I wish I’d taken up fly-fishing years ago. By now I would have logged enough hours on rivers, lakes and streams to be proficient, maybe even an expert.
I’m often asked how much time it takes to develop expertise about wine. I’m afraid at times that I’m too close to the subject and cringe at being called an expert. Why? Because while I do have 30-some years of experience with writing about and tasting wine, I’m also keenly aware of what I don’t know and how much I learn every day. It’s one of those the-more-you-know, the-less-you-know realizations.
With wine, many of my colleagues are great at what they do and have vast knowledge about wine and the individual beats they cover. I know many masters of wine and master sommeliers. To earn either of those degrees, you not only have to be dedicated, passionate, a keen student and precise taster, but you also need to pass a test. I know many people who are extremely knowledgeable and experienced with wine, who I consider experts in their field, who have been unable to pass the MW test. (It includes both essays on a wide range of topics and blind tastings). I’ve never taken the test, but like I said, I already realize there’s a lot I don’t know about wine.
So how much time, or how many hours does it take to master wine? Or fly-fishing? Or golf? The answer seems to be 10,000 hours, by several accounts.
I’ve browsed through a couple of business books (Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, and Talent Is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin) which address this matter. Bottom line: Experts are not fundamentally smarter than the rest of us; they just work harder and smarter and apply themselves to the fullest.
I’m also aware of this number courtesy of my colleague, Matt Kramer, who wrote about this in Wine Spectator, referencing another book, This Is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin, who happens to be an expert on cognitive psychology.
I’d never thought of mastery in terms of hours logged. But if you want to join the ranks of the elite, be it music, sports, chess or fly-fishing, well, you’ve got to put in the time with a devout dedication to learning the subject matter inside out. Once you get there, though, you’ll discover how much more there is to learn.