Blind California wine taster sipping and sniffing his way to fame

A northern California blind man has used his heightened sense of taste and smell to become one of the region's best wine testers. Justin Sullivan / Getty Image

DAVIS, Calif. – Hoby Wedler was born blind and curious 27 years ago.

He’s used those two traits — and a refined sense of smell and taste — to develop an expert palette that is garnering rave reviews in California’s wine region.

The Sacramento Bee reported Sunday that Wedler’s monthly “Tasting in the Dark” series at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery is growing in popularity. Participants are blindfolded and asked to taste and judge wine like Wedler does.

“He’s bringing a new dimension to our field and getting people to look at wine in a different way. It’s breaking down barriers,” said Corey Beck, president and director of winemaking at the Geyserville winery.

“Here’s somebody who’s blind, and he’s better at describing the wine than 99.9 per cent of the winemakers out there.”

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He’s been asked to put his palette to work tasting beer and food as well. The Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico sold out a “Tasting in the Dark” beer tasting event hosted by Wedler.

His sense of smell is so heightened that he can know what various intersections in Davis smell like. The city itself, Wedler says, smells like alfalfa.

“I pay a lot of attention to detail,” Wedler said. “I’ve always loved relying on my sense of smell to tell me where I am. I don’t think it’s better than anyone else’s, but I focus on smell and hearing to get around, so in that sense, they are enhanced because I rely on them more.”

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Wedler works and studies 110 hours a week earning a chemistry doctorate from the University of California, Davis and operating a non-profit that conducts three-day science camps for the blind. Wedler’s been honoured at the White House for his work inspiring disabled people.

Wedler was born with a rare disorder that required the surgical removal of his eyes.

“I was devastated,” Wedler’s mother Terry Wedler said when told her son was blind soon after his birth.

Lying in bed after the birth, the veteran school teacher decided to dedicate her professional life to educating the blind. She earned a master’s degree in educating blind and visually impaired students. She said she was also blessed with an exceedingly curious son, who soon developed and honed his other senses.

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“He was born a really inquisitive little person,” Terry Wedler said. “He could speak really well and would converse with people when he was little. We smelled things all the time. He just explored the world that way and it kept expanding.”

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