I remember the first time I encountered wine snobbery. It was at Central Convenience, a Mom and Pop operation that functioned as the beating heart of a rural out-port where I was born and raised. It sold liquor (even on Sundays…which was strictly taboo because of the ultra religious people who made up a huge population of the town), rented new and old release VHS’ (and later, was one of the first movie-rental outfits on the peninsula to introduce DVD’s) and a wide selection of confectionery items. Central was my supplier for everything from cotton candy to shoe polish (I did a brief stint in Sea Cadets. I quit once I realised just how deep-rooted my issues with authority are). It was a fixture throughout my childhood and adolescence.
The proprietor didn’t offer much in terms of booze selection. Wine came in either “white” or “red.” Beer was strictly Blackhorse or Canadian. And, spirits were rum, whiskey or vodka. You know that diner in My Cousin Vinny where the menu selections are “Breakfast,” “Lunch” and “Dinner”? Yeah, it was the liquor store version of that. There were one or two choices for each kind, and they never changed it up. Nobody complained. We weren’t buying our alcohol at a convenience store because we looked forward to spending a relaxing hour browsing the library of vintages.
My father and I were at Central one night when I was about eighteen. I was picking up snacks and a movie and he was buying some wine. “Sola” was the house wine in stock. I have no idea what kind of white wine it was, I just knew it was a pale greeney yellow and had a big picture of a jolly, Mayan-looking sun on the label. Good enough for the Mayans, good enough for me, is what I always say. It was $7.
As my father approached the cash, a younger man stepped out from between the shelving and exclaimed, “Oh, but that is a lovely white wine.” It was, hands-down, the most affected thing I’ve ever heard. The whole experience seemed like one big non-sequitur. First of all, I didn’t recognize the guy…he was clearly one of the few summer tourists who got lost during a provincial tour and wound up in our little town. Secondly, he clearly had NO idea what that wine was. Must’ve been the jolly Mayan sun that had him all worked up. Third of all, at the time I’m pretty sure I was knuckle-deep in a massive jar of pickled eggs, clutching my VHS copy of “Pooty Tang.” So that made the experience all the richer, as I’m sure you can imagine.
My dad responded quickly, “Yeah, it’s lovely and cheap. That’s how I like it.”
We laughed at that guy the whole way home. Later, as we drank a glass of the putrid, convenience store wine (loving every sip), my father told me a couple of stories about friends of his who’d discovered, upon entry into university, that they were suddenly wine connoisseurs. They bored the hell out of everyone at parties talking about grape varietals this and tannins that. He cautioned me to never let myself fall into that trap. “People don’t like that, Chelsea. You don’t want to be the asshole at the dinner table.”
To me, even as an impressionable eighteen year old, the fascination with wine knowledge and the desire to broadcast it seemed like a load of crap. Wine was wine. Sure, some tasted better than others. That was all I needed to know.
I had grossly underestimated the things I’d do for money later in my life.
In the winter of 2010 I was 22 years old. I’d just broken up with my long-term, live-in boyfriend. I was out of a job, freelancing as a journalist and swiftly coming to the realization that freelance work wasn’t going to cut it now I was out on my own with a borderline bi-polar roommate and an attic apartment that required me to fill up an oil tank three times a month in order to not freeze.
Suffice it to say that 2010 was not the winter of Chelsea.
I had worked in a coffee shop and a Chinese restaurant, both for very short stints. Still, the job market sucked and I figured my best bet would be to try it as a waitress at one of the upscale establishments downtown. I heard you could make a veritable mint in tips, and figured I had the chops to charm some businessmen out of the loose change in their wallets. In the job description it said “Knowledge of wine required.”
Challenge: accepted. I would read a Wikipedia article on wine. I would become an expert for a day, and then quickly forget everything I knew and enjoy my ignorance by making up wildly inappropriate ‘facts’ every time a customer asked me about wine selection. My year was looking up…