A Sommelier Flies

On my 50 Before 50 list sits an ambitious task of completing the coveted P3/APPI Certification course in Paragliding. Recently, I finished my initial seven days course and graduated the P2 Open Sky Pilot program with Temple Pilots. And what an experience it was. Efficient, experienced, and uber-cool instructors, carrying inevitable passion towards the joy of flying and seeing others fly, an awesome gathering of people from different walks of lives with amazing tales to share, all set up in a home-like environment, away from the bustle of the Pune city. A week of great camaraderie, team spirit, and whole-hearted assistance in succeeding as a group, not just individually. And, for a change, being on the flip side of the room as a student kicked in a bit of kiddish liveliness and notoriousness as well.

Plausibility of following paragliding crossed many times during my UNESCO travels last year. The wish to go high in the sky, seeing the world from a different angle that not everyone can afford, being disconnected from the man-made, and the sheer joy of living the moments only through your senses is an emotion unexplainable. My treks and safaris have only added to my thirst of experiencing nature a tad closely and differently, and paragliding satiates that too.

Being a sommelier and a wine educator, I found various aspects of the sport identical to those of tasting the elixir. And as the days went by, the idea only consolidated, further assuring the premise of my attraction towards the sport. So, what is it that flying high on a glider and swirling and sniffing wines have in common

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ANYONE IS ABLE

नास्ति अयोग्यःपुरुषो – there is no person who is not able

There’s no doubt that everyone deserve their rights of good living. Wines, one of the finest joys of gastronomy and life, are intimidating at first but once befriended they stick by your side. If you’re willing to learn they will come to you. I didn’t know if flying held the same principle and if everyone could have a go at it. But once I decided to dive in, by mere day two, I was flying solo, yes, just two days!! Now, I wasn’t no expert yet but so ain’t I with wines even after more than a decade in to the discipline. Yes you have a tough time at first in the outdoors with sun, dust, rocks, wounds, scratches, falls, and sudden lifts, but beyond that lies the sweet glory of making pals with the wind and soaring like a bird. No matter who or what you are, the goodness of flying is for everyone.

LIVE THROUGH YOUR SENSES

There is a portion of decades-old wine sitting in the glass, you close your eyes, sniff it, roll it gently on your palate. It draws a picture of a grandfather checking on his bottle’s health while his grandson pulls the corner of his jacket and asks “when will we drink it Grampa”. The old man smiles and replies “Patience, my boy, patience, for when we will open it, it will leave us speechless”. Those few seconds of living that 100ml portion of wine through your senses empowers you to travel in time and see the old man and his kiddo having a chat. Disconnected from the tangible world, you feel and emote, let your imagination and senses take over, and in return it leaves a faint smile on your face. Paragliding has the same power. How often do you pause in your busy daily lives and feel the smoothness, direction, and the cool of the wind? When did the wind take you in its lap and threw you high in the air, completely stripping away all your pretence, exposing the inner you? When did you last felt so alive that it left you carelessly yelling in plain excitement? Unleash the power of your senses and ‘LIVE’ for a bit.

NATURAL CONNECTION

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Pavna Dam

Nature’s powerful and nurturing. Go to nature and it will feed you, provide shelter, and send you back much enriched than you came. And much like your parent’s love, there’s nothing purer than nature’s beauty and its offerings. Anyone who has been to a wine region can appreciate its beauty and sights it offers – well arranged rows of neatly trimmed vines on sun-kissed plush green hill-slopes, all that facing an elegantly drifting river with altering hues as the sun sinks. Pavana Dam, the site we mostly flew at during the course offered an equally alluring sight each afternoon. We faced a quickly rising pointed creek afront with the water from the lake separating us, its banks dotting some of the fanciest bungalows that can be spotted amidst these shaved dusty hills, over which we hovered each afternoon. Each day we flew into the sunset. It is impossible to take nature away from the two, and if you do, its essence is challenged, isn’t it? What humans create may have fault, but nature is flawless. Come to nature, let it define the purity and virtues of living…

