I've been living in Napa Valley for two full months now and many things have changed in my life since I first arrived. For example, the first thing that now pops into my head when I see the letters "NV" is no longer "Non-Vintage."
I've learned the local rules of the road which means I've finally accepted the fact that every day, without exception, I'll find myself driving behind someone who's going 10 to 20 miles per hour below the speed limit with somebody else driving behind me who is aggressively and relentlessly tailgating with the intention of passing us both in a no-passing zone -- with drivers under the influence, joggers and bicyclists all jubilantly joining in the mix.
I've found a studio apartment to live in that's a step up from the nightmare house-share of my first month here. And -- if I think of my new place in a whimsical enough way and put a positive enough spin on things -- then washing my dishes in its minibar-sized sink and cooking my meals on a hotplate can sometimes make me feel like I'm back in college. At any rate, at long last, I'm beginning to settle in.
Career-wise I at first grappled with then eventually succumbed to the reality that I now share a job market with more wine professionals per square mile than I ever could have imagined -- all of us seemingly applying for the same very limited number of really good jobs. I'm now savvy to the truth that the key factors governing who gets the really good jobs here and who does not is most often determined by two things: a) who you know; and b) who has Certification. Certified Sommelier, Certified Wine Professional, WSET Certification. You see, those other people out there I'm competing with for the really good jobs are certified. And I, having come from a place where none of this ever mattered before, am not.
Many wine professionals who have relocated to Napa Valley, including me, have found themselves working at a wine job several levels below the one they had before moving here. Someone I met recently told me they'd read an article in the newspaper that remarked about the heavy competition here for mid to upper tier jobs and that there are a lot more of those types of jobs in Oregon and Washington. But I, for one, am staying here.
So, I've come up with a revised Napa Valley strategy. Instead of signing up for classes with the intention of merely learning more about wine I am now on the offensive. I've registered to begin taking the various progressive levels of certification for not just one but two different paths of Napa Valley career glory: The Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. Because you honestly never know who's going to prefer one certification over another, and a number of people I've met here are pursuing dual certification in order to have as many bases covered as possible.
But there have also been some very wonderful things that have happened, the very best of all being that I was invited to join a tasting group. I had never heard of tasting groups before I moved to Napa Valley. Where I lived prior to this people just casually got together at each other's houses and drank really good wine and ate really good food and talked about wine and then talked about wine some more. Tasting groups are fun, too, but they're a lot more focused. More purpose driven. Like the new Napa Valley me.
The first night our tasting group got together we sampled and talked about eight different Chiantis. At our second meeting we blind-tasted and discussed ten Tempranillos (purple teeth all around) then unveiled the wines and discussed them some more.
I'm learning so incredibly much from this. And the added benefit to us all is that most of us are working towards increasingly higher levels of Certification, and what a great way to help us insure that we'll get where we want to go.
And there have been other wonderful things too. Like driving down the hill to work and seeing the valley cloaked in its breathtakingly beautiful morning fog. Cruising past vineyards, terraces and trellises amidst a fairytale terrain. Witnessing bud break firsthand. Watching as the tiny curled-up leaves popped straight out of the winter-gray vines and began to unfurl and grow and grow and grow so rapidly, lushly and abundantly that I feel like I'm living in a vast sea of bright green leaves.
I've watched miniature berry clusters emerge and begin to morph with each passing week into something that increasingly resembles bunches of grapes. Bunches of wine grapes. And I'm looking forward to seeing the changes they'll be going through this summer and then on into the fall with its verasion harvest and crush.
OK. So I had a bit of a rough landing here in Napa Valley. And for a while I felt like I was suffering from something akin to bottle shock. But I have to admit I'm beginning to like it here a little. And then a little more.