“This is about the fusion of two passions,” says French instructor and wine enthusiast Allison Weems, explaining the inspiration behind her new continuing education series, Sip and Speak.
The Asheville French School founder approached Metro Wines owners Gina Trippi and John Kerr earlier this year with the idea of offering in-store classes exploring basic language skills and regional wines of France. So far, classes have been a hit, with the store’s certified specialist of wine, Andy Hale, calling the pairing “the perfect marriage.”
“It’s like a virtual trip,” says Weems, describing her classes. For eight consecutive weeks, Weems covers a new region, from which Hale presents several wines. “We talk about the history of the grape itself and the history of the region,” says Weems, who bases her lesson content on Hale’s selections.
According to Tippi, the lessons are a casual alternative for adults who may be intimidated by studying in a more formal classroom environment. “It’s a good, comfortable atmosphere,” she affirms.
Intermediate student Gary Gress couldn’t agree more. “Parlant français avec un verre de vin est la combinaison parfaite!” he says. (Translation: “Speaking French with a glass of wine is the perfect combination!”)
“I try to get the students talking,” says Weems, who also supplements her skillset with native speakers’ input and encourages pupils to manipulate the language in creative ways.
For Weems, the classes are about breaking down inhibitions that prevent many adults from pursuing a second language. “I believe that everybody can learn to speak a language,” says the doctoral graduate, “I started as a freshmen in college. I didn’t even know how to say ‘bonjour.’” The former student will transition to the other side of the desk though, teaching French at Western Carolina University next Spring.
“She is so much more than just someone who speaks fluent French,” says Hale of the vibrancy Weems brings to each meeting, “she is a bundle of energy.”
Sip and Speak covered the regions of Loire Valley and Alsace in weeks one and two. Up next are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc, Rhone Valley, Provence and Champagne. Hale is excited to share obscure wine selections and organic varieties with students over the course of the series. On Friday evening, Oct. 10, he even hosted an in-store Skype presentation by Michele d’Aprix, the only female American winemaker in Bordeaux.
“We’ve really opened our doors to the community,” says Trippi, adding that Metro Wines also holds birthday parties, community issue meetings and benefit events. French classes fit right into the mix, especially since many Metro Wines customers have an interest in traveling to the wine mecca.
Beginner classes are held Sundays at 4 p.m., and intermediate classes are Thursdays at 6 p.m. Individual classes last 90 minutes, cost $25 and include complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres. Interested pupils can visit metrowinesasheville.com or call 575-9525 for more information on French classes and Metro Wines’ other events.