“So I hear you’ve lost your mind and want to go into the wine business?” Diane remarked as she shifted toward me. A mutual acquaintance had organized a lunch meeting between Diane Teitelbaum and me, thinking she might offer some helpful career advice.
“Pretty much,” I answered.
I had achieved the title of Certified Sommelier almost a year ago, and was preparing for a trip to Perú where I would launch a project for the Dallas-based non-profit Personal Philanthropy. Upon my return stateside, I hoped to land a position in wholesale or restaurant wine sales and establish a network that would eventually allow me to leave Dallas.
I sat back, full of doubt and confusion from many conversations with my parents and then girlfriend about my lack of direction. “You should be proud of your accomplishments,” Diane declared reassuringly. “The last person I saw like you was James Tidwell.” My eyes widened in disbelief at her comparison of me, an upstart working at a tea and coffee shop, to one of Dallas’ two Master Sommeliers at the time. We had not even received our appetizer yet and she saw more in me than anyone in recent memory.
Over the next two years, she took on a mentor role, inviting me to tastings, and answering my many questions with a rare combination of honesty and forthright graciousness.
Upon returning to Dallas in 2010 and getting ready for some job interviews, she sent me an email that read: Advice of the Day, for tomorrow: Be Humble. No applicant or seller should presume, or appear to presume, to be the equal of the potential buyer or employer, even if you are. To achieve a goal promote your gratitude for the potential opportunity to learn from the mentor, company, etc. Try to appear sincere but not sappy…Some mentors might be offended or threatened by any nuance of arrogance. The exception to this rule might be New York
Diane’s name meant nothing to me when we first met, and it was not until her death last month that I began to learn how the impact she had on me was an extension of many whom she knew. The news was surprisingly difficult for me to swallow. Our last correspondence was over two years ago, but so much of her advice and the time I spent with her shaped the direction I tried to take in my career, both directly and indirectly.
I wanted to do something unique, where my desire to know the story and share my knowledge about any given bottle of wine would bring its flavors to life, and make me an unlikely asset to distributors, importers, and restaurants. It surprised me when I found an avenue for this desire through tea rather than wine, with an opportunity that brought me to my current Seattle home. This blog is my remaining outlet to explore my relationship with and curiosity for wine. How fitting that Diane was the first person to whom I sent my inaugural blog post (on Chateau Musar no less, whose winemaker died a few weeks ago), to let her know I had come up with a focused way of showcasing my writing about wine. Thank you, Diane. I will think of you every time I click “submit” on this site.