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May 23, 2017

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Rebecca Chapa of Tannin Management
by Liz Hille
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.3

Wine drinkers, beef jerky and Britney Spears

I met Rebecca Chapa at the Snowdrift bar, a curvy, ski chalet-style bar/restaurant in San Francisco. Upon entering I almost tripped over the ceramic Bambi that guards the cone-shaped fireplace. I quickly learned Rebecca's a real pro. Her extensive wine resume includes studying under Kevin Zraly of Windows of the World, acting as wine director for Jardiniare and working as a contributing editor for Wine & Spirits Magazine. As if that's not enough, she's also owner of Tannin Management, where she teaches bitter-free classes on wine. Read on as Rebecca, who's also studying to be a Master of Wine, talks about West versus East Coast wine drinkers, beef jerky and Britney Spears.

Wine X: Beer? No wine?
Rebecca: Well, I'll start with beer then maybe have a wine later.

Wine X: Really? You can mix drinks like that?
Rebecca: Sure.

Wine X: I thought that wasn't a very good idea.
Rebecca: I don't get hangovers from wine or beer.

Wine X: Well. I think I'm going to have the Chilly Willy. (Maker's Mark, sweet vermouth and bitters). Sips drink. Whoa! This is strong.
Rebecca: That is strong! I think I'll stick to my hefeweizen. I can't party with fun drinks anymore. Not since college.

Wine X: So, let's say you're at this party and there's box wine... would you drink it?
Rebecca: Box wine I don't think I could do. But there are a lot of good, inexpensive wines on the market. My husband and I are both in the wine business, so we try to bring wine with us just in case.

Wine X: A backup.
Rebecca: Yeah. Although I think it's hard to pick a really bad wine these days. There are so many good ones that you have to try really hard to find something really bad.

Wine X: After having lived in New York and now in San Francisco, do you find there's a preference on each coast?
Rebecca: In New York they're more interested in international wines. People here are a little less aware of international wine. There are so many more small, local producers that they haven't heard of on the East Coast. With the Central Coast, Sonoma and Napa, and all these great regions nearby, we get wines that most people can't find in New York. And I think people out West know a lot more about wine in general. About how it's made, what goes into it. Out here, people can keep up to date because they're so close. You can't really say that about people on the East Coast because most of them haven't seen the hands-on production.

Wine X: People out here are more educated about wine?
Rebecca: Yeah, in some ways. I don't want to make anyone upset.

Wine X: No, please do.
Rebecca: Okay. We're definitely more educated about food out here. And interested in knowing where our food and wine come from and how stuff is grown.

Wine X: Exactly. When was that "moment" when you knew wine was your calling?
Rebecca: I started early. I went to Cornell University and studied wine there. I took all the food and beverage courses I could. I wanted to take the courses where I got something for free. I was in school, I was starving, and I wanted to learn about wine and then drink it. In New York you're allowed to take wine courses when you're 20 as long as it's for educational purposes.

Wine X: I knew I should've studied there.
Rebecca: And because I was in the Hotel School I was able to take wine classes on Wednesday afternoons with 800 people. Mostly seniors.

Wine X: That's a lot of Dixie cups.
Rebecca: Well we each had a wine kit with our three little glasses.

Wine X: That's kinda like bringing your own pool stick to a bar.
Rebecca: Yeah, it's intimidating. All the seniors would head to the bar afterwards with their little wine kits. The class was a no-brainer. But then I took the advanced wine tasting class; why wouldn't you if you had the opportunity?

Wine X: Exactly.
Rebecca: And this class was only open to the Hotel School. Midway through the course, all of a sudden, it was like: mushrooms. I get it. It was an epiphany. I knew what they were talking about.

Wine X: I had an epiphany with mushrooms once, but it's probably not what you're talkin' about.
Rebecca: Mine was when the professors would smell the wine and say, "this kind of reminds me of mushrooms." It took me a long time to figure out that the wine didn't smell exactly like a mushroom, it was more reminiscent of a mushroom.

Wine X: Like a musty, spongy flavor?
Rebecca: Yeah, kind of earthy. And that's what the professors meant. It's a way to describe wine, because, obviously, there aren't mushrooms in the wine.

Wine X: Right.
Rebecca: So all of a sudden it struck me. I realized this could be a career.

Wine X: Let's talk about snowboarding.
Rebecca: 'Kay.

Wine X: How long have you been doing it?
Rebecca: 'Bout 3 years.

Wine X: You go a lot?
Rebecca: I didn't get a chance to go too much this year. I did Tahoe twice, four days each. And spring skiing conditions were great. The second time I went there were seven inches of fresh powder, which was crazy for April. It's been a really busy year. But next year I definitely want to go big.

Wine X: (looking around) Are the bars in Tahoe like this? I've never been to Tahoe.
Rebecca: No, they're much more homey. There's more wood. Snow. Broken legs.

Wine X: Speaking of which, I've never snowboarded, so it's a good thing we met here. I would've been on my ass the entire time. Hard to take notes that way.
Rebecca: It's one of my favorite things to do. You should definitely try it.

Wine X: Speaking of favorites...dig this segue...what's your favorite kind of wine?
Rebecca: I really like pinot noir. Any kind of pinot. There are so many ranges. I like the textural element because it's not too strong.

Wine X: What are three good adjectives you'd use to describe pinot?
Rebecca: Supple, juicy and long.

Wine X: Not even gonna go there.
Rebecca: Probably a good idea.

Wine X: Are there any overused adjectives that you don't like to use to describe wine?
Rebecca: When I see wine reviews I get kind of upset sometimes when things are listed like aromas of pineapple and honey, because that, to me, is kind of difficult. The wine might evoke pineapple to me, and to you it might be peaches. These are all sensory memories. I think it's important to talk about flavors, but it's very subjective and hard to do because if someone says they don't smell pineapple they think they're doing something wrong. In my wine classes I encourage people to say whatever they think it smells like, because they're right.

Wine X: What if someone says it smells like manure?
Rebecca: That's fine. I said a wine smelled like vomit once. Beef jerky, too. Sometimes the wine's a beef jerky wine.

Wine X: Other than snowboarding, what other things do you like to do?
Rebecca: I like languages. Singing. Karaoke.

Wine X: Really. Karaoke?
Rebecca: I do Britney Spears.

Wine X: Uh-huh. Which Britney song do you sing?
Rebecca: 'Oops I Did It Again.' And I can do the, uh, dance.

Wine X: The dance?

Rebecca gets up, places palm over palm, and makes a heart thumping action.

Wine X: You go, girl.

We laugh, notice our glasses were empty and go to the bar to have another round.

If you're interested in attending one of Rebecca's classes, email her at rchapa@winebytheclass.com. You can also visit her website, http://www.winebytheclass.com.

"In my wine classes I encourage people to say whatever they think it smells like, because they're right."

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