The Point Is Not The Point, The Point is… Who’s On The 2020 US Team

Team USA 2019 in a photo by the US Consulate Marseille: from left to right team member Gwendolyn Alley, team member Sue Hill, gf of Jacob Fergus, team Jacob Fergus, Taylor Robertson, Kathy Greene, coach John Vilja.

Back in the day, I did Slam Poetry. That’s competitive poetry where you get points from random judges in the audience on a ten point scale. Like in diving, the highest and the lowest scores get thrown out and your score is the three in the middle added together. While I love performing my poetry in front of an audience and I continue to write and publish poetry plus I’ve had several  major paying commissions and fellowships (Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and more) I no longer compete in Slams. While I loved the community, I’m just not into competitive poetry.

But I learned a lot, and I carry those word and life lessons as well as those friendships with me today. One of the most important came when I was active at the Taos Poetry Circus in Taos New Mexico, where I learned from slam ring master Jim Nave that

“The  point is not the point, the point is POETRY!”

I’m trying to keep this in mind as I accept the news that while I am technically a member of the US Wine Team for 2020, I am not one of the four people who were selected by Coach John Vilja to compete in Bordeaux.

Because the point is not the point, the point is POETRY — or in this case, WINE! And the enjoyment and appreciation of that venerable beverage!

Right now, Sue and I are on the team but only as alternates. Organizers in France let John decide who and how many would be on the team to compete in Bordeaux, France; he said he would select four based on “prior competition results.” Read more about this here.

In announcing the team, John said, “In this unusual year our decision process was to give preference to prior candidates who have competed in the World Championships, and preference given to highest finish in US Open followed by placement in World Championship.” That would be highest placement.

Congratulations to Team USA 2020! Cheers!

  • Kristen Shubert, Los Angeles County, CA
    2016 Team USA: 3rd place with 100 points at World Challenge (with Ulf Palmnas)
    2018 Team USA:  14th of 23 teams at World Challenge (with Lisa Stoll)
    2018 US Open: 1st with 124 points (partner Lisa Stoll)
    2019 US Open: 4th place
  • Taylor Robertson, Texas
    2019 Team USA: 30 points (with Sue Hill, Jacob Fergus, and I)
    2019 US Open: 1st with 101 points (with Jacob Fergus)
  • Ulf Palmnas, Sweden
    2016 Team USA: 3rd place with 100 points at World Challenge (with Kristen Schubert)
    2017 Team Sweden: World Champion with 115 points; read more here
  • Lisa Stoll, Ventura County, CA
    2018 Team USA: 14th of 23 teams at World Challenge
    2018 US Open: 1st with 124 points (partner Kristen Schubert)
    2019 US Open: 3rd place with 59 points

First Alternate 2020:
Jacob Fergus, Texas
2019 Team USA Captain: 30 points at World Challenge
2019 US Open: 1st with 101 points.

Instead of going by points which are hard to compare year to year because sometimes the wines are harder to deduce, it seems that John chose people based first on who came in first in the US Open or in another contest (for example, Sweden), then based on how well the team did in the World Challenge to come up with alternates. Please note that this is my best guess of how the team and the alternates were determined and ranked (although I’m not sure why Taylor is so far above Jacob).

While Sue and I earned 92 points for 2nd place in the 2019 US Open to claim second place, and the first place team scored nine points more, Team USA scored a surprisingly low 30 points in the World Competition which put us close to the bottom of the 30 competitors. If we’d scored higher as a TEAM in France, we’d have been ranked higher as alternates.

Because, you see, it’s hard enough to determine a wine blind but since the four of us had never tasted together, we didn’t have much of a chance.

To get an idea of how important it is to practice as a team, watch this video about the 2016 Team USA which, under the guidance and coaching of Ulf, and lots of practice tasting together, placed third in the World Championship.

That’s why I thought a team with Lisa, Kristen, Sue and I would be strong and successful: because we live close enough to each other to practice together, and learn to listen and trust each other, to hear and understand each other’s opinions about what we were tasting.

Who knows under COVID what might change and who may end up going.

I’m not ruling out the possibility of going to France this Ocotber–there was talk of a fall press trip to Bordeaux and to Germany that’s still up in the air due to COVID — and being in Bordeaux to cover the contest as media might just work out as part of a trip that might also include other wine regions of Europe. Maybe it will even work out for Sue to go with me.

You never know.

Maybe a team might just need someone to step in at the last minute. If I’ve learned one thing in my life, you can’t walk through a door that opens if you’re not in the room. And I guess if Ulf can compete for the Swedish team one year and USA another… well, again, who knows? Certainly this time last year I had no plans to do a blind wine competition in France — or summit Kilimanjaro either! And 2020 has been one heckuva unexpected year.

So I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing: taking seminars as often as possible on a range of wine related topics including blind tasting, continuing to pursue my WSET 3, and tasting wine with Sue and writing about wine.

Because the point is not the point, the point is poetry…

The poetry that comes from life, from drinking deep from the cellar, and savoring it.

In the past few days, I’ve found a few ideas to help me put this into perspective.

