Lessons in Teaching: Learned at TexSom

I am lucky enough to be attending the Texas Sommelier (“TexSom”) Conference this weekend at the lovely Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas, Texas.  Being an educator and not a sommelier, I know that I attend conferences of this sort in a much different mind set than the typical attendee, but there is a plenty of valuable information and experience to be gleaned by sitting in the audience and watching someone else teach.  As a matter of fact, it’s my favorite type of vacation; all you fellow teachers out there will relate to the feeling of relief you get when someone else is on the teaching “hot seat” and you can lean back and watch.

So, it is with much gratitude for the conference leaders and presenters that I share with you a few great teaching lessons learned and reinforced by the seminars I’ve seen at TexSom this year!

Lesson in Teaching:  Tell a Story!

The Tomb of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Good wine story!

The first session presented on Sunday, led by Wayne Belding and Brett Zimmerman, both Master Sommeliers, was all about Bordeaux.  The presenters led us through the story of the history of Bordeaux, all the way back to the middle ages and the marriage of Henry Plantagenet to Eleanor of Aquitaine.  This marriage made the French region of Aquitaine an English terriority, which opened the wines of the Bordeaux region to the English market and eventually to the world stage.

The name Aquitaine itself means “the place of much water” and describes not only the main rivers of the area but then-marshly lands around the Medoc. Another fasciniating part of the story of the history of Bordeaux takes place in the seventeenth century, when English demand for the wines of Bordeaux increased to the point that Dutch traders began to drain the marshlands around the  Medoc and increase the land available to vineyards. This caused the vineyard area in Bordeaux to expand so much that no one could really tell what area their wine was from, which in turned led to the first delination of the vineyards of Bordeaux.  This classification was completed in 1725, with the collection of districts being known as the Vignoble de Bordeaux.  At this time, individual bottles began to be labeled with with both the region and the specific area from which they originated.  I was fascinated to learn this ancient history of Bordeaux and happy to add some more “tales of the vine” to my arsenal of teaching tools.

Why is storytelling a good lesson in teaching?  It is a proven fact that the use of storytelling – called “the narrative approach” in teaching lingo – is one of the most effective ways to add interest and engagement to a presentation.  Storytelling works in just about any educational platform from lecture to discussion to on-line, and can help you reach your audience on both an intellectual and emotional level.  A well-placed story can make theories or abstract ideas concrete and accessible, can spark interest in new material, and can help students memorize facts.

Lesson in Teaching:  Compare and Contrast 

Oregon Pinot: Did you prefer the Hippie or the Cowboy?

The last session I was able to attend on Sunday was all about Oregon Pinot Noir.  Presented by Fred Dame and Nate Ready, both Master Sommeliers, the session was subtitled “The Cowboy and The Hippie.”  Fred and Nate both presented some fabulously delicious Pinot Noirs, which would have made the session good enough, but what made the session even more interesting was the dichotomy in the way they both chose and presented their wines.  Fred represented the “Cowboy” approach and chose wines made in a “get ‘er done” style that produced a wine that was pure Pinot Noir – juicy, fruity, in some cases jammy – and showing lots of spice and floral aromas.  Nate represented the “Hippie” approach and chose wines that were done in a more “touch-feely” (some would say organic-biodynamic-light of the moon) style with lots of earthiness and subtlety.  The wines were presented two by two – with one wine is each set representing the hippie approach and one wine representing the cowboy style.  Presenting the wines this way enabled the audience to not just taste the wines but really think about them in terms of style; which by the way is the “language” most of our customers think in. 

Interestingly enough, my favorite wine of the flight was the 2010 Penner-Ash “Dussin Vineyard” – pure Cowboy.

Why is “compare and contrast” a good lesson in teaching? One of the ultimate goals for any teacher is to guide his or her students to not just “know” (or worse yet, “memorize”) new information but to use that information in a meaningful context.  In this way we are teaching critical thinking skills and such teaching is considered a “higher level” teaching skill, as opposed to just teaching a page full of facts. One excellent technique to involve the use of critical thinking skills in a class is to have students compare and contrast items or ideas.  By ending the Oregon Pinot Noir sesion by asking the audience “which wines did you prefer, the cowboy or the hippie” the speakers were forcing us (in the nicest possible way) to use critical thinking.  

This is a quick post from the hotel lobby…stay tuned for more “Lessons in Teaching:  Learned at TexSom” in the days to come!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas.

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

One Response to Lessons in Teaching: Learned at TexSom

  1. What a great post. As a wine writer and writing teacher, I totally agree with you. What I liked best was your discussion of the teaching method. I hope to share this with my colleagues next week.

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