Story & Photos by Laura Weeks
See, stir, smell, sip, swish.
That’s how Bradley Roof, an accounting and wine studies professor, drinks his wine.
First, he holds the glass against white paper to observe the wine’s color. Next, gripping the glass by its stem, he stirs the liquid vigorously, activating its flavor and aroma. Then, inhaling deeply, he raises the glass to his nose until the bridge touches the rim of the glass. Last, he takes a sip, swishing it around like mouthwash.
In minutes, he can identify the type of wine, where its grapes were grown and whether it was aged in an oak barrel.
But don’t ask Roof what his favorite wine is. He has 29.
Roof, 62, is one of 300 certified wine professionals in the world (200 in the United States), a distinction awarded to those who pass the Culinary Institute of America’s rigorous two-and-a-half hour exam. In his 2008 graduating class of 30 students, he was one of four to succeed.
“I probably study wine many, many more times than I drink it,” says Roof, who’s collected more than 800 bottles of wine from around the world (what he calls a “little stash”) since graduating from the American Graduate School of International Management in 1973.
With a passion for wine as strong as a vintage cabernet sauvignon, Roof is constantly learning as much about it as he can.
“If you really want to be knowledgeable about wine, you can’t do it just by drinking,” says Roof, who recommends “The Wine Bible” by Karen MacNeil. “You have to read.”
Roof is also trained in wine-making, skilled in grafting (joining two vines together to get the best of each) and blending different types of wines.
To prepare for the wine certification exam, Roof created his own review program and studied 15 hours a week for about 11 months. He then traveled to California’s Napa Valley to take the test, which consisted of 120 multiple-choice questions and three essays based on blind tastings.
To add to the challenge of a timed blind tasting, Roof has a nasal deviated septum, a disorder that impairs the ability to taste.
“It was the part of my test I was most nervous about,” Roof says.
To overcome this, Roof tried to warm the glasses in his hands to stimulate the flavors of each wine.
During the written portion of the exam, wine was poured from carafes instead of bottles, which can sometimes indicate the type of wine inside. The first wine he knew just by looking at it: a chardonnay from Monterey County in California. While he incorrectly guessed the second wine — a soft cabernet sauvignon from California’s Alexander Valley — he nailed its geographic location within 10 miles. The third — a bold cabernet sauvignon from France’s Northern Rhône Valley — he recognized only from having read about it.
“As soon as I took one sip, I knew exactly what it was,” says Roof, who detected the wine’s roasted, meatlike aroma. “It was like an epiphany.”
Despite having wrongly identified the second wine, Roof left the exam feeling confident.
As soon as I took one sip, I knew exactly what it was. It was like an epiphany.
“The whole way driving down through Monterey and the Salinas Valley, there was a full moon right out the driver’s window that was coming up the horizon,” Roof says. “I looked at it and thought, ‘I bet I passed. This has got to be a sign.’ ”
His first experience with wine was equally serendipitous. After graduating from college, he traveled to Zermatt, Switzerland, a small town located at the foot of the country’s highest peaks.
While waiting for his train, he grabbed dinner — a selection of cheese fondue — and a bottle of Chasselas, a full, dry and fruity white wine. Roof was so impressed by the way the wine complemented the meal, he thought, “There must be more to this wine stuff than meets the eye.”
Soon, his collection was born, and he now stores hundreds of wine bottles in his basement. He recently opened one that was more than 30 years old.
“I call it ‘an entertainment cellar,’ because regardless of what we’re doing at home or what we’re eating, I have a wine down there to go with it,” Roof says.
Because of his certification, Roof was a natural choice for teaching the hospitality and tourism management program’s beverage management class, according to Michael O’Fallon, interim director of the School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management.
This is Roof’s second year instructing the class, which covers everything from growing grapes, surveying wines from around the world and learning how to properly pair and cook food with wine. Last year, Roof and his students tasted 50 different wines.
Keara Mahan, a senior hospitality and tourism management major, hopes the class will prepare her for a career in planning events at country clubs.
“Wherever I go in the hospitality and tourism industry, wine is going to pop up,” says Mahan, who’s looking forward to learning how to pair wines with food. “Hopefully, I’ll be planning events that deal with full menus and wine menus. Being able to give advice on which wines go with which food is going to help me.”
Knowing the ins and outs of wine is becoming increasingly important in the industry, according to O’Fallon.
“At the end of the semester, we’re seeing that our students have not only a better understanding of wines and the regions they come from, but how to pair them with the proper food to make the experience better for a guest,” O’Fallon says.
Roof has also led an independent study course to help students become certified wine specialists. Candidates for this test, which involves wine knowledge only (no tastings), typically have five-to-seven years of experience in the wine industry and are between 30 and 35 years old. These candidates have a pass rate of about 40 percent.
“I told my students, ‘About two weeks before the test, you’re going to hate wine. You’re going to wish you never heard of it. You’re going to hate me — and if you’re at that point, you’re getting there,” Roof says.
Roof’s students, freshly 21 years old and with little-to-no experience in the wine industry, had a 68 percent pass rate.
Besides teaching credibility, Roof’s certification also allows him some level of exclusive access to wineries and vineyards around the world. On a recent trip to Napa and Sonoma valleys, Roof only paid one tasting fee.
“They recognize that this is a real wine person,” says Roof, who has two business cards — one for his positions at JMU and one specifically for his wine accreditations. “A lot of places would go get their wine-maker or winery manager to have them conduct the tasting for [me].”
Though he’s traveled the world tasting wine, Roof also recognizes Virginia’s wine scene, stressing the importance of local vineyards like CrossKeys and Bluestone.
“Great wine is made in the vineyards,” Roof says. “The world’s greatest wine-maker can’t take bad grapes and make good wine.”