I know quite a bit about grapes and wine.
I’m no Thomas Munson – who is, am I right? – 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 won’t touch a bottle of wine that costs less than One Thousand Dollars.
Elaine Baptiste has managed the shop for five of the six years she’s worked there. I decided to test her product knowledge. I pointed at a box labeled Shiraz.
“Describe this Syrah to me,” I demanded. “Does it taste more like a flabby cigar box, or a woody farmyard?”
“Neither,” she answered. “It has a chewy herbaceous quality, with tarry vanilla notes.”
“A lacy vegetal finish with cooked autumnal undertones?” I asked.
“Certainly,” she answered.
Well, I was impressed. I’m used to dealing with riff-raff who don’t know their appellation from their terroir.
“What’s your favourite North American champagne?” I asked.
“There’s no such thing. Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.”
I nodded: “Yes, that is correct. I can work here for two hours.”
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.
“Your business isn’t wanted,” I shouted through the glass. “Keep walking!”
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. That’s 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.
“You can make wine out of almost anything,” she said.
“You can make wine out of grapes,” I said.
I have no patience for these New World winers, with their affection for attaching the word ‘wine’ to anything that ferments.
“Dandelions don’t make wine,” I said. “Nor 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 won’t change the fact it’s prison hooch.”
Silence fell over the countertop. I doffed my tweed blazer and rolled up the sleeves of my turtleneck. I looked at Baptiste.
“Don’t say it,” I said.
“It’s the customers – that’s why I like the job,” she said.
“I told you not to say it,” I replied.
The manager doesn’t 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.
“There’s no point,” I said. “Every recipe was tried and refined in Europe a thousand years ago. North Americans are so cute, with their bumbling attempts at copying their betters.”
“Where are you from, anyway?” she asked.
“Mississauga,” I said. “But my soul is Burgundian.”
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