The waiting is the hardest part. Tom Petty was right.
A person’s true calling is rarely where time is spent right up until the moment they feel the pull. They’re waiting, watching, hoping, dreaming, until that moment when they just can’t take it anymore. Their heart leads them, head be damned.
Sure, there’s always time on the weekend for hobbyists to scratch their itch, but for others, like Desiree Harrison-Brown, it’s just not enough. The need to follow that passion is too strong to suppress.
“I felt like I was doing everything I was supposed to,” Desiree said.
“I went to college, I got a degree, I got a corporate job, I was working for a big company. It felt right, but it didn’t feel right internally.”
She started working in local shops doing spirit and wine tastings in her free time, and soon found her competitive side taking charge. Though she wasn’t paid on sales, she was crafting her own tasting notes for guests in order to move as many bottles as she could. It was fun!
As she continued to mingle with wine enthusiasts, she noticed the questions being asked about certain bottles and varietals were very in-depth and specific, much different than customers shopping for spirits. So, she dug in deeper, which led her to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) program, and eventually into a brand new career.
“I had an a-ha moment during the Level 1 course where I realized people who are into wine are smelling flavors, and it was the first time I ever pinpointed something in the glass,” she said.
She moved on quickly to Level 2, left her corporate gig and made her way into the wine world full time, selling wine in her native Maryland.
“I fell in love, decided to learn, got confident and just decided to go full force into the wine industry.”
Talk about straightforward!
Contrary to popular belief, your taste buds don’t change every seven years. They change every two weeks. And acquired taste doesn’t just happen with age, it takes work. Delicious, delicious work.
The link between the mind and personal experiences surrounding a certain taste have much more to do with acquiring a taste for something previously unpleasant than your taste buds, and that’s where Desiree says it pays to get out of your comfort zone.
“Just like learning anything, wine is a journey,” she said.
“You’re going to drink things that you don’t like, but the more you do it and the more you find what you do like, the less it will happen.”
Challenging your palate is part of the fun when exploring within the world of wine, and sometimes, finding what turns you off is a great way to stumble on something you do like.
Whether in a local wine shop or at a restaurant, sommeliers will often ask what you’re looking for in wine, and letting them know what you’re not looking for instead can help them guide you.
Experts like Desiree will also draw inspiration from non-alcoholic comforts to inform them about where to start.
“I have always really loved sparkling wine,” she said. “It’s approachable, especially if you’re used to drinking soda.”
Bigger reds, on the other hand, can take some time to warm up to. Pairing them with food to knock down the tannins is a delicious way to usher in a new appreciation for a bottle that might be a little too much on its own.
“I love a good steak, and it’s really helped my boyfriend love red wines,” Desiree said.
“If there’s a wine lover in a couple and they’re trying to get the other person to love it, date night, a steak and a big red, and your partner will be happy.”
IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE
While most folks never make it back into a classroom after college, earning her degree from the University of Maryland turned out to be the start of a lifelong learning journey for Desiree.
She’s still taking notes, repeatedly studying chapters and creating helpful acronyms and word associations to assist on her next exam four years later. But this time, the subject matter is a little different.
“Wine has taught me so much about life and the world,” she said.
“Wine has forced me to learn not only where certain places are, but also what the weather’s like, what’s the culture like, what are the people like?”
It helps to be passionate to get through the doldrums, but in the end, the ability to take things straight from the page and pour them into your glass, or shake the hand of a family member whose bloodlines have produced wine for generations bring these lessons to life.
“A lot of older wineries are family wineries,” she said. “When you’re talking about wine, you’re talking about culture.”
It’s why the experiences in the world of wine always trump the price tag.
Desiree’s leap from a corporate desk to a wine professional hasn’t always been easy, but following her passion has absolutely been the right path for her.
“Wine has changed my life,” she said. “Wine is about people; it has the ability to bring people together.
“Wine is this powerful, amazing thing that can change your world.”