Is it Necessary to Speak French if You Love Wine?

If there was such a thing, I would have been diagnosed with “Dyslexia for Second Languages”. My sister was able to tutor herself in Hebrew so she could understand enough to read old obscure documents. After all, she double majored in Anthropology and Religious Studies. I would consider myself an intelligent individual, but not an academic like that. I’ve attempted to learn Spanish, Italian, and French. Nothing. Maybe it’s because I took Spanish and Italian in school and was not quite as motivated by good grades as I should have been (sorry Mom and Dad). With French I had no one to practice talking to. What’s the saying? Practice makes perfect? However, I am a master of… body language! You can get pretty far in a foreign country by smiling and miming out what you want to say. Being bilingual is seen as sexy the world over, but what if you’re like me and it’s just not going to happen? 

In my previous job, I adored teaching wine tasting classes because I wanted to share my love for the topic with people. Something I noticed right away was that the “bourgeois” of California are quick to dismiss you as an idiot if you can’t speak French. It didn’t matter how much I knew about the science and history of the wine, what expertise I had to give, or the fact that I would announce clearly “I am terrible with second languages please forgive me if I mispronounce something”. Still, they mocked me. My favorite critique was from a middle-aged couple that showed up to a $20 class, wearing designer clothing, and asked for a discount after because I was a “disappointing amateur”. Money can buy you Prada, but not class or a heart. For a moment, I was discouraged from continuing my pursuit of a career in wine and spirits, but then I realized I didn’t give a f**k what those snobs said. 

My purpose switched from educating the pretentious about wine and spirits to making the subject, my true love, accessible to anyone that felt less than because of people like that couple. 

I developed 3 principles on the subject of speaking the language of a wine region:

  • Wine has its own language and that is the language of taste and smell. This language is universal and doesn’t require killing yourself over not being able to pronounce a region perfectly.
  • Not being able to pronounce that one word perfectly doesn’t mean that you don’t know where that wine is from, what grapes are used, who the wine maker is, what it pairs with, etc.
  • Confidence is key! If you know what you are talking about regardless of if it’s to a friend, colleague, or customer, say it with determination and people will listen.

When developing these 3 principles, I sat back and asked myself what it was I wanted from the wine and spirits industry. Do I just want to admire from afar or pursue a career? Do I want to work in production or distribution? Will I be traveling to foreign wine regions often? Who do I want to share my passion with? While contemplating these questions, I drew inspiration from one of my idols, Julia Child. The iconic culinary figure was known for bringing French cuisine to the everyday American home cook. Julia didn’t start to learn French until she was almost 40, and even then she still had a fairly heavy American accent when speaking it. If her confidence and passion for French food demanded people respect her expertise, then we all can do the same thing.   

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