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Aug 7, 2001 09:37 PM

Learning about wine

  • p

It seems that this is the best forum to ask, especially people like Melanie Wong, where one can go to take short courses on wine appreciation. I live in San Mateo, and would prefer not to cross any bridges unless there is a compelling reason, like a fantastic restaurant.

Is there anything convenient for people who have to work during the day?

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  1. I took a stellar 10-week class with a woman called Pamela Busch. She's a founder of Hayes & Vine, writes for several wine pubs, and is the wine buyer for 4 or 5 restaurants in the city.

    It was not a cheap course ($350 for the whole course of 10 3-hour classes) but it was incredible - she takes you through each region and, when appropriate, brings in people who are really well versed in some areas. For example, we had a gentleman come in when discussing Spanish Wine who could not have been more knowledgeable.

    I learned really practical stuff, too, like how to find a wine on a wine list that's a good value, even if you don't know any of the producers. It was also a great way to discover wines you never think of trying. I was totally turned on to Rieslings, Viognier, and wines from the Spanish region of Jumilla. And, I discovered that the only French reds I care for are Rhones.

    Her "School" is called the Grapes of Path, and the link is attached.


    4 Replies
    1. re: Fatemeh

      Thanks very much, Fatemeh! The 10-week class sounds ideal, and I'd love to do something like that. Did you have to get a group and organize it yourself, or is it offered regularly? (The page only mentions shorter courses until mid-August.)

      1. re: Pia R

        She does these almost quarterly, and I think she takes one quarter off... that's what I've gathered.

        If you drop her an email, she can tell you when classes start up again. It's the "Introduction to Wines of the World" class - tell her I sent you!

        PS - once you've done the series, you will be very tempted to try some of her one-off classes, too. Do it. It's much more in-depth discussion on one or two regions or grapes. I did one of the Spain classes and LOVED it.

        1. re: Fatemeh

          Thanks, again, Fatemeh! I'll certainly get send an e-mail and say that you sent me. There's no better recommedation than one from a satisfied customer!

          1. re: Pia R
            Melanie Wong

            Pamela is very passionate about wine --- one of the attributes that a good instructor on the topic needs to have. She's especially strong in wines from Italy and Spain.

            Two other local instructors I can recommend are Rebecca Chapa and Allison Marino, both are candidates for the Master of Wine. They're good friends and we're in a study group together.

            Rebecca's company is called Tannin Management and you can check out her website, Rebecca got her start in the wine world with Kevin Zraly at Windows on the World, was the sommelier at Jardiniere and consults to several restaurants. Growing up in the restaurant biz, she has a talent for wine and food issues and has written numerous articles on the topic. She represents Wines of Spain in California and is just a blast to be around.

            Allison's company is Vinsight ( She loves wine and left a career as an electrical engineer (MIT grad) to share her passion. She's mostly been doing seminars for corporate clients but is branching out to individuals too. Spending two long days with her on the wine roads, we had ample opportunity to talk about her experiences in demystifying wine. She has really honed in on her audiences and brings a fresh approach to communicating about wine and its enjoyment.

            Another option would be the wine series offered by UC Berkeley Extension at the SF campus. Two instructors of note - Chuck Hayward of The Jug Shop knows more about Australian/New Zealand wines than anyone on the West Coast. Highly irreverant, he's got unruly red hair and wear red suede shoes when he's drinking red wine. Paul Bullard is wine broker and a super teacher with a wealth of knowledge of the classic French wines to share.

            The other SF wine school with a good reputation is the Pacific Rim Wine Center (, a non-profit organization headed up by Bruce Cass. I don't know Bruce as well as the others. He is knowledgeable and humorous.

            A couple wine sites you'll want to check out for special events are and Another way to expand your horizons is to take advantage of the tastings offered by wine retailers. K&L, Jug Shop, Draeger's, Weimax, VinVinoWine, and Wine Club offer many tastings each month.

            One of the things I do to keep my palate tuned is taste flights (a group of wines) at Hayes & Vine, Eos, or Bubble Lounge. Bacar is also a good place to taste a broad spectrum of wines, although I haven't been there yet.

    2. k
      Kirsten Armstrong

      Rosenblum Winery (with it's cellars in Alameda) is having a huge tasting for their new season this Sunday. It's about $20, but that includes food and live music. The people at the tasting tables are really friendly and happy to educate.

      They have great zins!

      If you are close to a ferry, the cellar is right next to the ferry landing in Alameda - very convenient for those who would prefer not to drive.