Competition – Jeannie Boutelle


Jeannie Boutelle is in the retail wine department of Eataly Chicago, is a wine writer and educator and has a blog Traveling By The Glass. This is her (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition

So many people have written about these amazing moments when their wine flames were lit. I had no major moment but had not realized that my wine flame had been lit, just a tiny spark, when I was a child. 

My father was an atomic reactor salesman. Yes, they did exist at one point in the 60s and he would come home with all these airplane tags from cities all over the world. I was enthralled with all these, to me, exotic places that he visited. As a salesman, he developed a taste for wining and dining and for every holiday, he would pour a glass of a French red, I think, probably, a Bordeaux wine. For Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, the only time we ate in our formal dining room, pouring wine was a part of the occasion. Little did I know, but my father had a decent size wine cellar in his large basement workshop. Starting around the age of 9 or 10, I was allowed to sip, just a little wine, with my holiday meals. My parents looked at wine as a part of the meal. These meals lit the wine ember in me, although I didn’t realize it then.

Life happens and my father died of a heart attack in the middle of the night at our home when I was 13. In the years following his death, every holiday, my mother would ceremoniously bring up a bottle of French red from “his wines” in the basement and serve it to my brothers and I. This ritual went on during the emotionally wrought holiday meals through high school and college. I never really thought to venture down to the cellar to look at the wines in the wine rack, but I always loved the taste of these wines. Now I wish I could time travel back to look at the labels on those wines. They weren’t stored correctly and I am sure had turned during one of the hot Connecticut summers. But in this day and age where certain wines have turned into currency and investments, it would be fun to know what lurked in that cellar while my father was alive.

During a semester abroad at Dartmouth I studied in Blois, near Tours, I came home in love with Vouvray. During business school at NYU in my semester abroad in Niigata, Japan I was able to find a drinkable white wine at the tiny local, convenience shop that I bicycled to. As a bond salesperson on Wall Street, I took customers out to dinner and we ordered French Bordeaux and Napa Cabs. Moving to Chicago and working for a bank, I was able to take wine bike trips and came home from Tuscany in love with Brunello and came back from Burgundy in love with Les Amoureuses and Bonnes Mares. My attraction to wine was instinctual from that ember lit in childhood.

Only recently, as I have found achievement and challenge with the Wine Scholar Guild programs and now the WSET Diploma path, have I really had my wine goggles on and said “aha”, I love wine. Now in wine retail, I have a chance to spark that ember, I hadn’t realized was in me, in other people. Guests think of their trips to Tuscany as they meander down the aisle looking at Chianti Classicos and it brings up happy memories. People, who have never ventured to Sicily, like me, can still purchase a wine from there and think of sunny places.

Through the endless, evolving path of wine study I am constantly learning new things, I look in my glass and most wines evoke a place, evoke a sentiment, evoke a happy emotion which is how I came up with the name for my blog, Traveling By the Glass. I have come to realize I have been in love with wine most of my life and didn’t know it.