A Sommelier’s Tough Travel Times

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - May 30, 2007
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Let me start by saying that I enjoy what I do. I love wine, teaching and learning about it, writing about it and bringing it to you. And bringing it to you requires much work and effort, not the least of which is actually traveling abroad to source some of the finest wines for Hawaii, as well as learning more about the wines of the world.

It sounds glamorous, exciting and even romantic for those on the outside. But traveling doesn’t come without a price.

Those of you who travel frequently know how arduous and taxing it can be on your body. One year I traveled to France in January (read frigid cold) to purchase wines from an exceptional importer’s portfolio. It was a two-week stint, going from winery to winery tasting barrel samples and meeting with the wine-makers. We would start every morning with an 8 o’clock appointment to taste in the cold cellar, where we would struggle to warm the wine in our glasses with our already cold hands. At times it was so cold outside that the cellar was actually warmer! Once my nose was so stuffed up from the cold I had to wait a while before I could actually smell the wine.

This doesn’t sound so bad to some, but the night before is usually dinner with a winemaker that starts, if we’re lucky, at 8 promptly then lasts until midnight. More often than not, it goes on into the morning hours, with plenty of really good wine coming up from the winemaker’s cellar. So it’s almost impossible say no to just “one more glass.” The next morning, that first barrel sample comes pretty early.

That same year we dined at a restaurant in Provence, where they had some fruits de mer platters which included raw oysters and shellfish. You can guess what happened. Everyone became ill, some worse than others, with frequent unscheduled stops on the route nationale, if you know what I mean. And to top it all off, I caught the flu for the last two days and spent the long plane rides home practically comatose.

Speaking of long rides, just this past February on a “short” five-day California road trip, I logged more than 1,000 miles of driving! After one leg of driving about 280 miles, I got out of the car and felt my legs buckle at the hip. I looked at the car rental statement and was shocked! That total didn’t even count all the miles I traveled in the cars of the winemakers we visited, who toured us around their vineyards in Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Santa Rita Hills. I wish I could convert those miles to airline rewards miles! Did I mention that my companion caught the flu on the last two days of this trip too? It was colder than we expected.

One thing in travel that is simply unavoidable is jet lag. Yes, there are many ways to minimize the effects of it: drinking lots of water, exercise and getting plenty of rest. All except the water are in very short supply on these trips. I’ve found the best way to kick jet lag is with the help of modern-day medicine. I couldn’t sleep on planes until I found medicinal help to get the rest I need. I’m not a pill popper, just ask my wife. But on long travels, I need all the help I can get.

I don’t expect anyone to shed a tear for me or to play any violins. I enjoy traveling the world and being in the midst of great wine and people. But truly the hardest thing about all of it is leaving my wife and 3-year-old son behind. Traveling is great, but coming home is the best.

Worth the travel: 2002 Jusyln Vineyards Perry’s Blend ($55) This Cabernet blend is plump and broad shouldered with an intensely black fruit flavor that screams drink me!

2005 Brewer-Clifton Mt. Carmel Chardonnay ($45) Beautifully complex, hedonistic weight and flavor. One of the best California Chardonnays I’ve had this year, period.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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