Most sommeliers can tell you the tasting notes in a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio or a plummy-red Bordeaux. But how many can also provide effortless technical detail about the wine-making process or a wine’s terroir?
For Jonathan Wilson (BSc’05), trained sommelier and owner of Labeled Wine Consulting, in Sydney, Nova Scotia, those details are second nature. He gives partial credit for that knowledge to his Biology degree.
“Having a little science has given me an edge,” he says. “If you already know about fermentation and tannins from organic chemistry class, it’s easier.”
His ‘a-ha’ moment
As a biology student, Mr. Wilson didn’t plan on becoming a wine connoisseur. Originally, he wanted to become a doctor, but his oenophilia began as he put himself through school, tending bar at the Grawood. Part of his job involved working high-end functions around campus. Before each event, bartenders sampled the wines they served.
“It blew me away,” he remembers, shaking his head. “That was my ‘a-ha’ moment, when I thought, ‘OK, I really like this, I want to make it a hobby.’ So I started reading about wine on the side—and I found out how much bloody science goes into it,” he laughs.
Later, while working at a hotel as a food and beverage manager, he completed two years of professional training at the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nova Scotia’s singular terroir
Mr. Wilson loves Nova Scotia wines. “The sparkling wines are world class,” Mr. Wilson says, “The growers care about making it and the climate is perfect.”
The climate is responsible for a “very distinct” taste. “Nova Scotia wines really show the terroir,” he says. “Kind of like Nova Scotians—as soon as they meet you, they’ll tell you where they’re from: ‘I’m from Glace Bay, take it or leave it,’” he laughs.
Mr. Wilson has toured all the province’s wineries, citing Benjamin Bridge, Blomidon, Gaspereau, and L’Acadie wineries amongst the province’s best.
Learning the business side
Biology is just one of the tricks up Mr. Wilson’s sleeve—he also did a Business minor as part of his degree.
“Knowing how to do an income statement and balance sheet is useful, now that I’m running my own business. I’m glad I did it,” he says.
In an average week, Mr. Wilson works a sales agent in Cape Breton for the Bedford-based Harvest Wines and Spirits and gives his own private tastings, professional consultations and advice to restaurants on wine lists.
“That’s the passionate side for me,” he says, “getting together with people and educating them on wine. And the store wants that message out there—that wine is for everyone, not just elitists."
Even Mr. Wilson, who clearly knows his stuff, is aware of the limits of his expertise. The field changes so quickly, it’s nearly impossible to keep up.
“I know maybe 5 percent of what there is to know and it’s changing every day. But knowing I’ll never know everything draws me in.”
The scientist in him is more than up to the challenge, but it’s more than a quest for knowledge–it’ his life’ passion.
“I’ve found a way for my passion to be my job,” he says. “I’m grateful to be able to do what I love. I get up in the morning and my passion is what I’m going out to do: helping people have a better dinner by pairing an appropriate wine or helping local hotels make more money by offering a different wine list.”
“I find wine fascinating and I want to know more. That curiosity compelled me to do something,” he says. “And now I want to devote my life to it.”
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