Molly Austad is from Boerne, Texas. While she was growing up, her parents never had a deep passion for wine, but they had a love for travel. During her teenage years, her family took yearly trips abroad and drank table wine in places such as Chile, South Africa, Ecuador, Spain and Italy. This sparked her interest in wine. She remembers strangers, friends, and distant relatives always being welcomed into her home — her parents loved to entertain. At cocktail parties in her youth, she was tasked with refilling drinks, passing hors d’oeuvres, taking coats, etc. Later in high school and college, she worked in various restaurants that solidified the passion for hospitality her parents had unknowingly instilled in her. She went on to study design at UCLA and moved to Paris to work with a fashion designer in the same year she graduated. Her weekends were spent in Burgundy where she spent time with passionate winemakers. It was in Burgundy that she fell truly in love with wine. She made her way back to Texas after an internship in France and started working for McGuire Moorman Hospitality. Under the guidance of beverage director June Rodil, she obtained her Introductory Sommelier degree through the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2015. By 2016, she was a certified sommelier and a full-time floor somm at Jeffrey’s, a fine dining concept within the hospitality group. She competed at TEXSOM in 2018 and will compete again in 2019.
Clayton Bahr is a Certified Specialist of Wine and a Certified Sommelier. He is the host of the local radio show, B Sides, aired every Sunday at 10pm on KOSU and The Spy FM. He is the founder of Turning the Table on Hunger and Turkey Tango. He currently works for Artisan Fine Wine and Spirits and loves travel, music and cigars.
Wine buyer turned wine seller turned wine educator. WSET Level 3, CSW, Certified Sommelier. Just trying to make a difference in the wine world, one consumer at a time.
Sandra Ban is an academic-turned-sommelier based in Chicago. From a family with a long tradition of wine making and drinking, she feels privileged to use her passion for wine and hospitality in the service of making guests happy and helping others learn. Through the Court of Master Sommeliers and WSET, she continues to develop professionally and indulge her curiosity.
Todd is the Wine Director at The Capital Grille in Chicago, where he has performed in many roles over the years. He has also worked as a Captain and Floor Sommelier at Everest Restaurant, a Michelin-starred and Relais & Châteaux property, under the talents of Sommeliers Anthony Minne, Alex Diaz and Yooie Chang.
Aaron Benson has been an active part of the Dallas-Fort Worth wine community since taking in his first wine director position in 2011 at Stephan Pyles. In the years since, he has overseen highly recognized programs at Wayward Sons, Sixty Vines and Fauna, and has recently joined the team at the storied French Room at the Adolphus Hotel, which is undergoing a concept relaunch. He is both a Certified Sommelier and Certified Cicerone. Aaron holds high the value of experience and has traveled extensively through the wine regions of the American west coast as well as France, Switzerland and Chile. This is Aaron’s second year behind the scenes at TIWA.
Alisha Blackwell-Calvert is the current Sommelier for Elaia and Olio in St. Louis, MO. She began working in restaurants in 2004 after studying Equestrian Science and Biology at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. In 2007, her passion grew for wine and food pairing while waiting tables at fine seafood restaurant Oceano Bistro in Clayton, MO.
Blackwell-Calvert was inspired to continue learning and decided to pursue a career in wine sales. She began as a wine consultant with Ionia Atlantic Imports in 2012, where Italian wine became a specialty, followed by wholesale distributor Vintegrity Wine & Spirits in 2015. Alisha is a Certified Sommelier and received the 2015 Walter Clore Certified Sommelier Scholarship for top score and also attained the Certified Specialist of Wine certification through the Society of Wine Educators with a 99% score the same year.
It was in early 2017 when Reeds American Table approached her with a Sommelier position and an opportunity to work along side Advanced Sommelier Andrey Ivanov. Wine Enthusiast Magazine has awarded Reeds American Table for Top 100 Wine Restaurants three years in a row. Feast Magazine has named her a “Raising Star” for 2018. Most recently, she has been named one of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers” in 2018 and one of the newest inductees to Les Dames d’Escoffier.
Alisha continues striving to introduce quality wine into Reeds while delivering elevated but comfortable service. Blackwell-Calvert is currently preparing to sit for the Advanced Sommelier examination and developing a business in private wine consulting. In her free time, Alisha enjoys working with draft horses.
Justyna got into wine through the Texas Wine School, fell in love, and never looked back. She left her job as a high school art teacher, to pursue her passion for hospitality and beverage industry. Upon passing WSET 3 and her Certified Sommelier with the Court, she joined Goodnight Hospitality at Rosie Cannonball in Houston, TX. She is still a permanent fixture at the Art of Cellaring.
Jacob Brown is on the Sommelier Team at Lazy Bear in San Francisco. Jacob has lived and worked in Texas and Utah continuing to hone his skills as a hospitalian. He participated in the 2017 and 2018 TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition, the Cochon 555, and was a finalist for the Star Chefs 2017 Rising Star of the Year award. Jacob started his career in the beverage world as a ski bum bartender at a peanut bar in Utah. Jacob. In November of 2015, Jacob passed the Certified Sommelier exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers and is working towards the next level.