An essay posted by a few friends on Facebook, “I’d Made an Uneasy Peace With My Job As a Sommelier, Then I Lost My Sense of Smell” where New York-based sommelier Amanda Smeltz weighs in on how the beauty of wine will be wasted on the wealthy, even after the pandemic. While she’s talking about the commodification of wine, it made me think about competition:

“It’s difficult to witness the ways in which our culture pushes everything joyful through the meat grinder of commodity,” writes Amanda Smeltz in Esquire. In the concluding paragraph, she says, “The wine speaks: I am here, I was nurtured into existence, I am the work of hands and Earth and the sun—I am yours, all of you share me.”

This comment on Facebook by a wine blogger friend, Joe Roberts, author of the recently released books, Wine Taster’s Guide and Wine Taster’s Journal —

“Without failure, we do not really learn, and if we do not learn, we don’t progress.

“Few industries bring this into sharper relief than wine. I mean, how many of us regularly nail a wine when tasting blind? After almost 15 years doing this, I sure as hell don’t. Trying to identify a wine blind is like being given a snippet of a poem, or a random sentence from a novel (with a 50% chance that the printing is blurred), or a tiny sequence of notes from a musical score, and then trying to accurately identify the artist and the work. While some of those are a lot easier than others (there are a few “Call me Ishmael” wines out there, for sure), the latter far outnumber the former.”

In the comments, several people talked about tasting blind as a parlor trick, nothing more, nothing less, which got me questioning, “What is the purpose of tasting blind beyond competing? Why is this important to me now when it was not last year?”

When I began writing this, on the day of what would have been my father-in-law’s 100 birthday, I was struck suddenly by lines from the first stanza’s of Walt Whitman’s masterwork “Song of Myself,” 1892 version. I was engrossed in Whitman and his wisdom, when I heard my teen crying, so I went to him: it had hit him, hard, how much he loved us, his parents, and that we would one day be gone just like his grandpa, and too soon, and he was sorry for not being a better son. I woke to sounds of construction noise pounding and from a dream where we four women, Kristen, Lisa, Sue and I were in a beautiful river side garden tasting wine blind. It felt like we were in France, in Bordeaux, through I’ve never been there. It felt like a BIG dream. We’ll see.

In the wake of all of this, I put two bottles of Roederer in the fridge — one from Champagne, France, and one from California’s Alexander Valley.

You’d think we didn’t have anything to celebrate but we do: we can sip and savor this moment in time as expressed by the land in these wines, as experienced together. We don’t have to be tasting them to prepare for competition– or even to write about them, even though that is what we do.

So Sue came over and prepared a cheese plate, and we sat on my deck on a warm summer afternoon, drinking in the day, appreciating the nuances of the wines. Sure, we considered what made them unique, different, coming to the conclusion that we tasted more of the earth in the French version, and tasting and comparing them quickly, the French wine seems more refined.

Roederer Estate  Brut Anderson Valley
12% alcohol SRP $28
purchased on sale at Vons

Since 1982, you’ll find the California outpost of Roederer in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley where the organic and biodynamic estate vineyards grow a stone’s throw from the cooling breezes of the Pacific: “Among the very few California sparkling wine houses that only sources estate-grown fruit, Roederer Estate is also meticulous about all its farming decisions.”

Appearance:  Golden in color, but this has been on the shelf for a few years. The bubbles cling to the outside of the glass, they are a bit large, but from the middle of the glass, there are delicate bubbles rising.

Nose: Apple, hazelnut, almond croissant, almond oil, almond extract, marzipan.

Palate: Tart bright green apple, the bubbles are very delicate and smooth, it is alive with acidity, very mouthwatering.

Pairing: Fantastic  with fresh raspberries, While I did like the potato chips and wanted fried chicken with the Champagne Roederer, it is this wine that I really yearn for that. The humus with the basil olive oil really brings out the fruit in the wine while bringing out the nuttiness in the humus. Sue thought it was fantastic with the brie but I found it to be a bit rich and creamy together.

Louis Roederer Champagne  Brut Premier Reims
12% alcohol – SRP $52
purchased on sale at Vons
Blend: 40% Pinot noir, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier,

“We are in awe of Nature’s magic, and we strive to serve her as best we can in order to reproduce some of this magic in our wines,” says Frédéric Rouzaud, CEO pf Roederer.

Appearance: Lemon, bubbles attach to the outside of the glass with the small delicate bubbles rising up through the bottom of the glass.

Nose: Apple, apple danish, some brioche, very light yeast, clean minerals, lemon citrus finish

Palate: bright and tart up front, creamy rolling across the palate, smooth, bright citrus

Pairing: Nice with our humus drizzled with basil olive oil, the two glide across the palate and finish with a lingering mineral finish. Great with creamy brie. Brie with a raspberry is nice as well. Fantastic with the fried salami, was good with regularly slice salami as well, but fried is so much better. Loves potatoes chips as well, yearning for fried chicken.

There is so much minerality in this wine, it really tastes of the sea, reminding us of the earth from which the wine came offering a salinity without being salty.

We found the California Roederer to be much heavier and heady. The Champagne Roederer was alive and vibrant. Some of this is terroir but some of this is also price.

In case you’re not familiar with “Song of Myself,” the poem is long, with 52 stanzas, one for each week of the year. It begins

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.


and it ends…



The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,

It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
Congratulations once again to the 2020 US Blind Wine Tasting Team!
Wishing you the best in the World Wine Tasting Challenge in October!



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