Thursday, 15 March 2012

Raising Sommeliers...

Of the many jobs of my dynamic portfolio as CIR in Japan (that's "Co-ordinator for International Relations," otherwise known as "relatively well-paid salary to be and English-speaking white man"), one that I truly enjoyed was English teaching to children 10 and under. At this age, anything I said or did was considered fun and cool.  More important, I almost never met with snarky attitudes found in older children;  red wines develop notes of spice box and leather, pre-pubescents develop snarky attitude and body odour. I was the fun, bachelor uncle; the kids became someone else's problem after an hour. 
Moving back to Canada, the desire to share my experiences with kids remains. The problem with this is the Canadian education system requires something beyond just "hey i'm white" to become a bona fide teacher. Worse, the only subject I can legitimately teach on is the field of wine, spirits, and beer. I like to say I have a "European" approach to this subject, so there is no shame in trying as the below examples attest:

1) While in Sydney, my cousin's 9-year old daughter accompanied me on the classic bonding experience of shopping for beer.  Australia has great a great craft beer scene, and I started a lesson to Tiana on the differences between lagers and pale ales. In the case of Little Creatures, this would be refered to as "the yellow one" and "the green one." Staying away from the big name brands she's used to seeing in dad's fridge, I can accept the fact she called me "fussy" knowing very well I have at least shown her there is more to this world than VB or Toohey's;
2) The rural town of Warragul, 100km east of Melbourne, is home to a fantastic shop called "The Press Cellars." On my third visit in 24-hours, young Toby decided to come with me to the shop to see what it's all about. A brief lesson on the subtle differences between McLaren Vale and Barossa Shiraz (let alone a Crozes-Hermitage!), I think the 9-year old regretted his decision as evidenced by moping quietly by the front door for 20 minutes as the conversation with the proprieter moved on to the subject of Australian Muscats. Nonetheless, I'm sure somewhere down the line, Toby will remember to look for complex notes of mint, dark berries, and coffee in his red wines*;
3) Just today, the 9-year old daughter of a friend came by my shop with her grandmother. It's been 2 years since I last saw Brooklyn. Sure, she's much taller now (exactly four 6packs of Vancouver Island Beer tall - we measured as she stood next to the display), she was also able to repeat back to me a very valuable lesson I taught her at age 7: "a mojito contains fresh lime, sugar, and mint; muddle these in a glass before adding white rum and club soda." Bravo!

So there you have it. While young Japanese a decade ago learned how greet a gaijin, today an army of sommeliers is being raised by a still fun, bachelor "honourary" uncle.

* NB - Toby's mum will no doubt like to mention that it is she who first introduced inebriation to me, so it is only fair I return the favour to her children.

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