Jason Charles began his career during high school in his hometown of Moore, OK. Starting out washing dishes and eventually moving to the front of house where his love of hospitality began. Continuing in server roles that let to fine dining restaurants and his passion for wine was finally realized. Shortly after moving to Dallas in 2002, Jason secured his first role managing a beverage program and has never looked back. This is when Jason began studying viticulture and enology as well as discovering the Court of Master Sommeliers program. After his love of wine and education founded a consulting company and took him to roles in restaurants, retail and distribution, Jason found the ideal fit for his combined experience and everything he has come to love about the beverage industry. Now with the Hilton Anatole, Jason has the opportunity to manage multiple types of beverage programs, develop vendor partnerships, entertain guests and mentor colleagues off all levels of knowledge.
Alexandra Cherniavsky began her career in restaurants in her early teens working for her parents in their family-owned restaurant in Oxford, Pennsylvania. She discovered an interest in wine as a career while working at Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi restaurants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She returned home to Philadelphia in 2013 with stints as wine director at Le Bec Fin, avance, and Amada. Her current role as beverage manager at Aimee Olexy and Stephen Starr’s The Love gave her the opportunity to write a fun, approachable wine list composed of several mini wine lists, each with their own perspective and each containing wines that are ready to drink now. The Love was named one of the 100 Best Wine Restaurants 2018 by Wine Enthusiast and one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants 2018. Alexandra is an Advanced Sommelier, as well as a Certified Specialist of Wine. She is currently studying for the Master Sommelier diploma.
Moving from her hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida to pursue an advanced degree in Paleontology, sommelier Krista Church received an accidental education in wine. Krista is the current wine director at Eberly, a farm-to-table contemporary American concept in downtown Austin, TX. Krista has been a voice in the Austin wine community for almost a decade, running beverage programs for Parkside Projects and Eleven Plates & Wine before joining the Eberly family in April of 2018. She has participated in the Ruinart Challenge, TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition, Cochon 555, and has been published in SommJournal. A Certified Sommelier, she is currently studying for her Advanced exam in the Court of Master Sommeliers. When she’s not working the floor, you can find her drinking Champagne and watching Antiques Roadshow.
Christopher started as a food runner in a fine dining, wine-centric restaurant to help a friend, who was the manager and without a competent food runner. His appreciation for wine became a love and finally a passion with each wine class and bottle that he tasted; two years later he became the sommelier.
Christopher spent 9 years as the sommelier building the 300-bottle all American wine list; yearly trips to Napa, Sonoma, Oregon and Washington State as well as wineries in Virginia and Maryland helped build his knowledge of American wines. He then embarked on a few new restaurants including Bryan Voltaggio’s Aggio in Baltimore and their Champagne/Italian focused wine list.
He was challenged with multiple pairing menus, honing his skills not only with wine and food but with teaching. He began teaching a weekly class for the restaurant staff focused on Italy and its twenty wine regions, which led to teaching about regions throughout the world. This education prepared them for the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam, and prepared him for the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Course and Exam.
In 2017 he joined Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons Washington DC. The comprehensive nine hundred bottle wine list introduced him to new wine regions. The Bourbon Steak won the Washington DC Restaurant Association Award (Rammy) for best wine program and a nomination for a James Beard Award for the wine program. Christopher continue to mentor service staff through the Court of Master Sommelier Exams and is looking forward to new adventures and successes in the years to come.
Alysia fell in love with cooking starting at 5 years old and as the years passed, it grew to become a huge passion in her life. She studied Culinary Arts and Food Service Management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. While she studied there not only did her love for food grow but she also discovered the world of wine through beverage classes. After completing her Culinary internship at Walt Disney World, she decided to start pursing a Sommelier minor as part of her degree. That is when wine became her new passion. It was the mixture of learning about the stories of the wine makers and the continuous learning that is a part of studying wine. During college she traveled abroad to Koblenz, Germany to study at a German Wine Sommelier School. Within the program she spent a week in France visiting the world’s most famous regions. After graduation, Alysia came back to Dallas and started her Food & Beverage Management career. Some years passed and she realized she wanted to pursue a career in wine. In 2018, Alysia became a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Shortly after, she began her wine journey as the Sommelier for the restaurant.
Eric S. Crane, a Georgia native, is the Director of Training and Business Development for Empire Distributors, Inc. based in Atlanta. His career with wine started over 20 years ago and has taken him around the world. He has achieved the title of Certified Wine Educator from the Society of Wine Educators and the title of Advanced Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. As Empire’s Director of Training, he regularly teaches classes on wine and spirits to his company and customers. Eric regularly works with Sommeliers and has been a judge in previous wine competitions and speaks at National Wine Festivals. It’s been said he likes to talk about wine too much and loves the sound of his own voice. So there’s that. His spare time finds him enjoying his family and with his nose in either a book or a glass of wine.
Matthew Crawford is a native of Greenville, South Carolina and has 19 years of experience in the restaurant industry in Greenville, Atlanta, and now Houston. This experience paired with an authentic passion for all things wine and his natural ease and competency in guest relations, makes him a perfect fit for General Manager and Sommelier at Chef Ford Fry’s Houston restaurants, State of Grace and most recently La Lucha & Superica. “I believe in the story of a wine, and supporting wine makers that not only have a deep commitment to producing great wine that shows a sense of place, but also understand the importance of personal relationships and how that translates tableside,” he says.
Crawford continues to seek and further his knowledge of wine and hospitality through the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently seeking the Master Sommelier Diploma.
