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Get Your Palate into Shape Fast at a Wine Boot Camp

So much to know about wine, so little time. The sheer amount of information available about wine can be confounding. And if you’re like me, you just want to find out what you like and why you like it. Also if you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of time to sit around swirling cab franc on your tongue and pondering its black currant essence. (We don’t, right?)
Well, for the motivated wine enthusiast there is a way to learn a lot and learn it fast. In the spirit of today’s can’t-wait, get-it-done-yesterday society, there’s wine boot camp. Like the personalized, grueling, crash-course fitness regimes before it, the wine boot camp is designed to provide an immersive environment for the learning about and appreciation of wine. And decidedly more enticing, there’s no sweat and sore muscles involved.

There are a handful of good wine camps around, but the camps hosted by Affairs of the Vine ( are well run, thorough, and a lot of fun. Welcoming rookies and experts alike, the series of boot camps offers firsthand experience of the intricacies of putting wine in a bottle and the subtleties of sipping it from a glass. “Enlistees” are offered a chance to work in the vineyard and the cellar under with the knowing instruction of winemakers and viticulturists just over the shoulder. Boot camps also include workshops and tastings that quickly bring expertise up to speed.

Campers come away with what boot camp director and chief wine evangelist, Barbara Drady describes as “an undergraduate degree – something that gives you the tools the ask the right questions. [Boot campers] feel empowered. They are able to identify a lot of the language that is used in wine culture. When people talk about cherry and cinnamon and peppers most people just shake their heads. But we give them a course that electrifying. It’s not done with essence. We bring out the actual fruits and spices and let them taste blind without telling them the varietal so that does not influence them. When it’s all said and done, they are able to speak the language because they get it. We give them a real overview of the process.”

Held in various California wine regions, Boot Camps attract people from across the globe – a recent camper came from Norway. Drady says she’s seen enlistees as old as 84 (there’s a minimum age of 21). The camps are daylong intensives, lasting 12 hours and, depending on the vineyard, can involve “marching” though the vines or riding “cavalry” through them on horseback.

Educational and most of all fun, attending a boot camp is an ideal way to discover your passion for wine or rekindle it anew. “It’s a recognition and understanding of what goes into the process,” says Drady. “The best part is that you get to learn from viticultrualists and head winemakers themselves – the ones who are truly passionate about what they do and they can best convey that passion to our enlistees.”

Camps begin in summer, and this year will be held in Santa Cruz Mountains, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara County, and Sonoma County. My advice? Enlist early. It’s time to report for duty.