Brittany Barton could rescue you in the event of a scuba emergency, defibrillate you, fly you to the destination of your choice, transact your next home purchase, detangle a hospitality snafu, and suggest the perfect wine with dinner. As a certified rescue scuba diver, emergency first responder, pilot, real estate agent, hospitality law certificate-holder, and sommelier, Barton’s interests are numerous and varied. This avid sailor will soon have her captain’s license as well.
“I find something I like and I learn it,” said Barton, who’s been working as a bartender in first-class San Diego resorts for the last seven years. “I’m currently working at the La Jolla Shores Hotel, an amazing beachfront resort owned by the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. My office has a 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean. I tell all my friends back home that I have the window office.”
The journey toward her most recent achievement – certified sommelier – began in the Business of Wine Professional Certificate program at SDSU’s College of Extended Studies.
What was your objective in taking SDSU’s Business of Wine program?
When I started the program, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of it. I only knew that I loved wine and wanted to know more. This program has opened my mind to an entire world I knew nothing about. The intensive classes are my way of vicariously traveling the world. I can’t get enough. Not only have the courses given me a huge edge as a bartender, but they’ve given me lots of great ideas on further advancing my career in wine and hospitality.
Which courses did you take?
So far I completed intensives in Australian, California, Spanish, and French wines. Exploring Wine was an amazing introductory course, and I’ve also taken Wine List Creation and The Character of Wine. The courses helped me pass the introductory-level sommelier exam and I plan on continuing to take classes long after I complete the Business of Wine certificate. I still have three classes to finish the program, but there are always new classes available.
How did the program meet your expectations?
The program has far exceeded my expectations. It would have been impossible to get these results out of a book on my own. I wouldn’t have known where to start. These classes are so much more than just memorizing information to pass a test. Each class takes you beyond the surface and really helps develop an understanding of cultures, geography, and history of the region of study. The instructors bring so much passion and personal experience into their teachings that I walk out of class feeling like I was just in France.
How did you find out about the program?
My employer recommended the program and even paid for my first class. They know the value of knowledgeable staff and want to provide our guests with the best experience possible. The class is not mandatory but at least seven of my coworkers have taken the step and started their wine education as well.
What do you think are the program’s biggest strengths?
By far the depth of knowledge and experience of the instructors. They’re amazing. We’re talking about some of the industry’s most influential, long-standing, top players. They come from different backgrounds from all corners of the world and they’re masters in their field. It’s not often we get a chance to sit down in a room with these legends and get a real look into their world of wine.
Can you share some pearls of wisdom you learned about wine or the wine-making process?
When pairing wine with dessert, make sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert. If the dessert is sweeter, it will cancel out the sweetness of the wine and turn it into a bitter acid-bomb (sort of like toothpaste and orange juice). Also, it’s OK to drink a glass of wine with lunch! It’s normal practice throughout Europe (my personal favorite).
How do you plan on applying the knowledge from this certificate to your career?
I want to host the coolest wine parties in town. Whether it’s a party for my friends and family or just another night bartending, it’s taken my hosting abilities to a whole new level. Most recently I’ve been enjoying having friends out on my sailboat for sunset wine tasting and dinner cruises. As a bartender, I’m really able to understand what my guests are looking for and help them get the most out of their dining experience. This class has opened many doors for advancement in the wine industry.
Did you make any networking connections?
Yes! In one of my classes the instructor brought in a local winemaker to talk about some of the newest practices and trends. Very interesting presentation. A couple months later while I was at the sommelier exam, I was a bit of a loner. Most of my peers had come with friends or work-sponsored groups and I was there on my own. Toward the end of the first day, I found a familiar face. It was the winemaker from school! I walked over and introduced myself and told him how great his presentation had been. For the rest of the exam process he was sort of my buddy, a friend to run questions by and create a little bit of a team feel. I have made many, many networking connections through the course but this one really stood out for me.
How convenient was it to fit the courses into your schedule?
I really liked that the classes were just a few weeks or less. Enough time to absorb the information without creating any conflict with day-to-day life. The majority of people taking this course are working professionals. Everyone would get to class at 6 pm feeling like they needed a nap and by the end of class everyone is giggling, asking questions, and seriously excited about the information they’ve just learned. Whether it’s at a party or in a classroom, wine is fun!
Would you recommend the SDSU’s Business of Wine program to others?
I already have! I recommend this program to anyone who has any interest in wine – from the novice wine drinker to the veteran bartender to the couple starting up their own vineyard. The world of wine is vast and there is something for everyone.