Angela is a sommelier and manager at a new multi-level French concept, ONE65, in San Francisco that includes a patisserie, bistro, upscale bar and lounge and fine dining restaurant. Angela’s varied experience in the beverage industry over the last 5 years has included working in restaurants behind the bar and as a sommelier, wine retail, import and distribution, as well as production in harvest in Germany. When she was first offered a position as a wine steward she was intrigued and excited about a world in which she had such limited knowledge about. It was the first time (after 5 years of college) that she felt truly excited to learn, and she felt motivated to excel in such a complex subject. Having the resources from the WSET, CWE & CMS programs have allowed her to find an incredible community to share her passion with and move forward in her career. She recently passed the Court of Master Sommelier Advanced Sommelier Exam in St. Louis and is thrilled to continue to prepare for the Master Sommelier Diploma. Throughout this process and her experience in the wine industry the most amazing accomplishment she has achieved is the network of talented and passionate individuals that she has been surrounded by. Angela looks forward to growing that network and being part of others’ growth in this industry.
Michael (Mick) Descamps has spent about 20 years working in food and beverage—all of that time spent in restaurants and retailers in the Metro Detroit area. For many years, he spent many years working alongside his mentor and friend Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon in the (former) Matt Prentice Group restaurants working as sommelier at multiple restaurants. After a several year stint there, he joined the Michael Mina Restaurant Group where he served faithfully as Sommelier and Beverage Director for the (now defunct) Bourbon Steak and SaltWater restaurants located at MGM Grand Detroit. For the sake of family, he left the restaurant business behind and joined the retail side of the wine business. For a little more than 2 years, Mick served as sommelier for Plum Market of Michigan, before joining the Farida family as wine director for southeastern Michigan’s Red Wagon Wine Shoppes, where he has overseen wine retail operations for the past 5 years. An ardent student in beverage, Mick is an Advanced Level Sommelier (through the Court of Master Sommeliers) and is a Certified Beer Server (through the Cicerone program).
David Donalson found wine later in life when his wife informed him that they needed to become more cultured and took a wine appreciation class on their honeymoon. Almost immediately the wine bug set in, leading down the path that would eventually lead to him leaving a career as a school teacher in 2011 to help open a new arm of a local retail chain as the wine buyer. During his tenure there managing over 3,000 different wines, he stood on the podium of the TexSom Best Sommelier Competition from 2015-2017 before earning his Advanced Sommelier certification in 2018. David now works for Classified Wines as a marketing manager for Dallas/Fort Worth representing some of the best wines in the world.
Jonathan is a nerd living the dream — a neuroscientist and historian turned sommelier after a summer whispering sweet nothings to cheese in the caves of Murray’s. Since graduating Colby College, Jonathan is based out of New York City where he spends his time at The Modern and the No Ceilings Pop-Up. Jonathan was named 2019 Best Young Sommelier in America and placed second in the International Competition. He is an Advanced Sommelier, a Certified Cicerone and an aficionado of New York hip hop.
Bill Elsey is currently the Wine Director for Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Downtown Houston. In this role, he has had the privilege of shaping the wine program from the ground up, which now offers more than 2,500 wine selections, highlighting the greatest wines from around the globe. Winner of the Texas Best Sommelier Competition in 2011, he is also a proud member of the TEXSOM volunteer team. Being a part of such an educational and influential conference is something he looks forward to every year.
Anna Englehart was a student at ICC in Manhattan, New York, and graduated and passed her Certified exam in December of 2016. She is currently the general manager and wine buyer at Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar within the Harwood Hospitality group in Dallas. She also plays an active role in wine tasting and purchasing for other concepts in the group, such as the fine dining Italian restaurant, Dolce Riviera, which won a Wine Spectator two-glass award in 2018; Mercat Bistro, a French concept; and an upcoming Latin restaurant which will specialize in Latin American and Spanish wines.
Ganna Fedorova started her world tour as a child, moving with her family from Arkhangelsk, a city in Northern Russia where she was born, to a small coal-mining town in Eastern Ukraine, where she grew up deeply immersed in the atlases and books of her parents’ library. She explored the space within ourselves and our relationship to the universe while studying philosophy at the University of Kyiv. Ganna holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophical ethics.
In her early twenties, she crossed the ocean, moved to New York and discovered a passion for hospitality and service. She started as a server and quickly worked her way up to management while learning all aspects of the job as a barback, host and maître d’. On her days off, she learned the back of the house operations by prepping for service with the kitchen team, working the line and volunteering as a prep cook at a local homeless shelter. She honed her skills managing fine-dining restaurants in Albany and Saratoga Springs, New York. Her means of exploration found a new form, discovering far-off lands and stories captured in time capsules: bottles of fine wine. A Certified Sommelier, Ganna joined City Winery New York as a beverage director in July 2017. She became National Beverage Director in October 2018, now overseeing ten beverage programs at all City Winery’s properties across seven states.
While growing up in Orlando, Florida, Jenica Flippo’s interests and passions varied and her love for education deepened. This lead her to obtain a few degrees: her bachelor’s in Music Education from the University of Central Florida, her master’s in Youth and Family Counseling from John Brown University. She found her home in hospitality, finding passion and excitement working in kitchens. She then obtained a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Denver. During her final leg of culinary school in 2011, Flippo joined a study abroad program in Koblenz, Germany, where she enrolled in wine education courses. Upon her return to Denver, Flippo continued to work her in kitchens until 2013, when she decided to pursue front of house opportunities. She worked her way from server, assistant general manager to general manager turned Wine Director within the Half Eaten Cookie Hospitality group.
