Building Street Cred

sherry educatorWith all journeys, when they begin, I’m never sure where they will take me! I knew after graduating college with a degree in Spanish, I wasn’t ready to go onto grad-school for a Masters. A Masters in what, and for how much added debt? A piece of paper is great for street cred, but I certainly want to make it worth my investment of time, passion, energy, ambition and money!

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2013 was a great year for new beginnings! I had recently moved back to Portland, Oregon and was looking for work. I started volunteering my time by bottling wine for ENSO Winery. I instantly fell in love with the small batch operation. Soon I discovered it was part of the collaboration of PDX Urban Wineries, 13 urban wineries making wine within the city, each under their own label, but also supporting each other towards success. I knew I wanted to volunteer as often to learn as much as I could about this unfamiliar industry. I also wanted to be known as someone to rely on when needing an extra hand.

That same year was my first trip to Jerez de la Frontera. The focus was to study flamenco, but I also discovered my current obsession for sherry! I returned home with a passion to learn as much as I possibly could from limited resources in Portland. That’s when I discovered the Wine and Spirit Archive.The Wine and Spirit Archive offers amazing wine classes right in southeast Portland!  I took a wonderful overview class for sherry presented by Cheryl Wakerhauser, owner of Bar Vivant.

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This led to my discovery of the WSET courses. The way I try to explain it is that it’s the UK’s version of becoming a sommelier, only it focuses on wine and spirits and doesn’t have to be only tied to the restaurant industry. The wine world has always intimidated me, but I was encouraged by a long conversation with Juan Carlos from Gutiérrez Colosía to pursue a broader wine education outside of sherry. As I take various classes at the Wine and Spirit Archive, I’m discovering my own passion to be a sherry and wine educator; to make it fun and approachable. What better way to learn world history than through a glass of wine?!

Last year was a huge year to keep the journey going, gaining more sherry experience and building relationships. My husband bought me every book! I created my own “sherry odyssey” returning to Jerez on my own, this time solely focused on sherry. I also struggled with envy towards fellow sherry bloggers who have access to so many wines and experiences that aren’t available in the U.S. I shared their excitement as they received their Certified Sherry Educator certificates and wondered if that would ever be me. Despite feeling like a small fish, I sleuthed out information and connections to get my CV into the hands of those at the Consejo Regulador. I knew it would be a long shot, and really gave up hope that I would be selected for 2016.

Without getting too personal, my husband and I have been blessed with a life of travel rather than raising a family. His ability to make travel arrangements using only status points amazes me! I knew the next step to growing my sherry expertise would be to brave the summer heat and return to Jerez for harvest. I want to see production from the beginning rather than just savoring the end product. So, airline points were cashed in and the dates were set! I arrive August 29 and leave September 23rd. Then everything changed the morning of May 4th.

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At 4:30 in the morning, I woke up to my phone’s annoying vibration alerting me it received an email. The Consejo Regulador Sherry y Manzanilla de Sanlúcar was more than pleased to confirm me a spot in their Sherry Educator Course, which will be held on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of September. Despite the added expense, I changed my tickets and extended my visit, because I am not willing to give up this opportunity!

My life has been full of amazing journeys and opportunities. I now work for the winery I volunteered with as their communications director and event coordinator. My volunteer work with the PDX Urban Wineries has paid off with friendships and credibility. I’m still dancing flamenco and will perform three choreographies at Portland’s spring feria. I complete level 2 of the WSET in June and will continue taking wine classes at the Wine and Spirit Archive. At the end of September, I will be a Certified Sherry Educator in Portland, Oregon.

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To be honest, I’ve never needed a piece of paper to validate that I’m intelligent or an expert at anything. But having a piece of paper helps prove that to others. My hope is that having a WSET diploma and Certified Sherry Educator certificate will further open doors in the wine industry and wine education. Having this street cred will lead me to new journeys I never knew existed.

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