For its population, Halifax graduates an impressive number of sommeliers. Nova Scotia is also a very young wine region and most local drinkers of wine are new to the beverage. Starting at the end of this month, a course in Halifax will bring those worlds closer together, giving people the opportunity to learn the basics of wine and ask all the questions that neither Google nor Robert Parker seem willing to answer.
"I'm really interested in helping people navigate the wine world on their own, instead of relying on 'experts,'" says Heather Rankin, owner of Obladee. As one of the co-creators of the course, Rankin designed it "for real world application, for people who are really interested in wine and will be drinking it themselves and serving it to friends and family."
The five-week introduction to wine course starts July 31, and runs every Tuesday night 6-8pm at Obladee. Classes will be capped at 12 students, the "magic number" for wine education group dynamics, says Rankin, who regularly hosts wine appreciation nights at the downtown Halifax wine bar.
Wine education is not new to our region; Sommelier certification began in Nova Scotia in 2000 when Adam Dial, son of Roger Dial, widely held to be the father of Nova Scotia wine, taught the first course at Mount Saint Vincent University. That year, Dial's graduates earned the top two marks in Canada on national exams.
Sommelier certification today is offered through the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers-Atlantic Chapter. The courses, taught by Mark DeWolf, Carman Mills, Simon Rafuse and Alanna Steele, are rigorous and rewarding. They generally take two years to complete and cost just under $4,000, clearly aimed at those who seek a profession in wine stewardship.
A recent graduate, Erin Beazley, is the co-creator of Obladee's wine course, which complements the region's formal accreditation in that it extends wine education to people for less investment. Beazley will be leading the first series of classes, using a manual she designed with Rankin, who is particularly keen to teach the economics around wine.
"I think it confuses a lot of people, they think still that the best wines are from France and the best wines are expensive," she says.
Obladee's course, intended to be fun and inspiring, will also give students a comprehensive sense of wine from people who are deeply knowledgable.
"You need the foundation to understand things on a basic level. It's difficult to glaze over such a complex topic, so you have to go there a little bit," says Rankin. "This course is professional, and comprehensive, and it's also very practical and inclusive, and current. We're in it, we know what's going on and we're passing that on in real time."