In 2017, Flippo was asked to join the team at the group’s latest venture, Corrida, where she built the restaurant’s 100%-Spanish wine list, while maintaining the selections at both OAK at Fourteenth and Acorn. In June 2019 she joined the team at Arcana restaurant located in Boulder, CO as assistant wine buyer and sommelier. Flippo received her Advanced Sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently preparing to sit for the Master Sommelier exam in 2021. In her spare time she enjoys running, hiking and all other outdoor activities that come with living in Colorado.
Christy Fuhrman developed an early affinity to the culture surrounding food, wine, and the arts as a native of New Orleans. A childhood surrounded by art, easily lead Christy to art school at Columbia College, where Chicago quickly became home. Christy followed a path, as many students do in a thriving metropolis, and began to bartend to supplement a degree in the arts. The beverage world struck a cord with Christy, as her career has been fueled by a need to learn and grow. The hunger for continual career evolution in the beverage world lead Christy to retail. After learning the ropes in retail, connecting books to bottles, Christy set out to hone her skills in the restaurant world, taking a job on the service and wine team at the iconic Charlie Trotter’s. It was on the small stretch of Armitage Ave. working with Chef Trotter where Christy took her love of the arts and learned fine dining, as well as the importance of food and wine at the table, alongside genuine service. After leaving Charlie Trotter’s Christy worked at many highly regarded restaurants in Chicago and New York. Christy currently holds her WSET diploma and is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, as well as a Certified Sake Professional.
The wine bug didn’t bite Mark until relatively late in life (mid-30s). While his restaurant career started in 1985 as a Blackjack Dealer at Dave & Buster’s in Houston, it wasn’t until 1998 that he transitioned to being a server then quickly to Manager for D&B in Cincinnati. He eventually moved to Chicago with D&B in 2001. All the while wine was barely an afterthought to occasionally have with a meal.
During his time in Chicago, he was at one of his regular after work spots when he asked the bartender to pair a wine with his pasta dish. That wine, Ravenswood Zinfandel, was the first time something clicked. Mark moved on to ESPNZone in Chicago and that is where he learned about the Court of Master Sommeliers. The interim GM at the time gave him some guidance on how to start. However, being in a casual sports-oriented environment meant that there wasn’t a great deal of opportunity to hone his early wine knowledge and studies went very slowly.
In 2008 Mark moved back to San Antonio to be with family. About a year later the urge to study seriously came back and he started a video wine podcast as a video diary of his studies. For several years Mark continued to work in casual dining, but the podcast encouraged him to study each wine and the region it came from.
In 2010, he took and passed the Certified Specialist of Wine and the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Exam. The Intro exam was also his first introduction to Texsom, and he’s been there every year since except for 2018; first as an attendee, and then as a volunteer beginning in 2014. In 2013 he passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam. That next year he worked in his first sommelier position at Morton’s The Steakhouse.
In 2018, after a brief stint at The Plaza Club as their F&B Director, Mark transitioned to the Retail side of things with Central Market, which is an upscale supermarket focusing on unique, specialty food, and fine wine and beer. He enjoys fulfilling the same role as a sommelier with more opportunities to impact his customer’s food & wine pairing than ever before. And his podcast recently celebrated 10 years and 500 episodes.
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Jason has been in Texas since 2007. He is a graduate of University of Nevada Las Vegas and began his career at Eiffel Tower Restaurant at the Paris Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Jason has participated in the TEXSOM Conference and Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition since 2007. Jason is the Texas State Portfolio Manager for Republic National Distributing Company. His past experience includes Pappas Bros. Steakhouse which promotes a wine list of over 35,000 bottles and 2,500 premium selections, and was named Best Steakhouse in Texas, by Texas Monthly Magazine.
MJ grew up in Concepción, near the Itata valley in Chile. She fell in love with wine after having moved halfway around the world to beautiful Nelson, British Columbia, Canada with her husband. She attended Selkirk College’s Ski Resort Operation and Management program. Soon after MJ completed the WSET Wine level 3, WSET Spirits and Sake level 1 and Court of Master Sommeliers certificate.
After finishing her college degree, she moved to Whistler, B.C. where she had an opportunity to work in Food and Beverage and Customer Service.
She and her husband recently moved back to Chile, where she enrolled in Escuela de Sommelier de Chile, completing all three courses in order to become a professional sommelier, as well as their professional bartender course. During her final semester she placed first in the Best Young Sommelier Chile 2018 competition.
After graduating, MJ quickly began teaching a few classes at Escuela de Sommelier de Chile, and was employed there soon after as their Academic Assistant. She is currently working on her BSc in International Business at DUOC, which she plans on using together with her background in wine in order to help share with the wine world at large some of the lesser-known gems that her beautiful home country has to offer.
Vila is the General Manager at 1832 Steakhouse, Choctaw Casino & Resort, in Durant Oklahoma. She is proud to represent the Choctaw Nation in Indian Country. Vila is a student of wine, and aspires to achieve the highest level in wine education. She considers the TEXSOM Sommelier Retreat to be a big step towards that education.
Michaela is a Sommelier at Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. The team of four is vastly different and strong in so many unique ways. She is constantly learning from her teammates. Michaela’s goals are to continuously hone in on the craft as a wine service professional with the target of someday becoming the Director of Hospitality/Education for a winemaker she is passionate about.