NO TWO FLIGHTS ARE THE SAME

Even if from the same country, region, sub-region, plot, year, same batch and lot, no two wines can ever be the same. Various elements come together to form a wine and its experience. It’s a natural produce, not industrial. Likewise, no two flights will ever be the same, even if from the same site, similar winds, direction, duration, with the same glider, harness, and time of the day. Each time you launch yourself in the volley of nature, nature will teach you a new lesson, leaving you humbled. And much like one couldn’t have ever tasted all wines in the world, there’ll always be more experiences to be had, more sites to launch yourself from. Limits seize to exist.

THEORY MAKES IT BETTER

‘Enjoy the sausage, don’t ask how it is made’

There are certain things that are simply enjoyed and then there’re things that are enjoyed better with a deeper understanding. Wines and paragliding sit in the latter school of thought. Though both may be 80-90% experiential, but it is the firm foundation of theoretical understanding that can enhance their tactile pleasure. We did slog on the grounds each morning and afternoons, but the complimenting classroom study did create the spinal chord around which the meat of our flying experiences was wrapped. When senses shut down, theory is what we fall back on, ain’t it so?

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LOGS LIKE TASTING NOTES

No serious wine taster would ever be seen without a tiny secret scribble book called a tasting book or journal. It hold years of tasting notes and snippets of valuable knowledge gathered from unimaginable sources. A taster’s efficiency can easily be gauged by their proficiency in writing tasting notes and drawing conclusions from them. Similarly, each pilot is incomplete without his log book and its excerpts are a window in to his experience. Each log can stimulate a pilots flights, much like how a tasting note can do for a wine. There’s some joy in geekily dissecting a wine’s every fibre and boasting how one taster in the group tasted better than others, of course with friendly bantering and leg-pulling. Such is the scene every morning in debrief sessions where every pilot’s flights are analysed. No one ever tastes and flies perfect, there’s a learning every time one picks up a glass of wine or gets in to a harness.

CAN’T BE ENJOYED ALONE

Good wines deserve good company. Drinking a discerning bottle of wine alone, with no conversations, discussions, and laughter is barbaric, if not worse. It is like getting a wine ready and embracing itself for 20 years and killing it on the first date night. Who does that? Flying alone in the sky is exactly the same. What’s the fun in flying alone in these endless skies, in not appreciating the sights together, no one to find each time to take a turn or bust a manoeuvre, in no one anticipating and lauding your perfect landing? Try your hand at kiting alone in low winds or packing the canopy into the wind once and you’ll feel like crying for company for sure. Like a good wine, a good flight deserves company. After all, both take you on a high and it’s better when someone accompanies your infected laughter.

THINK LONG THINK WRONG

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Blind tasting wines is a secret pleasure of every taster and sommelier. Letting your own senses and memory battle inwards, with just a tiny dram on offer, concluding the exact location, soil composition, oak influences, blend, and vintage has its own geeky pleasure and pride. Yes, we do that!! A simple rule can bring you home everyday though – Think Long, Think Wrong. Stay calm and just connect the dots and chances are you’ll be correct majority of times. Gliding has its theory and feel too. On my first soaring session, I flew high and realised my radio had failed. I was left with no guidance whatsoever. I did panic and utilised all the manoeuvres in the book. When everything failed, I realised nothing is working because I ditched the elementary rule, I thought too much. The moment I let go of the brakes, I saw drawing myself closer to the ground, which may not be exactly how one descends, but it worked!! Let your senses and memory not battle, bring them together and they will guarantee your success.

Now who cares if wines and paragliding have commonalities or not, if they are actually similar in nature or if I made it sound so. You won’t enjoy a glass of wine better if you can glide well, and there’s no paragliding community that boasts its tasting prowess. The two are miles apart and definitely shouldn’t be mixed. Even if mixed, these two pleasures of life must never be missed.

Happy flying…

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