I know quite a bit about grapes and wine.
Iâm no Thomas Munson â who is, am I right? â but there are few people this side of the Atlantic with my wealth of viticultural knowledge.
So it was with a mixture of pleasure and sneering arrogance that I offered to work at Amherst Home Brew. Pleasure, because sharing my genius warms my heart. And sneering arrogance because I wonât touch a bottle of wine that costs less than One Thousand Dollars.
Elaine Baptiste has managed the shop for five of the six years sheâs worked there. I decided to test her product knowledge. I pointed at a box labeled Shiraz.
âDescribe this Syrah to me,â I demanded. âDoes it taste more like a flabby cigar box, or a woody farmyard?â
âNeither,â she answered. âIt has a chewy herbaceous quality, with tarry vanilla notes.â
âA lacy vegetal finish with cooked autumnal undertones?â I asked.
âCertainly,â she answered.
Well, I was impressed. Iâm used to dealing with riff-raff who donât know their appellation from their terroir.
âWhatâs your favourite North American champagne?â I asked.
âThereâs no such thing. Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.â
I nodded: âYes, that is correct. I can work here for two hours.â
I judge people based on their appearance. When a shopper wearing a beret and speaking with a French accent came in, I directed her to the expensive wine kits. When a man wearing a T-shirt and shorts tried to enter, I locked the door.
âYour business isnât wanted,â I shouted through the glass. âKeep walking!â
Baptiste pushed me aside and turned the deadbolt. And whaddya know, the man with shockingly inappropriate attire breezed past the beer kits. For a moment it looked like he might demonstrate some real taste, but then he stopped at a pinot noir box.
Pinot. Thatâs so 2004. I was bored of pinot three years before the movie Sideways.
When the customers cleared out, my initially positive impression of Baptiste quickly went downhill.
âYou can make wine out of almost anything,â she said.
âYou can make wine out of grapes,â I said.
I have no patience for these New World winers, with their affection for attaching the word âwineâ to anything that ferments.
âDandelions donât make wine,â I said. âNor do blueberries, pears, pine cones, gravel or any of the other utterly inappropriate things people here try to bottle. You can stew bread, sugar, yeast and a Snickers in a plastic bucket. But bottling it wonât change the fact itâs prison hooch.â
Silence fell over the countertop. I doffed my tweed blazer and rolled up the sleeves of my turtleneck. I looked at Baptiste.
âDonât say it,â I said.
âItâs the customers â thatâs why I like the job,â she said.
âI told you not to say it,â I replied.
The manager doesnât just sell the stuff, she makes it, too, and has for two decades. She said local interest in making wine and beer right from scratch is growing.
âThereâs no point,â I said. âEvery recipe was tried and refined in Europe a thousand years ago. North Americans are so cute, with their bumbling attempts at copying their betters.â
âWhere are you from, anyway?â she asked.
âMississauga,â I said. âBut my soul is Burgundian.â
Eric Sparling is At Work with area employers every week. Some of what appears here is true. He can be reached at email@example.com