Colleen fell in love with wine while working as a Beverage Manager in downtown Chicago at Bar Toma, one of Tony Mantuano’s restaurants. She left that job to allow the time to study for the Certified Sommelier Exam. While studying, she applied for internships to work harvest. This lead her to packing her life up with one week’s notice to move to Portland. She landed at Pamplin Family Winery, in 2015, and worked harvest as a vineyard intern and in 2017 she was a cellar intern. Previously, Colleen managed bars and restaurants in Chicago, including a venue in Wrigley Field. In the Portland metro area, she has managed beverage programs for multiple restaurants. Currently, she is part of the wine team and oversees bar operations as the Assistant General Manager & Bar Director at Nostrana & Enoteca Nostrana.
Seasoned wine, beer, spirits, and hospitality management professional
Beverage program development
Extensive work within the hotel, restaurant, and retail industries
Sales and Marketing, Revenue management, Corporate client development
Certified Sommelier (CMS)
Certified BJCP Judge
Certified Specialist Of Wine (CSW)
Passion for travel, good food, nature, and beverages
Analytical skill set and leader of hospitality teams
Available for consulting and private wine and food events in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest
Catherine Kurth is a Certified Sommelier and the Wine Director for Lady of the House; a James Beard Award Semi-Finalist, New American restaurant in Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood. She is based in downtown Detroit, Michigan. In her spare time, she enjoys mentoring other community members and exposing friends and strangers alike to the wide and fascinating world of wine.
Stacey Land comes by the restaurant business honestly. Her father was educated at the Culinary Institute of America and she found her passion for the business while working in his restaurants. Her culinary pedigree and experience in restaurant ownership make Stacey a perfect fit for the role of General Manager at 1618 Midtown, where her discerning menu selections won the restaurant a 2018 Wine Spectator Award. Stacey is a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is one of only two Certified Somms in the city of Greensboro. She is also a Certified Sake Advisor (CSA) and a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW). In 2016, as one of seven hand-selected guests at Domaine Serene’s Somm Select event in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Stacey wowed the judges and came home with the winning cuvée. Stacey is currently brushing up for a run at Advanced Sommelier and is heading to Dusseldorf for ProWein in March, to, Irving, Texas to attend the Advanced course in April, and to Oregon for Pinot Camp in June.
Phil Laramore got the wine bug while working at restaurant sin Auburn Alabama while earning his Finance Degree. In 1991 Phil Laramore graduated and set sail for Colorado to continue working in restaurants and retail. Phil Laramore was a Sommelier and Wine Steward in Steamboat Springs through the 90’s . In 2000 Phil moved to Denver and took a position as French Wine Specialist a wholesaler. After 4 years Phil became a partner in Baroness Wines in Denver to grow the business. In 2014 we sold the business to Empire Distributors and Phil Started his own import company called SAmandla Wine Imports. Phil Laramore has passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Exam and is currently sitting Tasting and Practical portions of the Master Sommelier Exam.
Justin graduated from Texas A&M in the middle of the recession in 2009 and took the first job available and ran with it- commercial roofing sales. It took him seven years to get bit by the wine bug and realize this was his future and not roofing. Justin took several classes and certifications to try and get up to speed in the industry, and was fortunate enough to land a position working the floor at Spec’s for a little while before moving over to River Oaks Country Club. After a few years, he switched things up and went to the distribution side where he is still employed with Victory Wine Group as a sales rep in Houston.
Guess Who? Fine Wine, Spirits, & Beer- Sales and Instructor of Wine 101 course
Sassafras Springs Vineyard and Winery- Winery and Events Intern
WSET Level 3 Student
WSET Level 2
The Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Course
Italian International Wine Studies at Florence University of the Arts- Summer 2019
Originally hailing from “the Garden State,” New Jersey, Advanced Sommelier Melissa J. McAvoy has been an Orlando local since 1998. With a degree from the University of Central Florida in business administration and a minor in horticulture, she is a well-rounded passionate woman who started mentoring in the hospitality industry at the age of 14. She worked at Walt Disney World’s flagship resort for 18 years. In 2013, the summer of wine began with her induction to the Court of Master Sommeliers. She became a Certified Sommelier in spring 2014 and was invited to take her Advanced Course in spring 2015. Melissa is an active member in her community mentoring sommeliers and created a tasting group to further their knowledge. She is currently a co-owner of Swirlery, a wine tasting shop where she has involved the Orlando community with all things wine since 2015.
Rebecca Miles-Steiner graduated from Wells College, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, with a degree in Theatre. While working as a Stage Manager in Chicago, her college-sparked love of Riesling and a Jancis Robinson book set her on a path to a career in wine and spirits. Among many industry positions, she opened and managed a boutique wine and spirit store in Lincoln Park and worked as a wine and spirit buyer for a Whole Foods store in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. She is currently a sommelier at City Winery Chicago as well as working in the wine department at Plum Market Old Town. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and is currently making her way through the WSET Diploma program.
