Or, specifically, what is a maenad? If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t fret. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “maenad” is defined as:
1. Bacchante: a priestess or female follower of Bacchus.
2. An unnaturally excited or distraught woman.
Other sources define the term as a drunken reveler, or a female follower of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. Maenads were said to roam the wilderness and perform ecstatic dances while under the influence of their deity, and, less pleasantly, were known to whack men who offended them with a thyrsus, or pine cone staff. Maenads had two modes: jolly day drinking or enraged frenzy, and they had a thing for leopard print.
Don’t worry! I don’t own a thyrsus, nor do I dance semi-nude in the forest. I don’t feast on raw meat (with the exception of sushi). I usually don’t wear leopard print. So why do I call myself a maenad? I may not worship Dionysus or his Roman counterpart Bacchus, but a good portion of my professional and personal life revolves around wine. I am a woman who gets unnaturally excited about wine—studying regional maps, tasting new vintages, traveling to vineyards, and yes, occasionally getting tipsy and making merry mischief with my friends—so perhaps the name is fitting.
I wasn’t always this way. I wasn’t raised around wine or people who drank it. My zsia zsia (grandfather) drank vodka, my dad drank beer and whiskey, and my mom drank the occasional glass of Chardonnay but didn’t put too much thought into it. As a child I didn’t tiptoe through my parents’ wine cellar or frolic amongst the vines on a familial estate in California wine country.
I didn’t realize that the word “sommelier” could refer to someone other than a French butler or a royal attendant who taste-tested the king’s beverages for poison until a few years ago.
At university, I flip-flopped majors between Biology, Linguistics, Psychology, and Liberal Arts before finally settling on a degree in English Literature and History. Back then, Boone’s Farm or bargain bin White Zinfandel were more my style than Rioja Gran Reserva or Chateau Margaux. After graduating I became a teacher, but I eventually realized that my passion lay elsewhere. So how did a nice Texas girl like me get mixed up in the bacchanalia?
Three years ago I started attending wine tastings at a local Renaissance Faire. There, I met my first sommelier, Glenn Boswell, aka Flynn. (For those who don’t know, “sommelier” is a fancy word for a wine steward, someone who knows way too much about wine and makes a living because of it.) I didn’t know it at the time but he would become my friend and mentor. His wine tastings opened my eyes to the world of wine, and the multitude of career paths that branch off from it. Wine became my passion.
One night, while curled up with a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and The World Atlas of Wine, I had an epiphany. Language, culture, geography, history, biology, ecology—and yes, even psychology—all intersect in the study and service of wine. Sommeliers and other wine professionals inhabit a lovely interdisciplinary crossroads, and I longed to tread those paths. In other words, I wanted in on the party.
I embarked on an intense self-directed study course and registered with the Court of Master Sommeliers. I passed the introductory course with flying colors. Since then I’ve worked in various restaurants and bars, tried hundreds of wines, met wonderful people, and landed myself a job as beverage manager at a local wine bar.
I’m still new to this, but I’ve come a long way in the past few years, and I still have a long way to go. My journey is only just beginning, and there are so many paths to take. So, I invite you to come with me. I can’t promise an ecstatic frenzy of moonlit dancing or trysts with the gods of the vine, but it will be fun. We’ll try a lot of wines, explore the world of wine as an outsider-turned-insider, share real talk about the service industry, travel to places far and near, and we may even learn something in the process.
You don’t need to carry a thyrsus or wear leopard print. Unless you want to.