Chat with Liz Thach, MW
Distinguished Professor of Wine, Sonoma State University
What drew you into the wine world—nature, science, art, business or something altogether different?
Nature, for the most part. I grew up with a love of the wild, most likely because my father is a wildlife biologist. So the beauty of a vineyard is very attractive to me, but I also am in awe of the trilogy of Mother Nature, science and art that come together in crafting a great bottle of wine.
How would you describe the main thread that weaves together your talents and interests—teaching, judging, consulting and writing?
The main thread is writing. Sometime I feel I cannot breathe without writing; however, it can be very frustrating when the words do not flow. Teaching is also a great joy. Interacting with my students gives me energy and keeps me young. Wine judging and consulting are nice benefits of being a wine professor, writer and researcher.
You have visited the major wine regions of the world. How does Sonoma County compare?
There are so many beautiful wine regions of the world. Some which stand out for me are South Africa, Argentina, Central Otago in New Zealand, Bandol in France, Piemonte in Italy, and the Kakheti Valley in Georgia. However, when it comes to pure beauty, friendliness and great wine, there is no place more beautiful than the Sonoma-Napa region of California.
What is one of your favorite memories in which wine was involved?
Most of my great memories with wine involve sitting down with friends for a long lazy meal with several bottles of wine. I still remember a 5-hour lunch in St. Emilion, France where we drank incredible red Bordeaux with stuffed river eel—a specialty of the region. There is something about bringing together wine, too, and friends (even people you don’t know, who will become friends by the end of the meal) that can create the most sublime times in life filled with joy, beauty and living completely in the moment.
You are a full-time professor of Wine Business and Management at Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute. What is the most important lesson you have shared with your students?
I think one of the most important lessons of the global wine industry is that it truly is one big family. Where most of the world is six degrees of separation, wine is two. You will always find someone who knows someone else who can introduce you. Therefore networking is very important, and never burning any bridges. It is also important to recognize that wine attracts very passionate and talented people, but at the same time you must work very hard to make a profit.
You were also appointed the first-ever F. Korbel & Brothers Professor in Wine Business, and last year were awarded the first-ever CSU title of Distinguished Professor of Wine. How have these appointments furthered your department’s vision to be the global leader in wine business education?
Both titles have been a great honor, and I am very grateful for visionaries in our local wine industry, such as Gary Heck, CEO of Korbel, who have helped to propel SSU’s Wine Business program forward from a small local one to one that now has global recognition. As I write this, I’m in Europe visiting with wine professors from universities in France and Germany to discuss additional partnership opportunities. This is because part of my role as Distinguished Professor of Wine is to serve as a global wine business ambassador for SSU.
Upon being awarded the Master of Wine title in 2011, you received the prestigious title of being the first female MW on the West Coast. Please explain the role of MWs to those who aren’t involved in the wine industry, and share how this designation opened your eyes to the global wine industry.
Obtaining the title of Master of Wine (MW) was one of the most challenging processes I have ever completed. Considered to be the most rigorous wine exam in the world, taking four days to complete during which you must taste and identify 36 wines blind and write 13 wine essays, there are only 40 MWs in the US, compared to 147 Master Sommeliers (MS). Becoming an MW has provided many more opportunities for me, and it has allowed me to expand my global wine knowledge, which I can then share with my students and community.
What remains on your professional and/or personal “bucket list?”
Even though I have visited 37 countries to date, there are still new wine regions that I want to explore and new wines to taste. This is one of the joys of wine—it never gets boring! For example, I still want to visit the wine regions of India and Thailand.
Tell us about your hobby vineyard and garagiste winemaking?
One of my life-long dreams was to plant a vineyard and make a little wine, so in 2002 I installed a small hobby vineyard of 120 vines on the foothills of Sonoma Mountain in the Petaluma Gap region. I make Pinot Noir, a rosé of Pinot Noir and a little Sauvignon Blanc. Several of my neighbors also have hobby vineyards, so we pooled our money and purchased winemaking equipment, which we share. The best part is the rotating dinners we host, where we tour each other’s vineyards and then sit down to a very fun and lively evening to try our different wines and share a potluck.
What recommendations do you have for wine and food to enjoy during the holidays?
I’m one of those people who believe people should drink the wine they love, and not get stressed over what food to pair it with. According to Tim Hanni, MW, just add the right seasoning to the food and it can go with any wine.
One of my favorite discoveries upon moving to Sonoma was the tradition of having Dungeness crab with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I had never done this before, and I love crab, so now I always buy several crabs and make crab cakes as an appetizer, which I serve with local sparkling wine, and then also make crab bisque for one of the courses and serve this with a light Pinot Noir. Heavenly! SD