine Educators this is how wine tasting was taught.
Most of us who attended the Thursday night wine tastings took notes on every wine we tasted. I did so in order to be prepared in case I was called upon to describe a wine – yes, that was part of the tastings too. I have notebooks filled with tasting notes. At first they were disorganized and vague. I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what I was tasting. But I learned from tasting and listening. I learned that we don’t all taste the same things in a wine and that it is OK to taste something different than others. Gradually I gained confidence and learned to trust my judgement and my palate.
It was because of the Thursday night wine tastings that we started Pull That Cork. We used our blog as a way to keep track of what we tasted and in the process my ability to write tasting notes improved. In researching individual wines and wine regions we became interested in planning vacations to wine regions. We visited South Africa and Sicily specifically because of the wines we tasted on Thursday nights. Now, even when we travel to a region not known for its wine, we make an effort to find local wine and almost always succeed.
We have met many interesting people and made good friends at these regular tastings. Our dear friend Dave joins us every week for dinner. Many others we see socially, and not always at a wine event. We have traveled with others.
For the past two years I have had the privilege of working very part-time at Fine Wines of Stockton. My official title was Wine Specialist. Working in a wine shop is indeed special. I can’t imagine anything else that would be as much fun, except maybe selling Christian Louboutins. Helping a customer find just the right bottle of wine is very rewarding. Introducing a customer to a new wine region or varietal wine is especially fun, and even more so when the customer returns for another bottle. I will miss our regular customers and can only wonder who else I might have met over a bottle of wine. Wine is fun and beyond that it enriches our meals and our life. It is not essential to life, but it has become a very important part of my life.
So, as sad as I feel about this very enriching chapter in my life coming to a close, I also feel thankful for the education, the friendship and the opportunity my local wine shop has provided over the past 20 years. If you are fortunate of have a local wine shop in your life then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, I hope you find one.
To George and Gail Herron I must say thank you. Thank you for sharing your wine knowledge and, so importantly, your perspective. Hearing your stories of tasting wine in 1960s Napa Valley and your yearly Bordeaux En Primeur tastings have been so special. I doubt I could have gained so broad an exposure to the wines of Bordeaux anywhere else. My love affair with Sauternes is all your fault. Thank you for teaching me so much. I wish you many more good bottles of wine and hope to hear about them.