Master Sommeliers, Winemakers, and Me

When I attended the Zins and Cheese event at the 29th Annual Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, I expected to learn about Zinfandels; I didn’t expect to sit on the panel alongside the experts.

The ballroom was crowded and empty seats were nowhere to be found. A few minutes before the event was to start, I stood up to move so a couple could sit together. Fred Dame, Master Sommelier and Festival host, held out his hand. I thought he was helping me move to another row, but faster than I could blink, I was being led up the aisle and placed in his seat on the panel while he stood at the microphone.

There I sat, facing nearly 300 wine enthusiasts, on a panel of prestigious winemakers and Master Sommeliers. I’m more of a wallflower and although the first wine I bought after turning 21 was a Zinfandel Rosé, I didn’t know much about the wine itself. To say I was in shock as I sat on the panel would be an understatement.

Melissa Chang (photo credit) captured the moment as I sat on the far left next to Fred Scherrer, Brian Cronin, Tim Meinken, Geoff Kruth, Scott Kelley, Kent Torrey, and Fred Dame

“Okay,” said Fred Dame. “Nadine, why don’t you tell us about the first wine.”
My heart rate escalated as I glanced at the label on the bottle of Quivira in front of me. “It’s a 2007 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Anderson Ranch.” I paused and looked into the crowd. “How am I doing?”

The audience clapped and a wave of relief swept through me. Fred took over at that point, discussing the Quivira and sharing that “90% of the wines sold in this country are drunk within eight hours of purchase.”

“Now, Nadine. Why don’t you take a sip of the wine and tell us what you think.”
Panic. I wasn’t qualified to talk about wine and I wasn’t used to being put on the spot. But I reached for the glass and took a sip, letting the flavors flow over my tongue. I leaned towards the microphone. “Very smooth.” If I hadn’t been suffering from stage fright, I would have continued, saying that I could taste a variety of fruits in the wine. But I’m more of an observer than a panelist and it was all I could do to keep my face from matching the color of the wine.

Brian Cronin, Master Sommelier, stated, “Zins are brilliant wines to pair with.”  And the six featured Zinfandels had been paired with six unique and beautiful cheeses from The Cheese Shop in Carmel and Santa Barbara.

A special treat was the nine year old Parmigiano Reggiano Reserva. “Think back to what you were doing in 2001,” said Kent Torrey, owner of The Cheese Shop. “That’s when the cow gave the milk for this cheese.”

I was sampling two of the cheeses, the Noord Hollander and the Old Quebec Cheddar, when Fred asked me to state which of the six wines was my favorite. I froze.
I was sitting next to winemakers who truly loved their wines. Who was I to judge?
“I like them all.”
“No, seriously,” said Fred. “Which one is your favorite?”

I glanced at the six glasses in front of me, their deep red glow shimmering in the ballroom light. But I knew what it was like to truly love something and not have it chosen and I couldn’t disappoint these distinguished winemakers representing their wines.

The front row began to stir, saying that I shouldn’t say my favorite. And then Fred moved on to talking more about the wines.

But in truth, although all six wines were fantastic and I would recommend every one of them, I did have a favorite.

I knew the moment it touched my tongue, my taste buds savoring every drop. It was the Estancia Zinfandel. Smooth and clean, I finished the entire glass. Fortunately, after the panel was over, I was able to tell Scott Kelley how much I enjoyed his wine. I’m not sure he believed me but I hope he knows now.

As for the experience, I will cherish it always. Thank you Fred Dame. It was truly an honor.

To learn more about the wines and cheese presented, please visit the following links:
Scherrer Winery

Estancia Estates

Hartford Family Winery

Quivira Vineyards and Winery

Sapphire Hill Winery

Carlisle Winery and Vineyards

The Cheese Shop

Nadine Nettmann

Nadine has a taste for travel, adventure, delicious food and a great glass of wine. A foodie from a young age, she loves trying meals from around the world and does her best to travel and dine on a budget. Originally from Los Angeles, Nadine and her husband stored 95% of their belongings and moved to Maui with two suitcases in 2006. She is an avid cook and while she loves living on the island, she will admit she misses some of her kitchen appliances in storage. When she’s not baking a cake or out on the water, she can be found at her computer working on her novel.

  1. Wow Nadine! This is so cool. I just started following WAFT and came across your article. What a great experience!

  2. Thanks Katie! It was an amazing experience and ended up changing my career path. After the festival I pursed my knowledge of wine and recently passed Level 1 of the Court of Master Sommeliers with an aim to take Level 2 later this year 🙂

  3. Congratulations! I too am going through a career change. I fell in love with wine a couple of years ago but left my real estate job to travel the country visiting wineries to learn all I can. I have been on the road with my husband and our dog for 6 months now. I would love to pursue and build on my knowledge as well. Do you have any recommendations on where I can start? I ask because I read so many things everyday and all day. I feel that there is so much information out there that its quite frankly overwhelming to me. What program did you start with? Thanks for any advice you have!

  4. Congrats on the career change, that’s awesome! I’ll e-mail you some suggestions 🙂

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