“Wine is a grocery, not a luxury.”

This is how Master Sommelier and author Richard Betts introduced himself to a group of dedicated wine lovers at Santa Barbara’s Natural History Museum this past Wednesday. His words may sound controversial — blasphemous, even — to your average wine aficionado, but they form the creed of a wine expert whose credentials precede him.

One of only nine people to pass the Master Sommelier exam on the first attempt, Betts has spent the past 10 years directing beverage programs and co-founding reputable wine labels around the country. He traded in a promising environmental law career for a far riskier (and tastier) calling in the world of wine and spirits. And now he’s starting to write it all down.

Betts was in Santa Barbara to sign copies of his new book, The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, and to host a tasting that reflected its casual and refreshing approach to learning about wine. Resident wine buff Brian McClintic (another Master Sommerlier, and co-founder of Les Marchands Wine Bar at 131 Anacapa St.) provided wine for the event and expanded on Betts’ highly pragmatic and unpretentious philosophy. According to the experts (or at least these two), wine should be more fun.

“The point of this book is to democratize wine — to make it seem less fanciful and more approachable,” said Betts. “We wanted it to be different from the majority of wine books already out there. Those tend to be too thick, too dense, and too imposing for the average wine drinker.”

At first glance, his 10-page book — heavy with illustrations and interactive “scratch and sniff” stickers — is anything but imposing. You might expect to find it wedged between tattered copies of Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And yet, the pages reveal themselves rife with expert information — concise and to the point — and the stickers have a mysterious tendency to smell exactly like their nominations. Or maybe that was just the wine. Whatever the case, we’re sold on this whole “wine is fun” thing.


Check out Richard Betts on Twitter here.


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