Notes From A Sommelier’s Journal –

This is part of an ongoing series about my experiences as a sommelier in a four star restaurant somewhere in California.

About two hours before my shift at S’Amuser, I realized that I was going to have to do something drastic. I had been racking Cabernet Sauvignon all day and my hands were stained deep purple. Can you imagine sitting down to a $500 dinner and the sommelier (me) presents you a bottle of Les Mesnil Champagne with “these hands.”

 I hated the thought of it, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

I found the white and powder blue storefront, and took a deep breath. The Nail Hut was more imposing than a test with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

             As I entered, it seemed all conversations and music faded. I was the only man within miles, instantly a figment of interest.

I won’t go into the procedure of bleaching my skin, the cuticle cutting, or the type of lotion that was applied to my reviled fingers. What I will share is a comment from the proprietor – incidentally, the only one at The Nail Hut who thought she could “fix” my “problem.”

She said, “You should take better care of your hands.”

I want to mention the winery, explain the pigmentation, but she’s right. If I am going to be a Winemaker and a Sommelier, I need to figure it out.

             I arrive at S’Amuser a new man. The Maitre D’ hands me a note from the wine director. There are two parties in the wine cellar tonight, the dining room is sold out. We received some wine today, do inventory and have a great night. Weeee! 

I roll up my sleeves and head to the cellar. Cases from local producers are parked between Grands Crus de Bourgogne, Grand Champagne, Deutscher Sekt, four bottles of 1970 Graham Vintage Port, and a single wood box with one 1947 Chateau Petrus.

The wines and spirits at S’Amuser are arranged by region, vintage, variety, and vineyard. Each bottle has its own cradle. They are aligned like soldiers lying down. The labels are articulated toward the glass doors. There is a constant temperature and humidity of 55%. It feels like a working museum of sorts.

I hold the bottle of 1947 Petrus and simply admire it. The label is worn, the capsule is folded and creased. The fill level is low, the anthocyanins have bound with the tannins and the crystals are settled in the shoulder.

Among other things, the General Manager is a joker. He has snuck up behind me and whispers, “What are you doing?”

It scares the hell out of me, but I don’t drop the Petrus, I hold it tight. My response is to protect this unique life form, this 100 point wine, this $4,000 bottle.

The General Manager says, “We’ve got less than an hour before we begin seating. Let’s get going. Oh, Bobby (the bartender) called in sick.”

I wish I had time to study each label, memorize the producers, the vineyards, the alcohol for each vintage but there’s no time. I cradle the Petrus, finish the inventory, and prepare the bar. 

That evening, I search for any reaction to my hands. Only the Maitre D’ notices. He asks me what hand cream I use.

I don’t know how to answer his question.



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