Wine Geek of the Week Jess Helfand
Tell us a bit about yourself. Why are you a wine geek?
My geekiness started out as a hobby, really. A friend from college talked me into taking a wine class with her (WSET L2) and everything just spiraled from there. Just about 10 years later and I’m teaching all levels of WSET in wines and loving every second of it. But it’s not just the wine… it’s the people that wine attracts. I love getting to know my students, hearing their stories, and getting to be a positive part of their wine journey.
Extraterrestrials just landed on earth. What wine do you pour them?
Do I have to pick just one?! I’m torn between a Domaine Huet Vouvray Moelleux with some real age to it, or a young and vibrant Vouvray Sec. I’ve often said that I consider it my mission to introduce as many people as possible to the joys of Chenin Blanc and I see no reason not to extend that to ET, too.
What's your favorite scent you have ever smelled in a wine?
That crazy honeyed, toasted nut aroma in an aged Hunter Valley Semillon that seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s like magic in a bottle.
Any favorite music or podcasts you like to listen to while you drink wine?
I’m kind of in love with Taylor Swift’s new “Evermore” album. Perfect backdrop for wine tasting or drinking.
If you could visit any wine region in the world right now what would it be any why?
The Loire Valley, specifically Montlouis sur Loire. It’s home to some of my favorite dry Chenin Blanc. Living in Nashville, TN it’s really hard to lay hands on these wines so I think I just need to go to the source!
What do you think is the most exciting thing going in the world of wine right now?
I don’t know if this is exciting, but it is important… and that’s the increased focus on sustainable practices and industry’s acknowledgement of the very real and immediate consequences of climate change. Neither of these are new ideas, but it seems to be getting more attention.
What would you like to see in the future of wine?
In the short term, stability and safety. 2020 has been so hard on everyone in hospitality. I’m sure the “new normal” will look different post-covid, but whatever it is, I hope the uncertainty is gone.
What advice would you give yourself looking back to when you first started working in the wine industry?
I know this sounds silly and obvious, but I would want to tell my young self that taste is personal. I remember the early days of my first wine shop gig and wanting people to drink “good” wine. People like what they like. It’s okay to introduce them to new things, of course, but it’s absurd to try to talk someone out of buying the ridiculously fruity Pinot Noir that they’re going to enjoy, just because I think it tastes nothing like Pinot Noir should taste.
Who are some people that inspire you in the world of wine?
I’ve been so lucky to have studied under and to work with some truly kind and generous souls, most notably Caroline Herman, MW and Peter Marks, MW. They are patient, giving of their time, so freaking clever, and all-around great people. They are exactly the type of educator I strive to be.
Anything in the works you'd like to mention or promote?
As a matter of fact… my big 2020 project was collaborating with the Napa Valley Wine Academy to create an intermediate online wine class, Wine 201 –Wines of the World. I’m so excited about this course. Lots of content, but delivered in a digestible, fun way.