Cat Nguyen fell in love with wine at an early age. She inherited her first wine program when she was only twenty-one years old. Over the next ten years, she ran successful wine programs from casual to fine dining restaurants all over Houston, Texas. In 2015, Cat left the restaurant floor to pursue a career in distribution as a Vanguard representative for Republic National Distributing Company. She holds an Advanced Certification with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators and a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. She is continuing her studies in the future to advance to the next levels with the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
Kyle O’Neill is the general manager of Fox Creek Liquors, a wine and spirits retailer based in Longmont, Colorado. He has previous experience at restaurants such as Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, 9th Door Capital Hill in Denver, Colorado and Martini’s Bistro in Longmont, Colorado. He often offers educational beverage and service seminars to those interested, as he really enjoys teaching. In his free time, Kyle reads books, keeps multiple journals on various subjects including wine, bullet journaling, thoughts, goals, and loves to swim when the weather is good. His goals in the wine industry involve education, writing, speaking, and continued leadership and restaurant experience.
Patrick is currently the Assistant Wine Director for McGuire Moorman Hospitality group based in Austin, Texas. His home base, currently, is Jeffrey’s which is one of the signature wine restaurants of the group also including June’s, Clark’s Oyster Bar, Lambert’s, and others. Patrick sat for Master Theory for the first time in 2018 and will attempt again in 2019. Patrick, formerly a wine professional at the Four Seasons St. Louis, has only lived in Texas for six months but has attended Texsom International Wine Awards and Texsom for the past four years.
In 2005, Scott Ota began his career in restaurants to help pay for college. It is now 2019, and he has never left “the business.” From fine dining to hotels, to wine bars, sharing his love for wine has been a mission for many years. As of 2016, he is now the General Manager and Beverage Director for High Street Wine Co in San Antonio, TX. Scott’s accolades include the Somms Under Fire champion 2013, TEXSOM champion 2013, Rudd Scholar at his CMS Advanced exam 2014, being named one of Wine & Spirits Magazine’s “Best New Sommeliers” 2014, and being named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s “Tastemakers to Revolutionize the Business” 2018. Scott continues to work towards the MS diploma, and he aims to make High Street a top wine experience in the country. His mantra: be humble, be hospitable, drink well, and have fun.
Bridget began her career in food and beverage as a means to pay for a biology degree at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston. After graduation, she decided to stay in the food and beverage industry. She began in earnest to learn more, working with Chef Erin Smith at Plonk!, then Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner and Chef Terrance Gallivan at Pass and Provisions. In 2012, she joined the team at Chef Justin Yu’s Oxheart as a wine steward and is now currently the sommelier of Chef Yu’s Theodore Rex.
After university, I lived in Spain for 2 years where I learned Spanish and became interested in food and wine. Returning to the US, I took wine classes at a community college in Seattle, worked a harvest at a small winery and then got a busser job. In 2016, I passed Introductory and 6 months later passed Certified with the highest score in both exams and took a sommelier job at John Howie Steak. Two years later, I was promoted to Wine Director of a $450,000 program. I am preparing for the Advanced exam, having taken the course last year.
Michael Pickering grew up in Redlands California before traveling the country with stops in Greenville, South Carolina where he first started to take his service industry career more seriously, and Chicago where he began his Sommelier studies. While in Chicago, Michael oversaw the wine program at The Langham – Chicago, including their restaurant Travelle’s 1,800 label list. Now back in Southern California, Michael has made his home in San Diego. Currently he is General Manager and Sommelier at Stake Chophouse & Bar in Coronado while studying for his Advance Sommelier Exam, which he hopes to take in 2020.
A native of Annapolis, Maryland, Michelle Richards’ passion lies in the world of fine wine and craft cocktails. Being a long time student of Italian wine and cuisine, she began her career at Alleia Restaurant. There, under James Beard-nominated Chef Daniel Lindley, she developed her expertise in the wine industry. In 2012, eager to expand beyond Italian wine, Michelle sought out work under Josh Carter, wine director at Wine Spectator Award-winning Saint John’s Restaurant. In that same year, she also earned her sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. After years of hard work and dedication, she went on to lead the staff as general manager. Richards’ strives each night to provide remarkable service to her guests, doing so with her utmost attention to detail and honest intentionality.
Kaysie Rogers came into the wine world after a successful career as a pastry chef. While traveling around the world to give master classes and compete on Food Network Challenge shows she would make excursions to nearby wine regions where she caught the wine bug. Considering wine as another adventure and career, she returned to Seattle, passed the CMS Intro and Certified exams in short order, and began the WSET Diploma program. Now working as a sommelier at Wild Ginger and The Metropolitan Grill with their Grand Award-winning list she sees herself just at the beginning of her career in wine. Looking to the future, she hopes to run a wine program and continue her wine education.
Thomas Simons is currently the Head Sommelier at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa, in Cambridge, Ontario. He was adwarded the advanced sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers in October 2016. Thomas has been working in the wine and restaurant trade in Ontario for a decade, having been a cook, server, bar manager, wine agent, and sommelier. Thomas is also a certified Cicerone, having attained that designation in 2019.
A professionally trained chef, Dawn’s passion for wine emerged as a direct result of her experiences in the kitchen. The daughter of a chef mother, Dawn grew up in the restaurant business. While working as an instructor at a culinary college, she was given the opportunity to take wine classes and one class just led to another, and then another…Dawn has earned certifications from the International Sommelier Guild, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. She has worked as Assistant Wine Director at Canlis Restaurant in Seattle, Wine Director of three restaurants for the Heavy Restaurant Group in Bellevue, the Wine Director and General Manager at Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, Lead Sommelier at Stoneburner Restaurant in Ballard, and as a Sommelier at John Howie Steak Restaurant. Having recently moved from Seattle to Whidbey Island, Dawn is excited to have joined the restaurant team at The Inn at Langley as their Sommelier and wine buyer.
