A comment from wine writer, reviewer and maker Nick Stock at the recent ANU Wine Symposium is still rattling around in my head. Among a diverse range of arguments, observations, provocations and fripperies was a comment about how some sommeliers and other people in Australian wine were focussing on alternative grapes and wines because it was easier to be an expert there - easier to be a big fish due to the small size of the pond.
Nick named no names, so the comment floated free of any yoke to specific examples, but it got me thinking. I probably would not disagree with Nick that there will be some people who have a focus on the alternative and the rare because it is an easier path to expertise than say mainstream French varieties and wine styles. But I could not honestly say I know who these people are, that I could name them and would do so publicly.
Most wine people I know, in and out of 'the industry', even where deeply involved in the alternative or the rare, would hesitate to call themselves 'expert'. For me, the more I know, for instance about the grapes and wines of Italy, the more clear to me become the gaps in my knowledge, its limits and constraints.
If I disavow a desire to be 'expert', where does that leave me? As an 'enthusiast', an 'amateur', 'dabbler', 'dilettante', a 'practitioner' because I work with Italian vines and wines... (certainly not a 'professional' as that's tantamount to expertise)?
For my writing and blogging, I think I am happiest with 'student'. My knowledge is less than 'expert' in wine or in Italian wine, and suspect it will always be the case that there is more left to learn than I will ever know. And I think I'd rather share my learning than my expertise, whatever size this pond is.