I don't come from a long lineage of cellar masters. Neither of my parents have ever touched a toe down in France, or, for that matter, ever even took a single thought-provoking sip of vino in the pre-"Jayce Wine Era."


All of this wine stuff came anew, borne out of an ether of nothingness. There was nothing to predict it—nothing to hint that it would ever be an interest or hobby. Quite plainly, I was just quenching a curiosity.


THE ODD COUPLE To be honest—and this demonstrates how absurd all of this really is—I never even liked how wine tasted! My initial motivation to learn about wine came from wandering the grocery store aisles, where I saw confusing words like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Riesling. So, as any curious young lad often does, I went to the bookstore and looked for books about wine.


The books told me that Cabernet Sauvignon would taste big and brutish in my mouth, and that Riesling would be fruity and sweet; which are all fine things to know, but only if coming at wine from a predictive stance. If there is anything that I am absolutely sure of now, it's that you can't start to learn about wine from a book. No one can tell you what you will smell or taste. You must actually put the glass to your own lips.


SENSE REQUIRES SENSE So that's what I did. For almost a year, after breakfast each Saturday morning, I set out in search of free wine tastings. On my weekly circuit was The Wine Merchant, The Wine & Cheese Place, Saint Louis Cellars, Robust Wine Bar, and an entire slough of other tasting hot-spots. I embedded myself in the culture. I asked terribly dumb questions. I choked a few times (sadly, I had to throw away the shirt). But I learned about wine, and I fell in love.


Sometime within that first, formative year, I stumbled across Wine Library TV. It was a simple wine tasting podcast, created by a loud-mouth, excitable, crazy Jersey Boy named Gary Vaynerchuck. His energy and enthusiasm were overwhelming, and his fresh and exciting take on wine cemented in me my newly-discovered passion. I would order the same wines that he was tasting on his show, and sit up late at night, following along with him: "Yes! I do taste the burnt raspberries. Ya! OK! He's right when he says it's like licking a penny!"


NEVER EXPECTED It's interesting to find myself here now. In both a figurative and literal sense, I'm on the 'other side.' Wine has occupied a different role in my life at different times: first it was a curiosity, then an interest, then a hobby, a passion, a skill, and finally a trade. My experiences fluttered forward, along an unforeseen trajectory. I once was the student; now I'm the teacher.


I GET WHAT IT'S LIKE In mind, I'm deeply entrenched and highly practiced in all this wine business. However, because of the way that this gift flew into my hands, and because of how recently it materialized, in spirit I'm highly conscious of what it's like to know nothing. Even more importantly, I'm highly conscious of what it feels like to know nothing. I know what it feels like to be embarrassed, to be overwhelmed and afraid, and to think that wine is a hobby for only the rich. I was there, living those feelings, just 800 days ago.


My story of development has a strong parallel to that of Great Expectations—I, too, had an anonymous benefactor. It's a multi-faced, ever-expanding body: it is the people of Saint Louis. Three years ago, they encountered a young punk, utterly clueless about wine, but trying to learn. They welcomed him with open arms. In doing so, they opened a world to me.