Jason Smith is the Wine Director at Wild Ginger Seattle, a Wine Spectator Grand Award recipient in Seattle, Washington. Before making a decisive career switch to wine, Jason worked in film, photography, social services, theater production, fine art, and many restaurant kitchens. His passion for wine began innocently when, disappointed by a hastily purchased bottle leftover from a recipe calling for a single cup, Jason picked up a wine book. A few cautious pages in, rabid curiosity and an obsessive nature took over. Jason has been gleefully volunteering for TEXSOM since 2016.
Greg Spalding caught the wine bug when his then girlfriend, now wife, suggested he drink a glass of wine instead of a beer with dinner. An epiphany was had and since then he has devoted his time and energy trying to recreate that feeling for others about wine through education and hospitality. Greg is an Advanced Sommelier through The Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas. He is seeking the MS certification and is highly active in the sommelier community in Chicago. He currently is a Wine Specialist at Vin Chicago and sits on the board of the Second City Sommeliers, a group dedicated to mentorship of wine professionals in tasting, service, and beverage knowledge.
Daniel began his wine journey working for a small, family run wine shop in Columbus, Ohio, as a means to broaden his beverage horizons while finishing his Bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University. After passing the CMS Intro exam, Daniel wanted to move to a larger market where he could be fully immersed and surrounded by like-minded individuals who were also pursuing further certifications through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Daniel moved to Houston, Texas to work at Camerata at Paulie’s where he passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified exam. Daniel received an opportunity to take part in opening The Post Oak Hotel and Mastro’s where he is currently employed as a Sommelier.
Collin Stewart started working in the hospitality industry at the age of 16 in restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His interest in wine began to manifest while working in a French restaurant in Des Moines, IA. Collin moved to Seattle, WA in 2017 and started working at Purple Cafe & Wine Bar joining their wine team and eventually earning the title of Cellar Master. In addition to pursuing advancement in the Court of Master Sommeliers and volunteering at wine events around the country, he is also active in the sommelier and bartender communities around Seattle.
Originally from Rochester, New York but now a proud Texan. After studying music at the Eastman School and Rice University, Rick found his home in the wine world, tending to the wine collections of Coppa Osteria, Triniti Restaurant, Del Frisco’s, Mastro’s and Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouses as well as occasional guest appearances behind the bars of some of Houston’s geekier wine-heavy watering holes.
Dylan was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by his mother who always had a love for wine. From his very first restaurant job at age 14 – he had a love for the industry. Through the years Dylan worked at several establishments in Santa Fe, all with a different style, from café-style to upscale Italian dining. Dylan moved to Albuquerque for school in 2000 and worked at several restaurants with good programs, and later managed bars and promoted live music.
In 2008, Dylan came across his current employer, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm. He started as a server but quickly climbed the ladder to management. First with management of private events, then two years later with the restaurant. During this time, he also had an opportunity to own the wine program in 2013. Since 2013, a one page list has methodically turned into over two hundred selections. Dylan now oversee the wine & spirits programs for the restaurant & bar, private events, boutique inn and retail outlet. He is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and has attempted the Advanced Exam; he hopes to pass on his next attempt. Dylan’s goal is to achieve the Master Sommelier Diploma in the next five years. This year he plans to take the Certified Specialist of Spirits Exam, as well as work towards the Certified Wine Educator credential.
Kat Thomas joined the Hakkasan Group family in 2016 as a sommelier for their Las Vegas restaurant. Her happy and outgoing personality and energetic, fun demeanor quickly gained traction with guests, peers, and company leaders. Kat’s passion for wine is contagious and she has shared it with her colleagues throughout the United States after being promoted in October 2017 to the role of National Training Manager, Wine for the Hakkasan Group. Kat has been a fixture in the Las Vegas service industry with tenures at ARIA, Bellagio and Cosmopolitan. Her peers refer to her as the “Wine Goddess” (or perhaps it’s self-dubbed), and she usually carries a small saber with her just in case there is a bottle of Champagne that needs opening.
Adam Toon is honored to be participating in the TEXSOM International Wine Awards. Formerly a floor sommelier and member of a hardscrabble team at a Houston wine bar, he currently works with the Vanguard team of Republic National Distributing Company. A former competitor in the TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition and a national finalist in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Best Young Sommelier competition, Adam is passionate about education and spreading his love for wine with his colleagues in the Houston Sommelier Association.
Monica Townsend is the wine director at Willie G’s Seafood in Houston, Texas. Prior to her position there, she was a sommelier at Camerata at Paulie’s, also in Houston.
Monica was the winner of the Wines of Portugal “Portugal Sommelier of the Year” in October 2018 and the Treasury Wine Estates “Luxicon Blind Tasting Competition” winner in November 2017.
She passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Course in June 2017 and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Drama/Philosophy from the University of Houston.
Inspired by art in many forms – from music to creative writing to wine pairings, Sommelier Jennifer Wagoner brings an innovative point of view to Sepia and Proxi as Wine Director. Wagoner’s 20-year hospitality career includes experience in Manhattan and Miami. In 2017, the Midwesterner, who grew up in Indiana, returned to her roots to curate the eclectic, award-winning wine lists at two of Chicago’s most acclaimed restaurants.
