The Journey to Wine or Who am I and how I got here? by Janet Dorozynski

Editor’s Note:  “To start the New Year WineAlign welcomes Janet Dorozynski as a professional blogger and critic. Based in Ottawa, where she is currently the go-to wine consultant for the federal government, Janet tastes regularly at Vintages and is a Canadian Wine Awards judge. Her first post traces her career thus far – a story familiar to many who have followed their nose into the wine world.”

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski, Ph.D. Global Practice Lead, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits

I’m very excited to become part of WineAlign, one of Canada’s leading wine websites after only three short years. Having spent the last fifteen years in and around the wine industry – tasting, studying, traveling, writing, working, teaching and judging – it has been quite a journey and I am keen to find out what lies ahead.

Flash back to late 1994 when I moved from Montreal to Brussels as a trailing spouse. I was working on a doctorate in social demography from Concordia University when I landed smack dab in the middle of one of Europe’s gastronomic havens. Belgium has among the highest per capita number of Michelin-starred restaurants and a corresponding number of specialized wine stores. I was fortunate to be living between a neighbourhood (now Michelin-starred) bistro with an eccentric wine list and a superb New World wine shop that offered tastings every Saturday.  It was there that I discovered the great wines of Brian Croser, Thelema, Te Mata Coleraine, Hunter Valley Semillions and oh yes, a quirky new wine called Cloudy Bay. Labels did not impress me then, and still don’t now, but I was keen to taste the half-dozen wines on offer each week and often ended up staying to talk about the wines, the regions they came from, the colorful characters that helped produce them, and why they were all so different and special.

With more time and money at my disposal than during my student years, I began reading a local wine column and buying and tasting the wines that were recommended each week. To my surprise, I liked few of them and couldn’t figure out why the columnist – who I since came to know and like – kept recommending such ordinary wines (which weren’t always so cheap!). Rather than being put off by the recommendations and experience, and curious to know if I was missing something, I continued to buy and taste.  As I tasted more,  I became more thoughtful about what I was tasting and – being an academic at heart – eventually signed up for several wine tasting courses with said columnist/sommelier, if only to find out first-hand what made him tick (and why I still didn’t like some of the wines he was recommending!).

The weekly tasting classes introduced me to the basics of tasting, sensory analysis, wine making and regions and countries. Most importantly, they helped me figure out that appreciating wine meant getting out of your comfort zone and tasting as many different wines as possible, both in-class, at tastings and while traveling through many of the world’s great wine regions.

I soon became consumed with wanting to know ever more about grape varieties, the production of wine, the history, the producers and the business of wine, reading and watching everything I could get my hands on. In Belgium, this meant Decanter, La Revue du Vin de France, Jancis Robinson and other British writers, BBC “drinks” shows, and that indispensable reference brick, the Oxford Companion to Wine. Living in Brussels also meant being close to the great wine regions of France and Germany, with Italy and Spain just a short hop away. In retrospect, I clearly didn’t realize how lucky I was, especially as a beginner, to be tasting wonderful and wacky wines from (and with) producers such as Vega Sicilia, Le Vieux Telegraphe, Alain Brumont, Marcel Deiss, Selbach-Oster, Alois Kracher, not to mention the sherries of Lustau and grower Champagne that you rarely see outside the region. I had discovered a new world and not surprisingly it took me several more years to complete my Ph.D. (though complete it I did!).

Travel and tastings took me deeper and deeper into wine and I remember the exact moment, when reading Jancis Robinson’s autobiography  on the Eurostar deep under the English Channel (where she describes the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Diploma as indispensible for anyone who wants a serious career in wine), that I decided if I was going to turn this fascination into a career, I needed to equip myself with the requisite tools and credentials. So off to wine school I went! I completed the first levels of WSET in London and wrote the final exam for the Diploma in Wine and Spirits in Toronto, when my son was barely two months old (and safely ensconced with my spouse back in Ottawa). This, after literally thousands of hours of study and tasting thousands of wines, with a copy of the Oxford Companion always on my night stand.

Before heading back to Canada from Brussels, I took a detour that led me to Wines of South Africa (WOSA) in Stellenbosch.  My job at WOSA was to work on a wine tourism project, as well as with producers and to tour around foreign media and trade in the wonderful South African wine lands. This didn’t really feel like work at all, as I spent my days meeting wine writers like Michel Bettane and Anthony Rose, as well as the talented and dynamic South African producers.  And as before, I tasted loads of wine, many of which never seemed to make it out of the country, and took more courses at the Cape Wine Academy.

Once back in Canada, I began writing and reviewing wines for WineTelevision and later Vines Magazine. I also held a day job as as Director of Government and Public Relations for the Canadian Vintners Association, which meant being thrown head first into a Canadian wine industry that had become unrecognizable after years away. One of my first duties was to organize a tasting of Canadian wines for decision-makers at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), in the hopes of convincing them that Canadian wines could and should be served by Government representatives abroad and at high-profile official events in Canada and around the globe. This tasting led to others and eventually, the creation of a position to promote Canadian wine within the department itself.

I successfully applied for this position which is still mine today. I spend my days assisting Canadian Embassies to serve and promote Canadian wine, beer and spirits at official events internationally, which also includes many of the events hosted by the Governor General, the Prime Minister, and other high-level officials.  I also work with the wine, beer and spirits industries on business development in international markets, which means I am in touch with the international wine trade, keep a close eye on the global wine business and trade issues, as well as what producers throughout Canada are doing, and have arranged tastings for folks like Jancis Robinson, during one of her visits to Canada.

Every year, throughout the course of my work, at tastings and while judging at wine competitions in Canada and abroad, I taste thousands of wines from Canada and elsewhere. I have a pretty good idea of how  Canadian wines stack up against their foreign competitors and can say with confidence that our wines have improved dramatically. I have little patience with those who write off Canadian wine as bad, or entire regions from anywhere for that matter, because there is good and bad wine made everywhere. I  believe that wineries cannot expect consumers to buy wine out of patriotism and that consumers want and expect more than novelty, clever packaging or anything less than value for money. Good wine, in my book, must bring enjoyment, allow you to have more than one glass, and can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. In the end, life is too short to drink the same wines or varieties all the time.  I for one, am especially interested in trying “odd-ball” varieties or wines from lesser-known regions and want to continue exploring and discovering what this vast and varied world of wine has to offer.