Member Profile: Karla Barber
Karla Barber, WWS Technology Director and President of WWS Dallas, has turned her love of wine into a career as owner of Fine Wine Gatherings. Newsletter editor Carolyn Kourofsky asked her about her inspiration and experiences.
What inspired you to move from a wine aficionado to making it your profession?
I had a long career (22 years) with a large high tech company. In 1994 I decided to retire, I wasn't sure what my next 'career' would be. One day while driving the idea of becoming a sommelier struck me. My passion for wine developed over several years; first a honeymoon trip to Napa Valley and then while living in Taipei, Taiwan my landlord introduced me to fine French wines. I was, and still am, intrigued by all there is to know about wine. I love the process of learning and wine is a vast topic to study. I have also always enjoyed teaching. So, it was a natural step to start teaching once my wine knowledge was at a level that made me 'expert' enough to teach.
Tell us a little about the Diploma exam for the International Sommelier Guild.
The ISG Diploma level exam consists of six parts; a 200 question multiple choice exam, a ten question long essay exam, a 2 question short essay exam on service and storage, a blind tasting exam (42 wines), a service exam where you are required to demonstrate proper service for both still and sparkling wines, and a practicum project that consists of developing a full restaurant concept including food menu and wine list.
How did you study for it?
Studying for the exam requires a near obsession with reading, studying and memorizing wine facts. I made a lot of flashcards, rewrote pages and pages of notes, met regularly with a study group. I met frequently with my fellow classmates to practice blind tasting of wines. I also had a small group that met to practice the service exam. I open wine all the time, but the idea of being critiqued on a very specific set of service standards created a lot of anxiety for me.
The practicum project required many hours of research. I elected to create a wine list made up entirely of sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines. That was a little more ambitious than I initially realized; but it was fun. Preparing for the exam also requires a lot of understanding and patience from your family. I think they were happy when all the piles of notes and books were finally stored neatly on the bookshelf.
What do you like best about conducting Fine Wine Gatherings educational wine seminars and wine tastings?
I love teaching - the process of helping others build their knowledge and understanding is very satisfying. I particularly enjoy teaching students how to 'taste' wine and write a proper technical wine note. Helping my students really tune into their palate and describe what they smell and taste is fun. It's also the area of wine study that I think a teacher can impact the most.
How has Women for WineSense helped you in your new wine career?
Building the Dallas chapter has helped me make many connections in the wine industry. I teach Sommelier classes, but I am not a 'working' sommelier. Women for WineSense has provided me with an avenue to better understand the wine industry and to build my credibility.
What advice would you give others who are considering a wine career?
If you are interested in pursuing a career in wine - you need to love the topic of wine and you need to love getting to know people.