Wagoner’s love of wine sparked in New York City, where she worked at B.R Guest’s Blue Water Grill while moonlighting as a part-time musician. She quickly developed an appreciation for collaborating with the kitchen to pair wines with food. Following her passion, Wagoner moved to Miami and joined Goldman Properties’ Wish restaurant in 2007 as managing sommelier, where she helped craft a wine list that received rave reviews. She then helped launch the group’s Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, earning a nod from the Miami New Times as Best New Bar of 2010.
In 2012, she left WKB to serve as Head Sommelier at the popular Zuma restaurant in downtown Miami. Then, in 2015, Wagoner joined the Fontainebleau Miami Beach as Lead Sommelier at Stripsteak by Michael Mina, where she oversaw a wine list of more than 1,000 selections.
Wagoner joined the Sepia and Proxi team in December 2017, bringing a fresh perspective to an
already highly regarded wine program. Michelin-starred Sepia has been recognized by Wine
Enthusiast as one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” and also was named a James Beard
Foundation finalist in the outstanding Wine Program category.
The 450-bottle list features selection from a wide variety of boutique winemakers and food-
driven wines that pair perfectly with Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s inventive, modern American
cuisine. Next door at younger sibling Proxi, the wine list follows a women-led theme
highlighting female voices from around the world. Like Chef Zimmerman’s globally inspired
dishes, the wines range in regions, flavors and styles. Both playful and serious, Wagoner’s wine
knowledge allows guests to take their own culinary journey at Proxi and Sepia.
A native of Houston, Texas, has spent the last 18 years working in hospitality in a multitude of capacities. An Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is avidly pursuing the Master Sommelier certification. A graduate of The University of Texas in 2005, he spends his free time keeping up with and attending major sporting events. As a long time restauranteur, he loves attending wine and hospitality conferences as well as Sommelier competitions. James is currently the Prestige Accounts Manager for Paul Hobbs wines, representing Pauls projects from across the globe.
Gregory is a service professional at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood in Tampa, Florida. Gregory passed his Certified Sommelier exam in August 2018. He recently attempted the Advanced Sommelier application exam. Gregory plans to actively work the floor and strive to be the best employee possible, doing what ever it takes. He takes pride with doing everything he can to assist a co-worker or indulge a guest by providing a phenomenal guest experience.
Stephanie Wills is a Floor Sommelier for the EnjoyAM Restaurant Group at both Catherine & Mary’s and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis, Tennessee. Stephanie has worked in the restaurant industry since she was a teenager, and her passion for wine developed while attending weekly wine classes at The Majestic Grille in Memphis, Tennessee. From there, she strived to learn and grow as much as possible in the wine industry, finally starting at Catherine & Mary’s as a server. There, under the mentorship of wine director Ryan Radish, she took the Introductory Course through the Court of Master Sommeliers in June of 2018 and became a Certified Sommelier in April of 2019. The promotion to Floor Sommelier followed, making her the first in the company responsible for two restaurants and for assisting in training in all four restaurants within Memphis, Tennessee. Stephanie is currently working towards becoming an Advanced Sommelier, while mentoring others from Tennessee and Mississippi.
A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, BS in Finance. Elisabeth began her finance career with two years of banking outside of Rhode Island, until a challenging position with FirstFed (now Webster Bank) opened up in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. This led to a 20 year mortgage finance career. The intensity of a finance career, created the need to focus her energies into something totally different & the proximity to Johnson & Wales University allowed her the opportunity to pursue a wine education thru both night & weekend classes for WSET Levels 2/3, & The Society of Wine Educators’, Certified Specialist of Wine program.
Elisabeth’s wine career started as a part-time consultant at The Coast Guard House Restaurant in 2009, and eventually transitioned to full time Wine Director, in 2014. In January 2016 she traveled to London to receive her WSET diploma & passed the Level 2 Certified Sommelier Exam in February 2016. The WSET Diploma has opened many doors, including teaching as adjunct faculty at Johnson & Wales University, as a WSET Certified Educator, attending Napa Somm, IPNC & periodically contributing to the ‘Rhode Island Beverage Journal’. Her experiences have recently expanded to working harvest 2018 at Viader Vineyards & Winery in Napa, under winemaker Alan Viader & as a 2019 harvest intern at Kosta Browne in Sebastopol. It is with great honor that she was accepted into the IMW program this September 2019, and she is currently studying for the MW Student Stage One Assessment.
Sophie’s career in restaurants started when she was 19. She was employed in multiple entry-level positions including dishwasher which eventually led to a garde manger position, and upon turning 21 she was buying wine for a small program. Also, at 21 Sophie passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Intro Exam and went on to pass the Certified at 22 after participating in the International Culinary Center’s Intensive Sommelier Training program. Upon returning home from New York to Colorado Springs, Sophie became the wine and beverage director of a restaurant called The Blue Star. When she was 24 she moved on to a sommelier position at Summit At The Broadmoor, which at the time had a wine program led by Master Sommelier Brandon Tebbe. After Tebbe’s departure, she became the lead sommelier and buyer for the program. Sophie passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Exam on her first attempt at 26 years old and has had many opportunities to compete in Chaine des Rotisseurs competitions. Sophie is now studying for the Master Diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers.