Serafin Alvarado’s love of wine began more than decade ago, as a room service waiter for Hilton Hotels in his native Puerto Rico. It was the beginning of a career path that would ultimately lead him to achieve the remarkable distinction of becoming a Master Sommelier (M.S.) in 2005, achieving the status that only 149 other North Americans have reached after passing the rigorous M.S. examination.
Serafin has also turned his passion for wine into a successful career, working in positions in wine service, wine sales and most recently, wine education, joining Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Illinois, the largest wine wholesaler in the United States headquartered in Miami, Florida, as Director of Wine Education.
After two years working in the hotel industry in Puerto Rico, in 1994 Alvarado transitioned to a key role at Cadierno Corporation, a Puerto Rican fine wine distributor, where he established the island’s most prominent wine school. His wine courses became very popular and highly acclaimed by local press, attributed to his easy, entertaining, yet informative teaching style.
Alvarado’s most formative wine experience came after a move to Chicago in 2001 to work alongside Chef Charlie Trotter at his famed restaurant Charlie Trotter’s. Alvarado led a team of sommeliers responsible of managing one of the finest restaurant wine programs in America, following in the footsteps of his mentors: Larry Stone, M.S. and Joe Spellman, M.S. In his five years at the restaurant, Alvarado received considerable praise for his work establishing himself as one of the top sommeliers in the nation.
In October of 2005, Serafin received the Bill Rice distinguished Sommelier of the Year Award for his contribution to the culture of food & wine in the city of Chicago.
Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine included Serafin Alvarado among 40 outstanding individuals local to the Chicago area who have made a major impact in their respective industries before the age of 40. Former winners include professional actors and athletes, presidents and CEOs of major Fortune 500 companies, and high ranking political figures. Crain’s calls these rising stars “The Top 40 Under 40”.
Most recently, Johnson & Wales University recognized Serafin as a Distinguished Visiting Master Sommelier, an honor that only 3 prior individuals had received.
Today, along with his education responsibilities at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Serafin also finds time to teach and mentor Master Sommelier candidates through the program.
Serafin lives in suburban Lisle, Illinois. In his spare time he enjoys playing bass with The Rack & The Riddler, a local band, and training for the Chicago Marathon.
Brooks Anderson was raised in Plano, Texas, and significantly influenced by his French Grandmother who instilled in him a love of food, wine, literature, travel, and a deep sense of intellectual curiosity.
Brooks graduated from the University of Oklahoma. An involved student, his studies and experiences were wide-ranging. Brooks, several other students, and the late Professor J. Rufus Fears took 3-week driving tour of the American Civil War Battlefields in 1994. Also in 1994, Brooks delved into Journalism classes at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. In 1995, Brooks had the great fortune to study at the Sorbonne in Paris.
In 1995 Brooks commenced his studies at the University of Houston Law Center. In 1997, Brooks attended a Summer Study Program in the Greek Isles through Tulane University’s Law School, with Justice Antonin Scalia as a course professor. In 1998, Brooks graduated with a JD from the University of Houston Law Center. After his extensive studies and travels, both through school and with his brother Bradley, Brooks practiced law for 9 years. Most of this time was spent at Anderson & Anderson, LLP, the law firm he founded with his brother Bradley in October, 2002, which still operates today. He met his beautiful and amazingly talented wife Kate in court. She was opposing counsel. Brooks was smitten. In 2008, life presented Brooks and Bradley the opportunity to sign a lease for a small wine bar they named Veritas Wine Room. Brooks left the practice of law to run Veritas’s day-to-day operations. Veritas opened to a deafening silence and for several years the business itself was day-to-day. However, persistence prevailed and Veritas developed a loyal following. Veritas Wine Room has won many national, state, and local awards including Best Wine Bar in Dallas from D Magazine for the years 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2015; Top 25 Wine Bars in America from Travel + Leisure; Ultimate Best Wine Bar in Dallas from Pegasus News; Best Wine List in Dallas 2009 and 2010 from the Dallas Observer; Top 10 Wine Bars in the US 2012 from Gayot. In 2012, Brooks opened Boulevardier with his brother Bradley and their Chef Partners Nathan Tate and Randall Copeland. Boulevardier opened to great critical acclaim and fanfare. Boulevardier has won many national, state, and local awards including the following from D Magazine alone: Best Burgers 2015; 100 Best Restaurants in Dallas 2013; Best French Restaurant Readers’ Choice 2015; Best Bartender in Dallas Readers’ Choice 2015; Best French Restaurant in Dallas 2014 Editors’ Pick and Readers’ Choice; Best French Restaurant in Dallas 2013; Best Brunch in Dallas 2013; and Top 10 Best New Restaurants 2012. In addition, Texas Monthly listed Boulevardier as a Top 10 Best New Restaurant 2012 in the State of Texas and Dallas Observer listed Boulevardier as having one of the Top 10 Best Wine Lists in Dallas. Boulevardier has also been written up in the New York Times, Town & Country Magazine and many other publications too numerous to name here. In 2015, Brooks opened Rapscallion with his brother Bradley and their Chef Partner Nathan Tate. Rapscallion opened to great critical acclaim and fanfare. Rapscallion has won many national, state, and local awards including Top 10 Best New Restaurants 2015 in the State of Texas by Texas Monthly; Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Dallas by D Magazine; Top 50 Best Restaurants in Dallas 2016 by D Magazine; Top 10 Best Wine Lists in Dallas by the Dallas Observer; Best Hot Chicken in the US from Food Republic; and many, many others. Brooks has had the great pleasure and distinct honor to spend thousands of hours drinking and learning from the greatest minds and palates in the international world of wine. Brooks’s extensive wine travels have taken him to Alsace, the Loire, Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, the Northern Rhone, the Southern Rhone, Costières de Nîmes, Provence, the Willamette and its sub-appellations, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Santa Barbara, California’s Central Valley, and Texas Wine Country. Brooks’s food travels extend quite a bit further than his wine travels. Brooks hopes to continue his career in Food and Wine and really hopes he does not ever again have to practice law.
Chris entered the wine industry in 2009 after spending a decade in healthcare. He is currently a Regional Manager for Wilson Daniels and enjoys getting to drink good wine. In his spare time, Chris puts his knowledge to good use by hosting wine education events, writing a blog about wine basics and running a wine club. “So often we use our education and certifications to focus on the obscure. The reality is there are so many people out there that have no idea about the wide world of wine. Those people need a guide and it needs to be fun.” Chris has his CSW, Level III award from WSET and is currently writing a book about wine sales. Check back next year to see how the journey is going.
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.
Sandra Ban is an academic-turned-sommelier based in Chicago. From a family with a long tradition of wine making and drinking, she began her wine career in the winery at City Winery Chicago, where she is now lead sommelier, and where she occasionally has the opportunity to use her French. She feels privileged to use her passion for wine and hospitality in the service of making guests happy and helping others learn about the wide world of libations. Through the Court of Master Sommeliers and WSET, she continues to develop professionally and indulge her curiosity.
Based in the Finger Lakes, Christopher is a Master Sommelier and Owner/Operator of F.L.X. Hospitality, Element Winery and F.L.X. Culture House. Christopher teaches about booze for the Court of Master Sommeliers and the International Culinary Center.
Jesse Becker is a Master Sommelier and has worked for some of the top restaurants in the United States including Tra Vigne (Napa Valley), NoMI at the Park Hyatt (Chicago), and Frasca Food and Wine (Colorado). His training included three harvests: Miner Family Winery in Napa Valley (2001); Maison Camille Giroud in Burgundy (2004); and Domaine Alphonse Mellot in Sancerre (2008).
Jesse has written extensively about the wines of Germany and Austria contributed the annual Germany and Austria vintage reports for Sommelier Journal magazine from 2008 to 2013. He serves as an ambassador for Germany’s VDP and continues to educate consumers and trade about the wines of Germany and Austria.
In addition to holding the titles of Master Sommelier and VDP.Ambassador, Jesse is a CIVB Accredited Bordeaux Tutor, and Certified Wine Educator. He is currently an advisory board member for Somm360 and works as a Portfolio Specialist for Craft+Estate, an import division of Winebow specializing in the wines of France, Austria, and Greece. Jesse resides in Chicago, Illinois.
Originally trained as a geologist, Wayne Belding found his way from the oil fields to the vineyards. He began in the retail wine business, became an award-winning sommelier in Denver, and in 1990 became the 13th American to pass the Master Sommelier examination. He was also awarded the prestigious Krug Cup for passing all three parts of the examination on his first attempt. He has served as Education Chairman and Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers-Americas. He has been a wine teacher and competition judge both nationally and internationally for over 30 years. From 1986 – 2010, he was an owner of The Boulder Wine Merchant. He is the author of the recently-published book for wine consumers entitled “Diving Into Wine”.
Based in the sublime city of Seattle, Shayn is currently the Examination Director for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas. In his role, he oversees all levels of Examinations in content and delivery, including the prestigious Maser Sommelier Diploma. Previously, he served as Education Director for the Washington State Wine Commission, the state marketing arm for the world-class wines of Washington state, directing content for such highly lauded yearly efforts as Taste Washington! Seminars and Road Trip Washington Wine. Prior to that, Shayn was Wine Director of one the most respected restaurant wine programs in the United States as Wine Director at Canlis Restaurant. During his tenure, Canlis garnered numerous awards for its vinous efforts, including the Pacific Northwest’s only Wine Spectator “Grand Award” each year to run the restaurant’s total to 10 consecutively. The program was also named a “Top 6 Most Trustworthy Wine Programs of 2004” by Gentleman’s Quarterly, “ 2005 National Wine Program of the Year” by Santé Magazine and “Best Wine Restaurant in Seattle” by Food and Wine, Gourmet, Seattle Magazine and The Seattle Times. Under his tutelage, two Canlis Restaurant sommeliers were awarded the prestigious Wine and Spirits “Top Young Sommeliers in the United States” in consecutive
Alisha Blackwell-Calvert, a St. Louis native, 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 dining seafood restaurant Oceano Bistro in Clayton, Missouri. Blackwell-Calvert was inspired to continue learning and decided to pursue a career in wine sales. She began her rep career 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 at the Kansas City exam that July. She also attained the Certified Specialist of Wine certification through the Society of Wine Educators in early 2015 with a 99% score. It was in early 2017 when Reeds American Table approached her with a Sommelier position and an opportunity to work alongside Advanced Sommelier Andrey Ivanov. Wine Enthusiast Magazine has awarded Reeds American Table one of the “Top 100 Wine Restaurants” for three years in a row. Feast Magazine named Alisha a “Rising Star” for 2018. Most recently, she was named one of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers” in 2018. Alisha continues striving to introduce quality wine into Reeds while delivering elevated, but comfortable, service. Blackwell-Calvert is currently preparing to sit for the French Wine Scholar and Advanced Sommelier examinations. In her free time, Alisha enjoys working with draft horses.
John Blazon MS is Vice President of Sales for the Spire Collection since February 2010. The Spire Collection is a luxury driven division representing the artisan brands from the Jackson Family. As its educational and sales brand ambassador, John travels the US to work with a talented team of sommeliers in key markets focusing on collector and AAA accounts to build and strengthen equity for a unique selection of handpicked brands. A 35-year veteran within the Hospitality/Beverage industry, John is perhaps most noted as a former wine director for Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL. During his tenure, Blazon was responsible for the development of wine concepts and standards, including product selection, service and training for 55 restaurants, 20 lounges, 18 resorts,and 3 theme parks which also included Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. John received his master sommelier diploma from the International Court of Master Sommeliers, during a fall 2004 exam in London, England and became the 59th MS for the American Chapter. In 2003, Blazon’s efforts were applauded by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), which awarded its “America’s Best Wine Lists Special Innovation” honor to Walt Disney World Resort at the Monterey Wine Festival. In addition, Santé magazine named Blazon its 2003 “Wine Professional of the Year. John continued to develop educational courses for Disney’s food and beverage team which included the Disney sommelier certificate program in partnership with the Court of Master Sommeliers. More than 750 cast members passed the introductory certificate level since the training began in 2000, which is a greater number than any food and beverage organization in the world. In 2006, Blazon was recognized by The STARWINE International Wine Competition as their “Sommelier of the Year.” In 2008 and 2013, John was elected to serve two terms on the board for the Court of Master Sommeliers and was appointed as an inaugural board member to the Guild of Sommeliers.
Erin Booke is the food and garden editor at The Dallas Morning News, where she covers cooking, wine and sustainable agriculture in North Texas. She has worked in both news and features journalism for 20 years and has a passion for all things food and drink, especially food systems, sourcing, and the local food movement. She lives in Plano with her husband, son and a multitude of unfinished gardening projects.
Lana Bortolot is a New York based journalist and editor, who has contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, La Cucina Italiana and numerous magazines in the wine trade. She is a candidate for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Diploma, with anticipated completion in 2020.
Master Sommelier Devon Broglie attended Duke University on an ambitious academic track, pursuing degrees in both psychology and economics; in his senior year he scored an internship with a prestigious consulting firm. But Broglie’s side job in a restaurant ended up being the catalyst that sparked his impressive career in the wine and spirits industry, leading to his current position as one of the top two global beverage buyers at grocery giant Whole Foods Market. After graduating from Duke, Broglie spent four years in the restaurant industry, as well as a grape harvest season in Spain, before joining the Whole Foods team in 2001. In his current position, he is in charge of purchasing and programming for the chain’s 320-plus U.S. stores that sell alcohol. Broglie also provides guidance and support for buyers across 11 regions and each store or metropolitan area’s beverage team. Broglie earned his Master Sommelier certification in 2011, and while that was certainly a career highlight, he describes his stint in Spain—in 2000 he moved to the Priorat region in Catalonia to work a harvest at a prominent winery—as instrumental in cultivating his passion for wine.
Molly Brooks’ thirst for knowledge first led her down the path of academia. She earned a BA in history from Pitzer College in Los Angeles, then an MA in history from San Diego State University before setting her focus of study on the synthesis of life’s gastronomic and intellectual pleasures through the food, beverage, and hospitality industry. A Southern California native, Molly managed the wine programs at the Barrel Room and Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant in San Diego leaving the restaurant floor after passing the Advanced Sommelier Exam to manage retail, import, distribution, and event operations at Truly Fine Wine, Inc, also based in San Diego. In August 2019, Molly joined the Epic Wines and Spirits team as a member of the San Diego Salesforce, where she continues to preach the good word of great wine and service.
Jacob Brown is the beverage director at Italic, a rustic Italian restaurant in downtown Austin. Jacob moved to Texas from Park City, Utah in 2016 in pursuit of furthering his career in the hospitality industry. 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. Although still a ski bum, the lack of mountains and snow in Texas prove this pursuit difficult. In November of 2015, Jacob passed the Certified Sommelier exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers and is working towards the next level.
Board member and treasurer of Second City Sommeliers Tasting group in Chicago, Jim is a Master Sommelier and National Wine Director for the Hogsalt restaurant group. Formerly the Director of Education for Heritage Wine Cellars in IL, Jim focuses heavily on mentorship in the Chicago wine community when not cooking or trying to make the perfect canelé. Jim was the 2016 National TopSomm second place finisher and 2017 Guildsomm Online Competition winner.
I’ve been helping people find the right wine they’ve been looking for. I’ve been the manager and in the wine department at Pogo’s Wine and Spirits in Dallas for the past 20 years. Like many people in our business I love wine. I enjoy the the creative aspects of wine and as well as the metaphoric aspects of transformation. I have also been in the local media over the 20 years as one of the Free Advice guys at White Rock Lake in Dallas. I am also currently building my practice as a Dream Therapist.
Rachel is currently working as a sommelier at Michelin-starred and Wine Spectator “Grand Award” recipient restaurant Spruce. Prior to Spruce, Rachel was the general manager at Park Tavern, which was named one of San Francisco’s “Top 100 Restaurants” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Rachel was the runner-up in the 2018 San Francisco Ruinart Sommelier Challenge. In addition to being a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, she attended the Advanced Sommelier Course in April 2018. Rachel is also a Certified Specialist of Wine and has completed WSET Level 3.
Dilek Caner currently is the Director of Tasting World/Dallas Wine Center, an organization that educates the wine trade and the consumer since 2005. Prior to the formation of Tasting World, Dilek taught at other organizations such as Institute of Culinary Education and American Sommelier Association. Earlier in her career, she has worked at Wine & Spirits Magazine and has been a sommelière at Restaurants Bruno Jamais and Alain Ducasse. Dilek is a Master of Wine, a title which has been earned only by 312 people in the world to date. She also holds a Ph.D. in Economics from New York University.
Journalist, speaker, blogger, author, and judge based in Manthattan. Former Global Beverage Director for Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and the National Wine Director for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group.
Tina Caputo is a Northern California-based writer and editor who covers wine, food, beer, and travel. Formerly the editor-in-chief of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, SevenFifty Daily, Spirited, Visit California, Sonoma magazine, Eating Well, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. She also produces the podcast “Winemakers Drinking Beer.”
Jason started his career at the storied West Texas winery Llano Estacado in 2005 as a lab tech coming fresh out of college with a biochemistry degree from the University of Houston. After working eleven harvests in Texas, one in California, and one south of the equator in New Zealand, Jason earned the title of Winemaker for Texas’ second largest and second oldest winery at the completion of the 2015 vintage. Jason loves the opportunity to work with Texas wine growers to produce unique wines. His passion for showcasing value priced Texas wines to the public means he spends more time at every stage of winemaking to personally support and shape each wine to its fullest potential through his postmodern winemaking practices he provides for Llano Estacado. Although maintaining Llano’s vast portfolio of wines has provided ample experience with multiple varietals, Jason’s inspiration continues to come from Italian, Spanish, and Southern French wines such as Montepulciano, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Rhône blends like Marsanne/Roussane.
Dustin Chabert is the fifth generation in his family to work in the restaurant industry. He currently works as the Illinois market manager for DNS Wines, as well as a sommelier at Spiaggia in Chicago. Having recently passed the CMS Advanced Exam in October 2018, he is currently working towards his Master Sommelier Diploma.
Rémy Charest is a Québec City–based writer, translator and project manager. He has been writing about wine and food since 1997 for publications such as Le Devoir, EnRoute, Châtelaine, Palate Press, The Morning Claret, Wine Enthusiast and SevenFifty Daily. He occasionally blogs in French and English about cocktails, wine, food and poetry, and is a regular contributor to Chacun Son Vin/WineAlign, Canada’s most popular wine web site. He has been judging national and international wine competitions since 2009, including the National Wine Awards of Canada, the International Rosé Championship and the TexSom International Wine Awards, as well as the most recent edition of the Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition. .
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.
Jeannie Cho Lee is the first Asian Master of Wine and an award-winning author, television host, editor, wine critic, judge and educator. Jeannie has been a professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) where she helped to launch the Master of Science (MSc) in International Wine Management program since 2012. She is currently the Co-Chair of the Decanter Asia Wine Awards and the Burgundy Chair for the Decanter World Wine Awards. She is also a Wine Consultant for Singapore Airlines since 2008 and is the former Publisher and CEO of Le Pan, a wine lifestyle publication she launched in 2015. Jeannie is currently a monthly columnist for Robb Report China and writes for numerous international publications. She is a sought-after speaker, traveling the world giving seminars and masterclasses on wine, food pairing and the quickly evolving Asian wine market. Jeannie has co-hosted a weekly wine program In Vino Veritas, for three years on TVB Pearl, Hong Kong’s leading English-language TV broadcaster. Recognized for her contributions to the food and drinks industry, Jeannie was selected as one of the top 100 most influential people in Hong Kong by the South China Morning Post and Debrett’s in November 2015. She was named the 25th most powerful person in wine by Decanter magazine (UK) and was listed among the top 60 most influential people in wine by La Revue du Vin (France) in 2015 and won the International Vinitaly Award (Italy) in 2009.
She is a Certified Wine Educator with both the UK’s Wine & Spirits Education Trust and the US Society of Wine Educators. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College as well as a Master’s degree from Harvard University. Jeannie has lived in Hong Kong with her family since 1994. More details and high resolution photos can be found on her website: www.JeannieChoLee.com.
Elaine Chukan Brown serves as the American Specialist for JancisRobinson.com, and as Contributing Writer to Wine & Spirits Magazine.
She contributed to the upcoming 8th edition of the World Atlas of Wine, as well as the recent award-winning 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine. In 2019, the Wine Industry Network named Brown one of the 9 Most Inspiring People in Wine, and she was named by the International Wine & Spirits Competition and VinItaly as one of five of the top Wine Communicators of the Year in the world. Her writing has been featured in Decanter, World of Fine Wine, the Robb Report, and others, and recommended by Food & Wine, Imbibe, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and more.
She has been a celebrated key note speaker and seminar leader for events in wine, philosophy, and writing in New Zealand, China, Australia, Chile, Germany, Canada, and throughout the United States. Her work also appears on her own website WakawakaWineReviews.com. She is known online as Hawk Wakawaka, and is known for having created illustrated tasting notes, which @KermitLynchWine named “a new standard in wine reviews.”
Prior to her career in wine, Elaine was an academic philosopher. She served as the Charles A Eastman Fellow at Dartmouth College, and a Tomlinson Fellow at McGill University, where she did her doctoral work. Prior to her academic career, Elaine owned her own commercial fishing business in Bristol Bay, Alaska, where the rest of her family still operate their own commercial salmon fishing businesses.
Leon Cikota has been in the industry for over 30 years. His qualifications include owning and operating a fine dining restaurant along with a catering company. He started an international wine and spirits importing company partnership that was represented in over 20 states.
Leon was the President of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival and was awarded Who’s Who in Food and Wine for the Texas Department of Agriculture and Texas Monthly.
He is the appointed invigilator for The Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) for Republic National Distributing Company holding the Advanced Certificate and is recognized by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Matthew Citriglia has over 30 years of experience in the hospitality and beverage industry, which began by stocking beer, wine, and soda at the age of fourteen at his father’s beverage store. His broad-based skills include retail ownership, winery sales ambassador, restaurant service and beverage management as well as wholesale management, sales and marketing. Currently, Matt is the Director of Education for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits Florida. Matt became a member of the Court of Master Sommelier, Americas in 2002 and has served on the Board of Directors since 2004. He has chaired multiple committees and has been deeply involved with the creation and development of examination and education programs offered by Court of Master Sommelier, Americas. Matt is regularly asked to lecture on a variety of beverage topics; helps coordinate and administer the Court of Master Sommelier exams and mentor’s numerous students attempting to pass the MS exam. He created series of training seminars geared toward motivating and educating wait staff as well as an innovative online e-learning server-training program. Matt’s passion for the beverage industry is infectious and highly motivational. When he is not traveling or speaking, he spends his time defying gravity on a yoga mat and drinking Champagne from a flute.
Shana Clarke is a freelance journalist, copy editor, and content creator based in New York City. Her work regularly appears in a variety of consumer and trade publications, including Wine Enthusiast, Fortune, Hemispheres, and SevenFifty Daily, among others. Shana holds a Level 3 Advanced Certification from Wine & Spirits Education Trust and is a Certified Sake Sommelier.
Follow her on Instagram at @ShanaSpeaksWine and see more of her work on www.shanaspeakswine.com.
Jim Clarke is the Marketing Manager for Wines of South Africa as well as a writer, contributing to both consumer and trade magazines including World of Fine Wine, Beverage Media, and Details magazine. Jim studied wine with the American Sommelier Association and worked as sommelier and wine director in New York for several years, initially at Megu, a high-end Japanese restaurant, and then at Armani Ristorante, inside the clothing company’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue. In September 2013 he left the restaurant industry to join Wines of South Africa.
Master Sommelier Craig Collins first became enamored with wine while working at a winery as an undergrad, an interest that led him to study abroad in Italy during his senior year at Texas A&M. He spent the next 20 years immersed in the beverage industry, from wineries to distribution and importing to restaurants. In 2011, Collins passed the esteemed Master Sommelier Exam, a feat mastered by just 200 people worldwide at that time. He now represents some of the most pedigreed wines from Italy as the Italian Portolfio Manager for VINTUS, one of the premiere import companies in the country. He sits on the Board of Directors for the Court of Master Sommeliers and frequently participates as a speaker and judge at wine and food festivals across the country.
Patrick Comiskey is a Senior Correspondent and domestic critic for Wine & Spirits Magazine, and served for more than a decade as the chief wine writer for the Los Angeles Times. His book American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink was published in October, 2016.
Born and educated in Sydney, Australia, his wine career began in 1994, where he worked as a sales representative for a subsidiary of Marie Brizzard.
After a two-year stint, Miles left Australia and traveled to Yorkshire, England to fulfill a short-term contract to play professional cricket. Whilst in the UK the diversity of the wine offering and the opportunity to learn via WSET proved enticing and after a brief return to Australia, Miles moved to England to further a career in wine.
Whilst in the UK, and following a vintage at Tyrrells in 2001, Miles continued to travel back to the Hunter Valley (Australia) on a regular basis to work as an assistant winemaker. His passion for winemaking along with the generous assistance from family, friends and colleagues, enabled him to fulfill one of his dreams and become a wine brand owner.
Success at WSET Diploma, winning the Champagne Academy Golden Magnum award for best student, along with support from his partner Emma and two sons, proved sufficient encouragement to pursue a long-held ambition to study for the Master of Wine. Happily, this was successfully completed in 2015.
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 17 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 made him a perfect fit for general manager and sommelier at Chef Ford Fry’s first Houston restaurant, State of Grace, and most recently, La Lucha, Fry’s second Houston restaurant. “I believe in the story of a wine and supporting winemakers that not only have a deep commitment to producing great wine that shows a sense of place, but also an understanding of the importance of personal relationships and how that translates tableside,” he said. 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.
Master Sommelier Brian Cronin began his wine career in Raleigh, North Carolina. After studying biology in college, Brian realized that he wanted to make wine. However, it was his exposure in restaurants to wines from all over the world, and his growing passion for wine that made him want to learn everything that he possibly could. Brian then went to work as sommelier in some of the top restaurants in the country. He has been the wine director for Charlie Trotter’s, Gary Danko, and Aqua. Brian is a very active member of the Court of Master Sommeliers and has also been an elected member of their Board of Directors. Brian’s diverse career in the wine industry has helped him build his philosophy of fresh, funny and informative education that he now uses as National Education Manager for Palm Bay International. Brian devotes much of his spare time to running marathons&quat; for charity with the American Cancer Society. In 2016 he ran all of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which are Tokyo, London, Boston, Berlin, Chicago, and NYC marathons for charity – one of only a few people in the world to accomplish this feat. Best thing about the race…”Finishing, eating great food, and drinking great wine! But most importantly it is about the people that benefit from this wonderful cause.”
Founder of WineAlpha, a fine- and rare-wine advisory serving private, trade and institutional clients. Author of The Original Grand Crus of Burgundy and columnist for the Chinese version of La Revue du Vin de France and other magazines. Former Head of Wine (Asia and the Americas), Christie’s and former Director of Wine and Spirit Education, Moet Hennessy USA. Board member, Institute of Masters of Wine, North America.
Ian D’Agata has been speaking and writing about wine for over thirty years. An award-winning writer, his Native Wine Grapes of Italy (Ed. University of California Press) was recently named 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year, the first time an Italian wine writer has ever won the award. Amongst his many other awards, Ian has been named numerous times Italy’s best wine writer and his contributions to the world of wine have been recognized not just in Italy. In 2016 he was nominated by French wine producers and winemakers one of the world’s eight best international wine writers (Les Plumes d’Or awards); in 2017, he was awarded the 2017 Cuvée Award of Excellence in Canada for his support and forwarding awareness at the international level of the quality wines of Canada, a recognition that was renewed when in 2018 he was awarded the VQA Promoter Award, “Out of Ontario” section. Ian is the Senior Editor of VINOUS (USA), where he writes mainly on the wines of Italy, France and Canada, as well as restaurant reviews. He is the the Creative director of Collisioni’s Wine & Food Project, Italy’s largest music, literature and enogastronomy festival held annually in Barolo (www.collisioni.com) and the director of Indigena, an annual festival entirely dedicated to Italian native grapes and wines made from them. Most importantly, he is the director of 3iC (Italian International Indigenous Center for Wine and Food Studies) a wine and food school that is located in Barolo, Italy. A trained medical doctor, Ian’s scientific background characterizes his work in the field of wine. His research interest focuses on native wine grapes and he is actively involved in resurrecting forgotten old native wine grapes of Italy and having wine made from them again. He has been a Research Professor in Oenology at the University of New Mexico (USA), and has lectured on wine culture, history and tasting in NYU’s Master’s Program in Food Sciences and in numerous Italian universities.
Dame’s ability to transmit his passionate interest in wine make him a natural teacher. One of just seventy-three Americans at the time, to have passed the Master Sommelier Examination, Dame was the first to successfully pass all three parts in a single year. This feat and his high score won him the coveted Krug Cup of the British Guild of Sommeliers in 1984. Dame founded the American Branch of The Court of Master Sommeliers in 1986 and has played an active role in the expansion of the Master Sommelier program throughout America since that time.
As Cellarmaster of The Sardine Factory in Monterey, California for twelve years, Dame created a wine list which won the Wine Spectator Grand Award. With the many wine events held in the brick and wine lined Wine Cellar, Dame turned The Sardine Factory into a wine destination restaurant of world renown. He is also active in the culinary arts serving as an Honorary Trustee of The American Academy of Chefs, the honor society of The American Culinary Federation. He was awarded the Antonin Careme Medal and was made a Supreme Knight of the Knights of the Vine in 2000. He was elected to the prestigious National Restaurant Association College of Diplomates in 2004. In 2006 he received Sante Magazine’s Wine Professional of the Year as well as Starwine’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2010 he was elected to the American Academy of Chefs Hall of Fame.
A sixth generation Californian, Dame graduated from Washington and Lee University with a degree in journalism and communications. A European trip after high school piqued his curiosity about wine and food. Since then, he has applied his considerable persuasive skills to the service and appreciation of fine wine.
Tina Danze is a freelance writer and editor who writes regularly about wine and spirits for The Dallas Morning News. For twelve years, she has headed The Dallas Morning News Wine Panel, a group of sommeliers and food professionals that explore wine and food pairings.
Born in London, raised in Sydney Mark has over 35 years of experience in the hotel, restaurant and wine business, fifteen of those as a Sommelier.
In 2001 he was name Sommelier of the Year at the Vancouver Wine Festival and also won the Spirited Industry Professional in 2014. As a Department Head and instructor with the International Sommelier Guild he was instrumental in the on-going development of the curriculum and has taught classes in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas.
Mark is an annual judge at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, Sunset Magazine and LA International wine competitions. In addition, he developed a wine education and restaurant etiquette course for Simon Fraser University Global Asset and Wealth Management MBA program. Mark is currently Head of Education for Wine Australia in North America.
Nick Davis is a Master Sommelier and founder of two companies. With his first venture Medium Plus, Nick selects fine wine for private clients, and hosts educational events for industry students and enthusiasts. His second project is Unicorn Imports, offering Champagne and other fine wines from around the world to the Seattle restaurant and retail market. During his down-time, Nick enjoys language learning, jazz music, and visiting Red Pandas at the local zoo.
Jaime Deleon is currently the Adult Beverage Manager in Houston, Texas for the Kroger company, the largest traditional grocery chain in the U.S. Jaime has been with the Kroger company since 1987 and currently oversees the beer/wine department for the Kroger Company’s Houston Division. He developed an interest in wine while attending a portfolio trade wine tasting and ever since then, Jaime continues to further his wine education. Jaime has landed coverage in print and broadcast including the Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, KHOU, and CW39. Jaime passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier Exam in April, 2015, and holds the Certified Specialist of Wine certification from the Society of Wine Educators. Jaime currently mentors a local study group called “AweSomm-Houston” while pursuing the Master Sommelier Diploma.
Matt Deller MW is the Chief Operating Officer for TOR Wines, a small, prestigious producer of Napa Valley wines from several of the valley’s greatest sites. He is one of only 50 Masters of Wine in the U.S. and judges international wine competitions globally. He is an expert panelist at international wine events and has written for various wine publications. Prior to settling at TOR, he was Chief Wine Officer for Wine Access, heading a wine team that included two Masters of Wine and a Master Sommelier.
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).
Born and raised in America’s heartland, Jeni Dodd has journeyed far from the plains of Kansas to remote tea-growing regions throughout the world in search of the perfect cup of tea. The owner of Jeni Dodd Tea, a company dedicated to importing hand-crafted, unique specialty teas and offering tea education for groups and events, Jeni seeks to expand the public awareness of the specialty tea market and lead consumers to discover the exquisite joy of the leaf.
Over the last decade, Jeni Dodd has dedicated and committed herself to acquire as much possible knowledge about the tea industry, tea culture and tea processing. She is a Certified Tea Specialist through the Specialty Tea Institute and has completed all of STI’s Level IV courses offered to date. She holds a Certified Tea Masters’ designation from the International Tea Masters Association.
Ms. Dodd has taught future tea entrepreneurs and enthusiasts at the Specialty Tea Institute. She has presented several times at the World Tea Expo, as well as regional tea festivals throughout the United States. Jeni was a keynote speaker at the Australian Tea Cultural Seminar and was a judge for the World Tea Brewing Championship in Melbourne. She was a guest speaker at Nepal’s International Tea Day and Nepal’s 3rd International Tea Festival. As a firm believer in trade, not aid, as a means to propel Nepal from poverty, Jeni currently trains Nepalese farmers and producers on the successful marketable quality and flavor profiles empowering competition in the global market.
In her pursuit of a comprehensive understanding of tea, Jeni Dodd has traveled to several countries of origin, including Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China, India, Sri Lanka, Argentina and Nepal, visiting hundreds of tea estates and tea gardens, observing and participating in the various growing and processing methods unique to each country and region.
While finishing law school in London, Jeni Dodd first developed a passion for tea. Earl Grey was her ‘gateway’ tea that eventually led to her appreciation of specialty tea. While practicing as a corporate litigation attorney in New York City, she found that her desire to know more about tea outweighed her desire for the law and she formed Jeni Dodd Tea. While she still does some legal work and never forgets her Kansas roots (and continues her enthusiastic support of the Kansas Jayhawk basketball team,) her primary focus now is growing her tea business and continuing to learn about and facilitates the discovery of others to the endlessly fascinating world of tea.
David Donalson found wine later in life when his wife informed him 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 was also able to attain the title of Certified Sommelier in 2013 and stood on the podium of the TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition the last 3 years running. David now works for Classified Wines as a marketing manager for Dallas/Fort Worth representing some of the best wines in the world.
Mike Dunne, contributing wine columnist for The Sacramento Bee, is nearing his 50th year of writing about wine, focusing mostly on California but including other regions about the globe. He is The Bee’s retired wine columnist, restaurant critic and food editor. In addition to continuing to write for The Bee, he freelances for other publications, for books and for wine competitions that ask him to write tasting notes on best-of-class and other wines receiving high honors. He judges around 10 wine competitions yearly.
Dawnine Dyer, a California native with a degree in Biology from UC Santa Cruz began her career in the Wine Industry in 1974 at the Robert Mondavi Winery. In 1976 she was hired by the start up Domaine Chandon where she worked closely with the French winemaking team from Moet & Chandon to develop the styles and winemaking techniques that have led to respect for the category of California Sparkling Wines. As VP, Winemaker, Dyer was responsible for all winemaking at the 400,000 case winery. During her 24 years at Domaine Chandon, Dyer spent considerable time in France, was involved in the 1986 founding of a sister winery, Domaine Chandon in Australia’s Yarra Valley and traveled frequently to Chandon’s facility in Argentina to oversee export products. In 1993 Dawnine and her husband Bill planted a small Cabernet vineyard in the prestigious Diamond Mountain district of the Napa Valley and began making wine from the estate vineyard in 1996. In 2000 after 25 harvests with Chandon, Dyer left to devote more time to Dyer Vineyard. They now produce and market wine from their vineyard under the Dyer label. During her career Dawnine Dyer has served as president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, president of Napa Valley Wine Technical Group and was a member of the founding board of Women for WineSense. Through her work with the NVV, Dawnine became a recognized voice for the importance of Geographic Indications and Appellations of Origin to the Napa Valley and has been invited to speak on the issue in Geneva, Switzerland, Beijing, China, Lima, Peru, and Bordeaux, France. She has lectured for the annual Wine Industry Executive program at the UC Davis Graduate School of Business, is on the board of Frog’s Leap Winery, and is a judge for several professional wine competitions. In addition to Dyer Vineyard, Dawnine consults on winemaking and is a partner in Meteor Vineyard.
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.
Sarah Jane is Co-Chairman of the Decanter World Wine Awards, the world’s largest wine awards, and joint Vice-Chairman of the Decanter Asia Wine Awards. She travels widely to speak at conferences, consult for wineries, judge at wine shows, and to research material for her journalism. She became a Master of Wine in 2006, winning the Robert Mondavi Winery prize for the highest marks in the theory and dissertation. She was Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine 2014-16. In 2018 she was awarded the WSET’s Outstanding Alumni Award.
She has a longstanding affection for Spain, ever since living there pre-university. She is Vice-Chairman of the Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino, and has been made a Dama de Albariño, and a Dama de Solear. Her MW dissertation was on the Almacenista producers of Jerez, and she is a Certified Sherry Educator. Her first book on Spain was Seville, and her latest is The Wines of Northern Spain. She is currently researching The Wines of Mediterranean and Southern Spain. She also writes the Spain and Sherry entries for the Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book every year.
With James Tidwell MS and Richard Mayson she is a Series Editor of the Classic Wine Library.
In her other lives, she is a founder member of the Academy of Chocolate, which promotes fine chocolate, and the author of Chocolate Unwrapped. She was President of the Guild of Food Writers in the UK, and was Associate Editor of the BBC’s Good Food magazine for over a decade. The first part of her degree at Cambridge University was in Classics, and when she is not thinking about wines from Spain and Spanish-speaking countries, and the world’s great fortifieds and sweet wines, then she has a special place in her heart for Greece and its exciting wines.
Nora Z. Favelukes is a pioneer of marketing and sales of premium South American wines in the United States.
A an influencer, skilled spokesperson, moderator, negotiator, speaker and a natural diplomat with years of international experience, Ms. Favelukes understands the inner workings and complexities of the US, South American and European wine markets.
She is also a noted speaker specialized in European and South American wines and the US Wine Market.
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 eight beverage programs and beverage training at all City Winery’s properties across six states.
Margie is a Professor at the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona. She is a certified wine educator (CWE), a certified sommelier (CS) and the The WSET® Level 3 Award in Wines. Margie has enjoyed judging at several international wine competition and is the steward to the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.
Jameson Fink is a writer, editor, and consultant who has worked for Wine Enthusiast, msn.com, and Grape Collective. His eponymous blog is a two-time finalist for a Saveur Blog Award. After many years as a wine buyer in Seattle for shops massive and small, he moved to New York in 2015. You might know him as somewhat of a pariah for his unwavering defense of the Champagne flute. He will die on this island.
Brandon Ford is one of 600 Advanced Sommeliers in the world. He’s run many award-winning beverage programs including multiple Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence-winning wine programs. He has extensive experience in both teaching and training consumers as well as hospitality professionals. He believes classics are classics for a reason and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel; the devil’s in the details and the details are what matters. He has an innate ability to take a complex topic and break it down with such an infectious enthusiasm that even his four-year-old son can understand it. After visiting many wine regions including Burgundy, Napa, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Sonoma, Hacienda Patron, Bourbon County, and others, he realizes that it is people that make the beverage world go ‘round and wants to share his love and knowledge for this amazing industry.
To Amanda Fraga, every glass of wine is like traveling and visiting a new place. She first discovered her love for hospitality working at a local bar while attending Florida International University. To explore the industry further, Fraga took a wine course at FIU, which is known for its wine program, and fell in love. After graduating in 2011 with her bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management and a minor in Beverage Management, Fraga earned a position as a wine steward at The Setai, Miami Beach. There, she was introduced to the high standards of fine dining and wine and gained the knowledge and experience to become an assistant sommelier at Miami’s Lippi restaurant (now closed). Always looking for opportunities to continue her education, Amanda traveled to Burgundy, France in 2014, and worked for five weeks with Nicolas Potel at Domaine de Bellene. Her journey exposed her to winemaking from the ground up, starting with picking and sorting grapes, and finishing with pigeage and remontage. These firsthand experiences further solidified her appreciation of wine and helped her gain valuable insight into various winemaking techniques. After returning from France, Fraga joined the esteemed team at The Genuine Hospitality Group (TGHG). She began as a sommelier at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink before transitioning to Beverage Manager. Fraga is now the Sommelier at Amara at Paraiso, Chef Michael Schwartz’s newest Miami restaurant defined as his “love letter to Miami”. Here, Fraga draws inspiration for the wine program from the restaurant’s coastal Miami and Latin American-inspired cuisine, and the beautiful waterfront surroundings of the restaurant. She’s found unexpected wines from a variety of Latin American countries beyond the expected Argentina, including Mexico, Peru, and Chile. Her current favorite wine by the glass is a Moscatel/Riesling Blend from Itata Chile. Her innovative approach to training is predicated on a consistent curriculum and engaging the staff through “Wine Wednesday” trainings on various topics beyond pairings and taste profiles, including the importance of back story, sense of place – not just terrior, and personal context in winemaking. In her career, Amanda has been awarded the Level 2 Sommelier certification and is currently studying to complete Level 3 of the Court of Master Sommelier’s exam.
Michael Franz is a wine writer, educator, and consultant. He is editor of Wine Review Online and a freelance contributor to many national and international wine magazines. From 1994 through 2005, he wrote as wine columnist for The Washington Post. Franz is also a wine consultant for 14 restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as an instructor for L’Academie de Cuisine and the Capital Wine School. He has conducted more than 1,200 site visits at wineries across Western and Eastern Europe, South America, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He tastes approximately 9,000 wines each year, judges wine competitions regularly around the world, and has acted as Chief Judge for international competitions in Washington, D.C., San Diego, New Zealand and China.
Judd Fruia is Director of Operations of Dallas-Fort Worth-based restaurants The Ranch at Las Colinas and Haywire. Judd has spent over 28 years in the restaurant and wine business, crafting a respected and well-rounded perspective in the industry. Prior to joining Front Burner Restaurants, Judd’s skills were honed over a 17-year career with Pappas Restaurants, Inc., including nearly a decade serving as General Manager/Steakhouse Concept Leader for Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Dallas. During his tenure with Pappas, Judd helped the brand amass a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine list and collection. Judd is also the former owner of Fruia’s Tre Amici Steak and Seafood Restaurant. As a member and supporter of the Court of Sommeliers Wine program, Judd has led his restaurants in cultivating award-winning wine lists and beverage programs. Throughout his career, Judd has been fortunate to travel and experience some of the finest wines from all over the world, while working alongside some of the most renowned wine experts in the industry. These experiences have led him to be a great supporter and staff promoter of wines worldwide, as well as a consummate champion of bringing innovation in the wine industry to his restaurants to educate and elevate his guests’ dining experiences. Judd is also an annual attendant and supporter of The James Beard Awards and tastings in New York. His belief is the refined pairing of food and wine leads to the ultimate enhancement of the guest’s experience. Judd’s unmatched energy and operational expertise has been instrumental in inspiring a like-minded team in the constant pursuit of the ultimate hospitality experience. A true Texas man, Judd has lived and worked in every major city in Texas. He is not only an avid wine lover but also a connoisseur of single malt scotch, bourbon and cigars.
Klaus studied viticulture and winemaking from 1981 to 1986 and began his career in Germany in 1988. He joined Cantina Terlano in 1994. Although the plan was to stay for one harvest, he fell in love with the wines and has been there ever since. He is a collector of old and rare wines, and also enjoys hiking, biking and exploring nature.
Michael Godel is a wine writer, educator and critic at WineAlign.com. He processes his thoughts about wine, travel, music and pop culture at godella.ca. “Godello,” as he is known, hung up his 25-year-old chef’s apron in 2013 after joining the team at Toronto’s Barque Smokehouse as Consultant-at-Large in March of 2011 and is currently Wine Director of the three Toronto area restaurants. He is a Canadian ambassador and educator for the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and Vins de Bourgogne. Godel is a judge for the annual WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, the Ontario Wine Awards and Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, formerly Gold Medal Plates. He lives in Toronto with his wife of 22 years and three children.
Born and raised in Napa Valley Keith is one of the world’s youngest Master Sommeliers and proud recipient of the illustrious Krug Cup trophy. He has more than 20 years of experience ranging from bussing & waiting tables, to writing award-winning wine lists, consulting, training and lecturing for prestigious and renowned restaurants, hotels, cruise lines & wineries including; Domaine Chandon, Masa’s, Spago, Picasso, Aureole and Crystal Cruises.
Jamie Goode is a London-based wine writer who is currently a wine columnist with a UK national newspaper, The Sunday Express. He also contributes regularly to a range of publications including The World of Fine Wine, Noble Rot and Wine and Spirits (USA).
Jamie came to wine writing by a rather convoluted route, via a Ph.D in plant biology.
Also a published author, his first book, Wine Science, won the Glenfiddich Award for Drinks Book in 2006; a second edition was released in 2014. In addition to writing
He also lectures and judges widely.
Mary Gorman-McAdams is a Master of Wine, wine educator, wine judge and wine business strategist. Since May 2019 she is the Director at International Wine Center, New York City, the First WSET School in the Americas.
Between 2014 and 2019, she was the North American Market Adviser for the Bordeaux Wine Council, where she led its marketing and educational programs focused on growing the market for Bordeaux wines. During her tenure the United States moved from being the fourth most important market by value to the second most important market by value at the end of 2018, where volumes imported were the highest in 35 years
Since 2012 Mary has also served on the Institute of Masters of Wine Global Education team, which manages the Institute’s academic program around the world.
Mary became a Master of Wine in 2011, also winning the Viña Errázuriz Award for the highest marks in the Business of Wine paper. When not talking and tasting wine, Mary can be found on the sidelines of a soccer field with husband Joe McAdams, cheering on their 16 year old son Luca.
Owner/Partner – Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, San Francisco, CA
Owner/Partner – Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant, Napa
In his more than 40 years in the wine business, Master Sommelier Peter Granoff has worn many hats. From schlepping boxes and busing tables to receiving the “Sommelier of the Year” award from the James Beard Foundation and launching Virtual Vineyards (the first U.S. entity to sell wine on the internet), Peter has traveled the world to immerse himself in almost all facets of the wine industry. He is currently on the Board of Directors of the Court of Master Sommeliers~Americas, and is internationally known as a speaker, wine educator, wine competition judge, and provider of free wine insulting. His goofy sense of humor and unconventional approach to the business of wine bring a refreshing change of pace to the partnership’s San Francisco and Napa wine shops.
Master Sommelier & Winemaker/Founder, Gramercy Cellars in Walla Walla, WA. Former Chair, Court of Master Sommeliers–Americas. Formerly ran wine programs for Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, and BR Guest Restaurants. Accolades include “Best New Winemaker in Washington” and “Best New Winery” for Gramercy, by Seattle Magazine.
Chief Executive of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. He has had a lifelong career in the wine and spirit industry since leaving London University with a French degree in 1977. Having left school with the intention of becoming a teacher, he decided – following a year spent in Bordeaux – that the wine and spirit industry “seemed more fun than teaching”. He started working for Christopher & Co, and its parent company Waverley Vintners, where he was their first Wine Development Manager, designing – and running – sales courses for the salesforce. Ten years later, in 1987, he joined Seagram UK. His career in sales and marketing included a 2 year posting in 1993 as Global Marketing Manager for Martell, based in Cognac, France.He returned to UK in 1995 as Marketing Director, then Commercial Director for Seagram UK, also assuming General Management responsibility for the Nordic markets.Upon the takeover of Seagram in 2002, Ian joined the Wine & Spirit Education Trust as Chief Executive, where he has overseen the ten-fold growth of WSET since joining as Chief Executive in 2002! The business has grown ten-fold since the turn of the millennium, and this year (2018/19) over 108,000 students took a WSET qualification across 75 countries.
Ashley Hausman is Colorado’s first Master of Wine and is currently the Education Director for GuildSomm. She is also an adjunct professor of Enology at Metro State University in Denver. She is an advocate for Colorado’s budding wine industry and actively involved in the local community. Ashley also holds a Master of Arts in English and American literature from New York University.
Rich Higgins is all things beer: brewmaster, beer travel operator, author, public speaker, and a consultant to breweries and restaurants. He is one of 19 Master Cicerones in the world, and additionally is a Certified Sommelier. He runs Beer Immersions educational beer tourism trips to Belgium and Germany. To offer an organized approach to blind beer tasting, he is the author and developer of the Deductive Beer Tasting Method.
He teaches public classes, industry trainings, video beer courses online, and is a public speaker and coordinator of events around the world. He spent over a decade as a professional brewer and brewmaster, is a past president of the San Francisco Brewers Guild, and served as Event Director of San Francisco Beer Week.
Contact him at www.richhiggins.com.
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.
Natasha Hughes MW graduated as a Master of Wine in 2014, winning four out of the seven prizes awarded that year, including the Outstanding Achievement Award.
Natasha began her wine trade career as deputy editor for Decanter’s website, but left in 2001 to begin freelancing as a journalist, specialising in wine and food. Since then she has written for numerous publications, including Decanter, Club Oenologique, Square Meal, Imbibe and Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine. Her online work has been published by the Academie du Vin Library’s online magazine, Vinosity; jancisrobinson.com, timatkin.com and wine-pages.com, among others.
Prior to her career in the wine trade, Natasha ran a catering company part-time while at university, and this experience led to her becoming an acknowledged expert on the on-trade and on the relationship between wine and food. She was a section editor for Square Meal’s annual restaurant guide for many years, worked with Wine Magazine to develop the magazine’s Sommelier Challenge and was a long-term panel chair at Imbibe’s Sommelier Wine Awards until 2017. Natasha has written extensively about food and wine pairing, and was a finalist in the Pio Cesare Food and Wine Writer awards in both 2015 and 2017.
Natasha consults for restaurants, private clients, wine producers and generic bodies. She is a panel chair at the International Wine Challenge (UK) and has also chaired the judging at Georgia’s National Wine Competition. She has been a member of judging panels in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, China, Australia, Mexico and the Czech Republic.
In addition, Natasha hosts wine events, seminars and tutored tastings for both consumers and members of the wine trade, teaches tasting and theory to Master of Wine students and leads trips to wine regions for private clients. She is also currently the coordinator of the Institute of Masters of Wine education tasting programme and a member of the Institute’s Council.
Cathy Huyghe is wine columnist for Forbes and Inc, focusing on business and entrepreneurship within the industry. She is the co-founder and CEO of Enolytics, a big data company for wine, and she is the author of the award-winning book,Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass.
A native of Yakutsk, in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in northeastern Siberia, Andrey immigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1992. He earned his Bachelor of Science in International Business, Economics, and Russian Studies from St. Louis University. His sommelier career began and continued in St. Louis with stints as Beverage Director/General Manager for a number of highly acclaimed restaurants in town. Currently, Andrey is based in San Francisco where he is the National Wholesale Manager for his company, Bliss Wine Imports. He also works full time on the restaurant floor alongside his good friend Matt Dulle at Lazy Bear, a one-of-a-kind Michelin dining experience by Chef David Barzelay. Andrey has been recognized as one of the top sommeliers in the U. S. by Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits, and Food and Wine Magazine. He won the 2015 Chaine des Rotisseurs’ Best Young Sommelier Competition for the U. S. In 2018, he achieved his long-term professional goal of passing the Master Sommelier exam, becoming one of only 274 people in the world to have done so.
Director of Trade Sales, Chappellet Winery. Chairman, SommFoundation (The Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation). Formerly member of executive team and VP of Fine Wine for Southern Wine & Spirits–NV. Developed the Bellagio Hotel’s first wine program, which he led to become the most successful in the world.
A native of Brazil, Jardim’s first memories of wine come from the leisurely Sunday brunches when his father would serve the slightly chilled Chianti “in fiasco” to offset the tropical heat. Wine took a more serious turn for him while, after he graduated from college with a degree in communications. working in public relations for Number One Restaurant Group Jardim moved to San Francisco in 1988 and worked at several of the best restaurants in the city. While an assistant wine buyer at the legendary Ashbury Market, he successfully completed the Foundation and Advanced Courses at Sterling’s School of Service and Hospitality in Napa Valley. He then passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Course with a special commendation for one of the highest scores. Opening Eos Restaurant and Wine Bar in San Francisco in 1995, he teamed with Debbie Zachareas, to co-create one of the most cutting-edge wine programs in the country. He was sole wine director from 1999 until 2001. From 2001 to 2013, Jardim was the wine director at Jardinière, then a partnership between Chef Traci Des Jardins, twice a James Beard Award winner and restaurant designer Pat Kuleto. At Jardinière, he and his team earned the highest four-star rating for service from the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2010, Sunset Magazine named Jardim Sommelier of The Year. He has established many critically acclaimed wine programs for restaurants in San Francisco and beyond, including: Chef Loretta Keller’s Coco 500, SF Magazine’s Rising Star Chef Jessica Boncutter’s Bar Jules, Chef Elizabeth Faulkner’s Citizen Cake and Orson, Chef Traci Des Jardins’ Manzanita at the Ritz-Carlton Highlands Resort in Tahoe and, most recently, Black Cat Restaurant and Jazz Club. Jardim has been featured in numerous wine publications, is a frequent guest speaker at wine events, and has served as a judge in many prestigious wine competitions nationally and internationally. He appeared in the PBS weekly television series “Joanne Weir Cooking Class,” as the show’s wine expert. Currently, as an Independent Wine Consultant, Sommelier and Wine Educator, he conducts high-profile, private and corporate wines classes, seminars and tastings, in the US and Brazil, while acting as the Brand Ambassador for Ernest Vineyards, a boutique Sonoma Coast producer. In January 2014, Jardim became a partner of Esprit de Champagne, a small import company dedicated to bringing the finest Grower Champagnes to the U.S. market. In 2015, he was selected to become the first Wines of Portugal US Ambassador overseeing and supporting Portugal’s education and marketing initiatives in the USA. He is also the acting Director of Wine Studies at the San Francisco Cooking School and an Adjunct Professor at the CIA Greystone Napa Valley (Culinary Institute of America).
Laura Jewell took up the position of Head of Market for the UK and Europe at Wine Australia in February 2015, overseeing the marketing strategy for Australian wines. The focus is on trade education, tastings and exhibitions and consumer engagement through retailer promotions within the on and off-trade. Leading a team of 5, Laura has a programme of over 50 events across the UK and Europe to tell the stories behind premium Australian wines, and to increase the demand for Australian wines.
Laura joined the Product Development team at Tesco in September 2010, overseeing the development of the range in conjunction with the wine buying team, for all the markets Tesco trades in, including Central Europe and Asia. Tesco won the Wine Supermarket of the Year award at the IWC, and at the Decanter Wine Awards (for the first time in its 10 year history) following 2 years of dynamic development in store and on line, resulting in a better shopping experience for customers. Personally responsible for the Finest range of over 130 products, Laura led the development of own label and exclusive wines with her team, with over 300 new lines introduced in 12 months. She was also the Chairman of the board of Trustees of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, the leading educational body for the Drinks industry working in over 62 countries around the world. In recognition of this, Laura won the prestigious ‘Woman of the Year’ award at the Drinks Business Awards in 2013.
Laura was the Trading Controller for SPAR (UK) Ltd for the previous 14 months, with full responsibility for the wine portfolio, working closely with the regional wholesalers, and focused on ranging, merchandising, POS, a complete own label redevelopment and a full trade and consumer PR campaign, to ensure that everyone at SPAR is a wine enthusiast. She was awarded the title of ‘Retail Buyer of the Year’ at the 2010 Drinks Business awards in recognition of her work with SPAR (UK) Ltd.
Prior to this move in May 09, Laura was the Agency Director of HwCg, a major wine agency and importer in the UK, with strong representation in the UK Grocery and Independent trade. Chile and France were particularly prominent in the portfolio, including the very successful French brand Blason de Bourgogne. Laura was the main liaison with suppliers around the world, and headed up the winemaking and technical team.
Prior to her move to HwCg in late 05, Laura was a senior buyer at the UK Multiple Grocer, J Sainsbury’s. With a market share of 22% and a turnover in wine in excess of £650M, the main focus was on the customer, both interpreting and influencing their wine consumer habits. Within the five years spent at Sainsbury’s, Laura was responsible for the French, Iberian and Australasian portfolios, and she was awarded the title of UK Supermarket Buyer of the Year 2005 by Onivins at the French Wines Awards for Excellence.
Laura gained her Master of Wine in 1997 while working as the wine buyer at the Waverley Group, one of the UK’s largest wholesalers.
Founder, Masterful Wine Events. Has traveled to more than 60 wine regions across four continents. Formerly ran purchasing operations for prestigious retailers Morrell & Co in Manhattan and JJ Buckley in California. Works as a professional skydiver on weekends, having completed over 1000 jumps.
Terry studied physics at the University of Athens while working for some of the best restaurants in Greece. He became more involved in the hospitality industry after falling in love with wine, and began completing the first three levels of WSET in Greece. Following this, he moved to the UK and began working for The Fat Duck while finishing his WSET diploma and completing the Advanced level of the Court of Master Sommeliers exam. He then left The Fat Duck and accepted a role at The Ledbury where he became the Assistant Head Sommelier. During his time at The Ledbury, he earned the title of the Best Sommelier in Greece 2015 just shortly before passing his Advanced exam of COMS. He then joined the 67 Pall Mall private members’ club as head sommelier and represented Greece in the European Final 2017 in Vienna, where he managed to progress to the semi-finals. Terry won the UK Sommelier of the Year Competition in 2016 and is currently preparing for his Master Sommelier Diploma.
In addition, he has been a judge for the Cyprus and Greece in the Decanter Wine Awards for the last three years and is part of the technical committee of the UK Sommelier association.
Olga Karapanou Crawford is a winemaker spending her time between Greece and California. Olga is one of the three Greek MWs and the first Greek winemaker to earn the Master of Wine title. With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in her native Greece and a master’s in viticulture and oenology in California, Olga has embarked on a career that explores winemaking around the globe. With various roles that touch nearly every aspect of the wine industry (viticulture, winemaking, sourcing, marketing, sales and winery management) she is currently the deputy CEO for her family’s wineries, Achaia Clauss and Antonopoulos Vineyards. Olga’s passion lies in indigenous grape varieties and mountain viticulture.
While studying history at the University of Montana, Max Kast supported himself by working in restaurants and wine bars. With a pocketful of tip money he purchased a bottle of 1991 Chateau Musar Rouge and fell completely in love with wine. After graduating with a B.A., he decided to forego the world of academia for a full time career in the world of food and wine when he realized he spent more time reading Michael Broadbent, Kermit Lynch, and Jancis Robinson than applying to grad school. Max was the wine director at the Relais & Chateaux property Triple Creek Ranch in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana before he moved to Chapel Hill, N. C. where he spent ten years as wine director of the Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux Fearrington House Restaurant. During his time at the Fearrington House, he helped the property earn the coveted Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux and Forbes Five-Star designations. In 2018, after over a decade of traveling, tasting, studying and more studying, Max earned the coveted designation of Master Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Max is one of only 274 Master Sommeliers in the world. Since 2016 Max has worked for Broadbent Selections, where he passionately promotes their diverse portfolio of family-owned global boutique wineries from around the world including the wine that set him on his path, Chateau Musar.
Master Sommelier David Keck discovered his love for wine while pursuing a career — and traveling the world — as an opera singer. David passed his Master Sommelier exam in 2016, making him the 149th American Master Sommelier and the 233rd in the world. Shortly after, David co-founded Goodnight Hospitality in Houston. His first project, the honky-tonk Goodnight Charlie’s, opened at the end of 2017, and several more projects are planned for 2019. Previously, David ran Camerata at Paulie’s wine bar for three years, which rose to national acclaim under his leadership. David was named one of Food & Wine’s Sommeliers of the Year in 2016. He has a Master of Music Degree from Rice University, an undergraduate degree in English from Columbia University and attended Juilliard for opera performance.
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.
Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth is the president of GuildSomm, an international membership organization for wine professionals. He hosts the popular GuildSomm podcast and contributes to wide-ranging content. Geoff also travels and speaks extensively, promoting GuildSomm, wine education, and the sommelier profession.
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.
Geoff Labitzke is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kistler Vineyards. Kistler Vineyards is an artisan winery dedicated to producing world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir using old world Burgundian techniques. Kistler has consistently produced some of the best California examples of these varieties for over 30 years.
Geoff began his career as a retailer in Southern California in 1978. Early on Geoff was a guest speaker conducting wine classes at Saddleback College and Orange Coast College. In the early 1980’s Geoff developed a wine appreciation course geared toward restaurant servers. In 1989, he achieved the Certified Wine Educator credential from the Society of Wine Educators. Geoff would later serve on the Society’s board of directors and was chairman of the annual conference held in Sonoma.
Geoff has spent 22 years in wholesale representing some of the finest wines in the world. He has personally visited top wine estates in Austria, France, Germany, Italy Spain, Australia and New Zealand. In 2006, Geoff was one of two Americans to pass the rigorous Master of Wine examination. Currently there are only 30 Masters of Wine in the United States.
Kaysie Lackey came into the wine world after a successful career as a pastry chef. While traveling the world to give master classes and compete in Food Network Challenge shows, she made excursions to 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 with their Grand Award-winning list and also in distribution for Vinum, 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.
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.
My humble beginnings in the wine business began when I won a servers’ contest for selling the most Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet at the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center while attending Auburn University and studying finance. The prize was a weekend at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. It really opened my eyes to how much I didn’t know but wanted to know. I have been involved in all facets of the wine business from running restaurant wine programs to buying and selling wine for retail wine programs in the resort community of Steamboat Springs. In 2003, I took my experience from wholesale and started a distribution business with three partners called Baroness Wines. We sold the business in 2014 to Empire Distributing. I then started my own import/brokerage business called SAmandla Wine Imports that currently operates in 15 markets. I am currently sitting for the theory portion of the Master Sommelier Exam. I live in Denver, Colorado, where I am extremely active in the restaurant scene, both here and in the mountain areas. I enjoy the active lifestyle of Colorado, including skiing in the winter and biking in the summer.
Ernst Loosen was born into a great tradition of German winemaking. The Dr. Loosen estate on the Mosel River has been in his family for over 200 years, so you’d think it only natural for him to take up the family legacy as a profession. The truth is, though, that as a youngster Ernst was more fascinated by the numerous Roman ruins in the area than by the family vineyards. So he went off to college to study archaeology. In the mid-1980s after his father fell ill, Ernst agreed to take on the estate and finally found his true calling among the broken slate of his family’s vineyards rather than the hewn stones of an old Roman ruin. Since Ernst took over, Dr. Loosen wines have received countless awards and glowing reviews in the press. The estate has become a member of the prestigious VDP, Germany’s association of top-rated wine estates, and has been named one of the 10 best estates in Germany by nearly every wine publication worldwide. Ernst was named Germany’s Winemaker of the Year in the 2001 edition of Gault Millau’s Weinguide Deutschland and Decanter magazine’s Man of the Year in 2005. In addition to his passion for Riesling, Ernst is a lifelong Pinot Noir fanatic, a variety that he has produced in the Pfalz since 1996. After numerous visits to Oregon over the years, he found a kindred spirit in winemaker Jay Somers, founder of J. Christopher Wines. They formed a partnership in 2010, built a new J. Christopher winery and are establishing a new vineyard in the northern Willamette Valley.
Paul Mabray has been a powerful change agent in the wine industry for over twenty years. He began his career working in traditional three-tier sales and marketing with Napa Ale Works and later innovating direct-to-consumer sales and marketing models with Niebaum Coppola.
Since then, he has been at the forefront of all major digital trends for the wine industry, working with WineShopper.com and Wine.com when they entered the wine-digital space. He founded two companies that have significantly changed the US wine landscape for digital. First by introducing winery e-commerce with Inertia Beverage Group that transformed into WineDirect.com pioneering winery e-commerce and then again introducing social media and social customer relationship management with VinTank.com.
He is considered the wine industry’s foremost futurist and thought leader, harnessing the power and potential of digital tools and methodologies to move the industry into the future.
Mary Margaret is one of only 41 Masters of Wine in the U.S. She was the recipient of two awards for her performance on the MW exam, earning the Bollinger Medal as best taster as well as the overall top-scorer on all parts of the exam in 2016. Mary Margaret has worked in retail, restaurants, and wholesale in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area. She happily keeps one foot in Napa and the other in Burgundy, holding positions as both the Sales Manager at Screaming Eagle and General Manager for Karolus Wine Imports, which represents the wines of Bonneau du Martray in the U.S.
Peter Marks, Master of Wine, is an internationally respected wine industry consultant and educator based in the Napa Valley. Marks is one of only 52 Masters of Wine residing in the United States and one of 382 in the world. The prestigious Master of Wine (MW) title is bestowed by the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) in London. Marks received his MW designation in 1995 when he became the 10th American to pass. That year he also became the first American to receive the Madame Bollinger Foundation Award, which is bestowed annually to the MW candidate with the highest blind tasting score.
From 2008 to 2018 Marks was Vice President of Education for Constellation Brands, overseeing programs such as the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) for employees and customers. He implemented a diverse education curriculum delivered both in-person and online.
Before joining Constellation Wines, he was the Senior Vice President of Wine at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, where he was responsible for all wine sales and education programs.
Previous to working at Copia Marks was the Chief Wine Merchant at Wine.com, a wine Internet retailer serving more than 40 states. For 15 years prior, Marks was Director of Wine for the upscale Draeger’s Supermarkets located in Northern California.
Marks graduated from the University of California at Davis in 1976 with a B.S. degree with highest honors in Food Service Management. His personal interest in wine led him to the wine trade in 1981.
Marks is on the Education and Exam Board of the Institute of Masters of Wine, he is the Panel Chair of the Practical (Tasting) Exam for the Institute of Masters of Wine and he judges many international wine competitions. He is also a member of the Society of Wine Educators, teaches wine classes independently and through the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and he assists with many charitable fundraisers throughout the year. Marks enjoys riding his bike in the Napa Valley, especially up Mt. Veeder and through the beautiful vineyards.
Benoît Marsan holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS). He is a professor at the University du Québec à Montreal (UQAM) and is internationally recognized in the field of solar energy whose innovations have been listed among the Top 10 discoveries of 2010 by Quebec Science magazine. Being a great wine passionate, he was educated in professional tasting by Bertrand Eichel, the best sommelier of Quebec 2009. Having refined his knowledge and expanded his expertise in wine chemistry, he founded scienceetvin.com in 2015. Speaker at national/international conferences, symposia and wine shows, he teaches wine chemistry to wine professionals and general population. From 2013 to 2016, he has been an important contributor to the course Analyse sensorielle et analyse organoleptique at Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ).
His numerous discussions with winemakers and œnologists worldwide, together with private sessions with some of the best sommeliers of the world, have strengthened his conviction to create a course at UQAM dedicated to wine chemistry. This very popular course, entitled Science et vin : de la vigne à la dégustation, has greatly contributed to the Teaching Excellence Award he received in 2017 from the Faculty of Science at UQAM. In 2017, he created an innovative two-part wine chemistry course (total of 48 hours) specifically for sommeliers: Chimie et sommellerie, Volet 1 : Pour mieux comprendre le vin, and Chimie et sommellerie, Volet 2 : Pour mieux déguster le vin. In November 2017, he contributed as a wine scientific expert to a workshop held at ITHQ on the perception of minerality attended by 50 top sommeliers. Since then, Professor Marsan has been invited worldwide to deliver wine chemistry seminars, including his first Wine Chemistry for Professionals seminar in Toronto in November 2018 and a series that has been launched in New York in 2019 (organized by Pascaline Lepeltier MS, MOF).
In June 2019, he was invited to deliver (with John Szabo MS) a lecture on the subject of minerality and saltiness at the opening session of the 2nd Annual International Volcanic Wine Conference. More recently, he has been part of a panel discussing the chemistry and sensory impacts of lees aging at i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) in Niagara, Ontario.
After moving to St. Louis from her hometown of Deming, New Mexico, Andrea Martinez began working in the restaurant industry, eventually making her way behind the bar, where she fell in love with the bartending craft. Soon after, she began bartending at a wine-driven restaurant and was instantly hooked on the subject of wine. She quickly started dedicating any free time to learning, studying every day about wine and pursuing the role of a sommelier. In less than a year, she passed the Certified Sommelier Exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Currently, she is the assistant wine buyer at 57th Street Wines in Chicago, Illinois. She also teaches classes and hosts weekly tastings. She is now studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam, as well as the Advanced Sommelier Exam.
Keith I. Marton, MD, is a seasoned internist and physician executive, but his friends and family know him as a wine geek. Whenever possible he has combined his love of medicine with his love of wine. In medical school his most frequent day trips were to the Napa valley wineries, where he began his education in all aspects of wine.
Over the last 45 years he has done almost everything involving wine except make money. He has been an avid winemaker and collector for 40 years, has regularly led wine tastings and has lectured extensively on the health effects of moderate wine consumption. He has been a leader of several physician based wine and health organizations and represented the US in an international organization (OIV) that develops standards for viticulture and winemaking. He has judged wine professionally for over 20 years and successfully passed the theory exam as a candidate the Master of Wine degree.
Jack Mason, Master Sommelier at the Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Houston Downtown and Galleria locations, achieved MS status at the very young age of 27 and is one of the youngest to do so. He is one of only 9 esteemed Master Sommeliers currently in the state of Texas and one of 144 Master Sommeliers in the United States. Born in Biloxi, Mississippi, Mason developed a fondness for the food and beverage industry while working in local restaurants in his hometown of College Station, Texas. Mason’s interest in wine was piqued while taking a wine education requirement class while pursuing a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. Mason soon left to enroll in Hospitality Management at Cornell School of Hotel Administration. It was there he met his future mentor, Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars, and became a wine course teaching assistant. To further his education, he spent summers back in College Station working within wine shops and restaurants. Mason returned to Texas following his graduation to begin his career in Houston as a Sommelier at the Grand Award-winning Pappas Bros. Steakhouse while simultaneously studying for and passing the Advanced Exam of the Court of Master Sommeliers In 2013, Mason moved to New York City to work in various notable restaurants. He refined his knowledge and passion of Italian wine as Sommelier of several Michael White Italian restaurants, including Ai Fiori and Marea. The following year, Jack joined famed restaurateur Danny Meyer to open Marta as the wine director, where he focused on wines from southern Italy and furthered the team’s beverage education. In 2015, Jack was inducted into the Court of Master Sommeliers. Mason decided it was time to return to his roots and moved back home to Texas in November 2016. He re-joined Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston as Master Sommelier at both the Houston Galleria and Houston Downtown locations. He is responsible for an inventory of more than 60,000 bottles of wine and close to 3,000 selections from the restaurant’s extraordinary wine collection. In his current position, Mason informs guests on the nuances of wine quality that make for a stunning dining experience. He also is responsible for providing continuous wine programs and education for both the wait staff and patrons. Mason has been featured in Forbes’s annual “30 Under 30” list of outstanding young professionals nationwide, Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list in New York City and was named Wine & Spirits “Best New Sommelier 2015.” He was also featured in the series “Uncorked” on the Esquire Network that followed his journey to receiving his MS certification. In his personal life, this Master Sommelier enjoys spending time with friends, cooking and working on the house he shares with his wife Carly and their Goldendoodle, Mr. Bojangles.
Patrick is a wine industry veteran, spending all 15 years working in the wholesale trade for Republic National Distributing Company in both on and off premise capacities. Currently, Patrick manages the retail chain business for RNDC’s two fine wine divisions in the state of Texas. In addition to coordinating the retail business of RNDC’s importers and suppliers with the top retailers in the state, Patrick has pioneered RNDC’s education initiative as a WSET Accredited Program Provider. In the last seven years, RNDC, under Patrick’s instruction, has certified over 1000 people in WSET programs. Patrick holds a degree in Geology from the University of Texas as well as the WSET Diploma. When he is not working, teaching or studying wine, Patrick enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, swimming, cooking and playing the occasional game of chess.
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.
Sharron McCarthy, VP of Wine Education at Banfi Vintners and Past President of the U.S. Society of Wine Educators, is a wine industry legend. Affectionately known as “America’s First Lady of Wine Ed,” Sharron has played an instrumental role in introducing Americans from all walks of life to an appreciation for the fruit of the vine. Over the past three decades, this lively, engaging, articulate woman has traveled the world, sharing with others her boundless knowledge and enthusiasm for the joy of wine. From wine clubs and consumer groups, to law firms and Fortune 500 companies, to hospitality and grad students at some of America’s most prestigious centers of learning, to floor staff at wine stores and restaurants, and to frequent appearances on radio and TV, Sharron is in constant demand as one of the wine industry’s most popular and effective guest speakers. At the heart of her success is a refreshingly unpretentious, progressive approach, firmly aimed at demystifying wine. Born and raised in Long Island, New York, Sharron McCarthy’s wine business career began in 1978 when she joined the Consumer Affairs Department at Banfi Vintners, one of America’s premier names in imported fine wines. Her ability to master the intricacies of wine and communicate that knowledge to others swiftly became apparent. Within a short space of time, she was promoted to Executive Director for Riunite wines, helping to create an array of innovative sales and marketing strategies that propelled Riunite into becoming America’s most popular wine. In 1986, Sharron went on to form her own consulting agency. A partnership with the Italian Trade Commission in New York is widely credited with playing a pivotal part in advancing Italy to its current status as America’s leading source of imported wines. Sharron subsequently returned to Banfi Vintners in the mid-1990s, to pursue a new and—for the industry at the time – pioneering role focused exclusively on developing wine education. Sharron served a three-year term as president of the Society of Wine Educators (SWE) from 2007-2010. With over 2,000 members, the Society is North America’s foremost source of wine education, offering workshops and seminars for industry professionals and consumers alike. SWE also confers two levels of professional credentials, the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE). Both programs entail a rigorous course of study. Sharron is a CSW and was elected Director Emeritus of SWE in 2012. In February 2015, Sharron was recognized by the Italian Trade Commission and the Italian Consul General of Italy for her efforts, service, and visionary approach toward Italian wines and her decades long efforts to promote Italian wines in the United States. Sharron was inducted into the Wines of Italy Hall of Fame to honor her as a goodwill ambassador for Italian wines and for her dedication to the country of Italy and to the Italian way of life. Other of Sharron’s many accolades include that she is a sommelier, certified by the original Sommelier Society of America and has been honored by the American Wine Society with its prestigious Award of Merit. Sharron is a member of a number of organizations including New York Women’s Culinary Alliance and Women of the Vine. Though a hectic travel schedule allows for little time for extra-curricular activities, she does enjoy cooking and entertaining with friends.
After falling head over heels for a bottle of 1967 Bertani Amarone while studying at Southwestern University, Chris McFall, now Advanced Sommelier and MS Candidate, dove head first into the world of wine. Managing and developing programs in Austin, Houston, and Chicago, Chris is a paradigm of hospitality. Chris is currently residing at Mastro’s Steakhouse at the Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Texas, working with an all-star cast while continuing his education and sharing his passion with guests and coworkers alike.
Vice President of Wine Development, Breakthru Beverage Group. Oversees the Luxury team and Augustan Wine Imports in Florida. Chairman Emeritus, Court of Master Sommeliers–Americas. Krug Cup winner. Prior to Breakthru Beverage, Andy was a member of the sommelier team at the Breakers.
The McPhersons have been a pioneering family in grape growing and wine making in Texas for over 50 years. The family patriarch, Dr. Clinton A. “Doc” McPherson, was one of the “Fathers” of the modern Texas wine industry. In 1976 “Doc,” a Chemistry professor and Bob Reed, a Horticulture professor at Texas Tech University founded Llano Estacado Winery in Lubbock, the first post-Prohibition Texas winery. Until his passing in January, 2014, “Doc” remained one of the state’s prime grape growers and was the first in Texas to plant Sangiovese in his Sagmor Vineyard. Kim’s mother, Clara, while a professor in Texas Tech’s Department of Food Nutrition Science, established the university’s Hotel Restaurant Management degree program. His younger brother, Jon, has been a winemaker in Temecula near San Diego, CA, for over twenty years and has twice won the prestigious “Golden Bear” award for the most medals won in a single year in CA. Kim graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in Food Nutrition Science and then completed the Enology and Viticulture program at the University of California at Davis. He worked at Trefethen in Napa Valley before returning to Lubbock as winemaker for Llano Estacado from 1979 until 1985 and for Cap*Rock Winery from 1990 until 2007 where he also made McPherson Cellars. Kim and Jon produced wines together in California under several labels including Il Fratello and Cucamonga Cellars. Kim’s Texas wines have won over 500 medals in state, national and international wine competitions including several Double Gold Medals at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition and numerous Best of Class awards. Kim and “Doc” were inducted into the Who’s Who in Food and Wine in Texas Hall of Fame in 1999 and Kim created the McPherson Cellars label in 2000 to honor his father. He converted the historic 1930’s era Coca Cola bottling plant in downtown Lubbock into a winery and McPherson Cellars opened in the fall of 2008. It is one of the most beautiful, modern and efficient wine facilities in Texas and one of the most unique wineries in the country. In 2013 Kim was ranked # 20 on a list of the Top 100 Most Influential U.S. Winemakers and McPherson Cellars was # 87 on the Top 101 Wineries for 2014 and moved up to # 83 in 2015. He continues to play an innovative and dynamic role in the development of the Texas wine industry.
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. She helped to open, and then managed, a boutique wine and spirits store in Lincoln Park; worked as a wine and spirit buyer for a Whole Foods store in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood; and has recently made the shift to on-premise. She is currently a server and wine captain at City Winery Chicago. She is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, a French Wine Scholar, and is currently making her way through the WSET Diploma program. In her spare time, she practices barrow archery, reads wine books, and plans her next wine adventure.
Certified Cicerone. Education Director, Court of Master Sommeliers–Americas. James Beard Nominee, Best Sommelier (Philadelphia). Diverse industry experience including bartending, importing, distribution and education. CIA graduate.
Andrea is the Wine Director and Sommelier of La Traviata, a longstanding staple for Italian cuisine in downtown Austin, Texas. After assuming the wine program in 2015, she refocused the list on classic Italy to create an authentic Italian dining experience for the guest, while featuring funky, off the beaten path selections to encourage consumer engagement and education. Before arriving in Austin, Andrea began her career at a prominent wine shop in Columbus, Ohio, followed by a full harvest internship in Russian River Valley. She successfully completed the Certified Specialist of Wine program in 2013 and the Certified Sommelier examination in 2017. More recently, she has shadowed John Roenigk of The Austin Wine Merchant to venture out from Italy and advance her administrative sales experience.
Sheri Sauter Morano is a Master of Wine and an independent wine consultant, educator, writer and judge. She also works for Strategic Insights, a full-service marketing research firm where she specializes in handling the firm’s food and beverage research. Since 2004 Sheri has worked with Sopexa on the Wines of France campaign educating American consumers about French wines. She is in the process of establishing the Triangle Wine School in the Raleigh-Durham, NC area which will offer the Wine and Spirits Education Trust certifications to local trade professionals. An experienced wine judge, Sheri has judged at competitions in the US, the UK and Argentina. Sheri resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with her husband, son, and an assortment of cats and dogs. In her spare time she enjoys running, gardening, traveling and cooking.
Qualifications Director, Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Manages the teams responsible for WSET’s examinations and education materials. Oversaw the development of WSET’s Awards in Sake, and in 2014 was inaugurated as a Sake Samurai by the Sake and Shochu Makers Association in recognition of this work.
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.
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.
Nicholas Paris is the Director of Global Sourcing for the E. & J. Gallo Winery, and holds the title of Master of Wine from London’s Institute of Masters of Wine. Additionally, Nicholas has been recognized as an Advanced Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Certified Wine Educator and Certified Specialist of Spirits by the Society of Wine Educators.
Nicholas began his career as a fine wine retailer at Zachys in Scarsdale, New York, later assuming the role of auction coordinator for Zachys and wine specialist at its partner, Christie’s. Charged with bringing fine wines to auction, Nicholas sampled many of the finest and rarest wines in the world, some of which dated to the 19th century. It was an experience which piqued his interest in gaining a deeper understanding of the complexities of wine and eventually led him to pursue in-depth wine studies.
“I had the opportunity to regularly taste extraordinary wines,” said Nicholas. “Seeing how much there was to know, I was inspired to dedicate myself to learning more.”
In 2005, Nicholas became a distributor sales representative with Premier and later a manager at Peerless, today part of Empire Merchants, in New York. Two years later, he joined E&J Gallo Winery as an on-premise field marketing manager in the northeast, focusing on fine dining, and was soon promoted to manager of fine wine retail and later public relations for the region. Nicholas also continued his studies, along the way sharing his growing knowledge with audiences including distributors, retailers, restaurant staff and winery colleagues. Ultimately, after achieving success in numerous fields—from retail to auction to sales and PR—Nicholas found his niche in education.
In 2014 Nicholas’ dedication to his ongoing studies paid off when he became America’s 34th Master of Wine. As an influential educator for E&J Gallo Winery, Nicholas shares his knowledge with students from a variety of backgrounds and organizations. “While my early experience in the wine industry revolved around a very exclusive and rare set of fine wines, at Gallo I have the opportunity to distill what I’ve learned about a broad spectrum of wine for students of every knowledge level,” he said. “I really enjoy being a part of others’ ongoing wine journeys.”
Beyond these pursuits, Nicholas judges at prestigious regional and international wine competitions and travels widely to continue learning about the world’s classic and emerging wine regions.
Co-founder of Domaine de la Côte, Rajat is a three-time James Beard Award winner and is regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on wine.
A trained chef, Rajat grew up in Calcutta, India, before journeying to the United States where he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. At the CIA, his interest in wine took hold. After graduation, choosing to pursue the cellar instead of the kitchen, Rajat ventured to San Francisco to join the staff of Rubicon, the renowned wine-focused restaurant of Master Sommelier Larry Stone. As a protégé of Stone, he honed the wine knowledge and tasting talent that would propel him to become one the world’s most celebrated sommeliers.
Ragat eventually left Rubicon to take over the wine program at San Francisco’s landmark Fifth Floor restaurant before moving to join chef Michael Mina as wine director of that chef’s eponymous restaurant. The Mina Group would eventually spawn over 20 restaurants across the country, with wine programs overseen by Rajat. During this period, winemaking began to evermore capture his imagination.
Fascinated not just with the taste of wine, but the question of why wines taste the way they do, Rajat frequently traveled to European wine regions and to California wine country where he became close to several of California’s top winemakers. This ultimately led to bottling his own wines. At first, these were blends selected from wines produced by others, but, in a short time, Raj became more deeply involved—calling picking times, overseeing fermentations, etc. As vineyards and winemaking became ever more an obsession, Raj made the transition from sommelier to producer.
During this period, he became closer to Santa Barbara County winemaker Sashi Moorman as they found a mutual interest in pushing the boundaries of California wine, every vintage seeing how much earlier they could harvest to achieve more balanced alcohols, racier acidity, and purer flavors. In 2011, Rajat and Sashi launched Sandhi, producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from select vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills. In 2013, they released wines from his new estate vineyard, Domaine de la Côte, located on the westernmost edge of the Sta. Rita Hills. Most recently, in early 2014, Rajat and Sashi took over the historic and acclaimed Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills of Oregon. In 2018, they launched the Raj Parr Wine Club, a label of unique and esoteric wines and styles sold directly to members. And soon, with Le Bernadin’s sommelier Marie Ponsonnet, Raj will release a Merlot called Colete.
Beyond his wineries, Raj collaborated with writer Jordan Mackay on the James-Beard-Award winning book Secrets of the Sommeliers and a 2018 book, the André Simon-Award-winning The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste. Rajat lives in Santa Barbara, though he can still be found frequently traveling the world speaking, teaching, tasting, and obsessively learning.
Tegan, a Napa Valley native, got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa. He has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in South Africa, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhône Valley of France. For the past eleven years, he has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, working his way up from harvest intern to Winemaker/Vineyard Manager.
Having worked in the restaurant industry since the age of sixteen, Aaron discovered early on his passion for restaurants. This passion led him to attend and graduate from Northern Arizona University with a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management. While working for an Italian restaurant, his interest was sparked by the Wine Director recounting the state of the Champagne region in the 1800’s. His love of history with his newly found love of wine made this an easy decision for a life long passion. He has worked east and west coasts and in between; and resides in San Francisco with his wife and son. In October of 2017, his wine goal was achieved when he became one of the 247 people to pass the Master Sommelier Exam. After twenty years in the restaurant industry he joined a Family owned Distributor, Young’s Market Company, as the Senior Market Manager Fine Wine in San Francisco.
Laura’s love of food and wine began in her Italian grandmother’s kitchen as she rolled homemade pasta, kneaded focaccia, stewed Bolognese sauce, sliced biscotti and pressed pizzelles. It picked up a few decades later at a 10-week cooking class at Home Chef in San Francisco in early 1997, followed with culinary trips to France and Italy. In 2003, Laura received her Grand Diplôme in Classic Culinary Arts with Artisanal Baking from the French Culinary Institute led by Chefs Jacques Pépin, André Soltner and Alain Sailhac, as well as the Fundamentals of Wine course taught by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson. Laura was the culinary assistant to Marcella Hazan in her “Master Class in Italian Cooking” and received the Outstanding Service Award, Certificate of Excellence upon graduating. While in New York, Laura cooked for and assisted some of the world’s best chefs, many at the renowned James Beard House, including Eric Bedousha (Financier), Mario Lohninger (Danube, David Bouley), Morimoto (Morimoto and Iron Chef), Mark Franz & Emily Luchetti (Farallon), Michael Romano (Union Square.)
Bob became a Master of Wine in 2002 and, in doing so, broke a four-year span in which no North American had passed the exam. He’s currently one of about 45 Masters of Wine in North America and 375 worldwide.
Now in his thirty-eighth year in the wine industry, he’s held a number of key leadership roles; currently, as Founder of Stellar Bottles and Moxie Wine Consulting, both based in Northern California. Previously, Bob headed up Exclusive Brands for Coles Liquor Group, based in Melbourne, Australia. Before that, he was Senior Vice President of Wine for BevMo Stores based in Concord, California. Prior to moving to the west coast, he was Director of Wine, Spirits, and Beer for about 1000 stores under the various banners of Southeastern Grocers based in Jacksonville, FL. His first role in the corporate world was as a category lead over wine, spirits, and beer for Sam’s Club US in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Bob’s career in wine started with twenty years in retail stores, including sixteen years of owning a specialty wine retail business in Traverse City, Michigan. The business was sold in 2002. Before starting his own business, he worked as a clerk and a truck driver for a Detroit area wine retailer, later becoming the store manager.
Throughout his career, Bob has worked harvests, pruned vines, pumped over tanks and spent countless hours in winery labs creating blends. He’s also judged at many of the major competitions throughout the US, Europe, South America, and Australia. This is his fourteenth year as a judge at The TEXSOM International Wine Awards.
To contact Bob about services, reach out to [email protected] or to his mobile at 669.287.1784
Katelyn Peil began working in the wine trade in 2007 after being inspired by the beverage industry when she decided to defer entry to graduate school to take some time to travel throughout the world. Travels to multiple wine regions inspired her to see the cultural aspect of wine and shifted her focus of wine being a product to being a liquid art form that should be the center point to share with good food, good friends and good experiences. She studied with the International Sommelier Guild and became certified with the Court of Master Sommelier program. The beverage industry excites her because it is rooted so much in history but is simultaneously focused on progression. She is constantly learning something new every day, and is not only interested in the knowledge of wine, but is also driven to learn the business side of running a profitable beverage program. She has been running multiple independent locations for Seattle based Heavy Restaurant Group for over a decade and was named Seattle Magazine’s2017 Sommelier of the Year.
Francis Percival is food editor and columnist for The World of Fine Wine. His work has been shortlisted at the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards for the last five years, winning Best International Wine Columnist in 2013 and Pio Cesare Food & Wine Writer of the Year in 2015. Apart from The World of Fine Wine, his work has appeared in Decanter and the Financial Times in the UK and Culture, Saveur, and Gourmet in the US. Besides writing, Francis also teaches wine and cheese classes for Neal’s Yard Dairy and cofounded and hosts the London Gastronomy Seminars, a long-running series of lectures and talks in London dedicated to making the technical side of food and drink fun and accessible. Together with his wife, Bronwen Percival, Francis is the author of Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese.
Bronwen Percival is the cheese buyer for Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. In addition to working with cheesemakers and the company’s maturation team to select and optimize the quality of the cheese they sell, she works to mobilize collaboration between cheesemakers and the scientific community. In 2012, she instigated a biennial conference on the Science of Artisan Cheese. In early 2014, she spent two months in the Dutton Lab at Harvard University studying the role of marine-associated Proteobacteria on cheese rinds. Along with Dr. Benjamin Wolfe, she co-founded the website MicrobialFoods.org, a scientific resource for producers, purveyors, and enthusiasts of artisan microbial foods. Along with her husband Francis, she is the co-author of the book Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese (UC Press, 2017).
A trained Chemist, Sofia went on to study in France, receiving degrees in Oenology and Wine Tasting from the University of Bordeaux. She has worked harvests for Château Magdelaine, Premier Grand Cru Classé de St Emilion and Domaine Hatzimichalis in Greece. In 1998 Sofia was hired by the Greek Wine Federation where she worked for the promotion of Greek wine at home and abroad, Greek wine legislation, the creation of educational programs for the wine sector and organization of intra-national activities between European winemaking countries. In 2003 Sofia founded All About Greek Wine (AAGW) the first company to create and manage a national promotional campaign for Greek wine in North America. AAGW now manages the Greek Wine Bureau in North America which organizes the promotional activities for New Wines of Greece on behalf of the National Inter-Professional Organization of Vine and Wine. In addition AAGW coordinates the promotional campaign for Wines from Santorini in the US. Sofia continues to consult for the Greek Wine Federation and participates in national advisory committees for the promotion of Greek wines.
In January 2012 and 2013 Sofia was included in the top 100 most influential people in the US wine industry by intowine.com.
In 2011 Sofia was voted Best Ambassador for Greek wine in a poll conducted by Wine Business International Magazine.
She also participates as a judge in international wine competitions and her articles have appeared in various Greek wine publications. She speaks English, French and Spanish. Sofia is married to George Athanas and they have one daughter.
Rod Phillips is a wine historian, writer, and author based in Ottawa, Canada. He first encountered wine as a teenager in New Zealand and began to read about and collect wine. His friends helped him drink his small cellar (mostly Australian reds from the 1950s and early 1960s, but also some Bordeaux Crus Classés) when he emigrated to Canada at the age of 19. He started writing about wine with A Short History of Wine (UK: Penguin, 2000; US: HarperCollins, 2001; six translations). His most recent books are: Wine: A Cultural and Social History of the Drink that Changed our Lives (Oxford: Infinite Ideas Books, 2018); The Wines of Canada (Oxford: Infinite Ideas “Classic Wine Library,” 2017); 9000 Years of Wine: A World History (Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 2017); French Wine: A History (University of California Press 2016); and Alcohol: A History (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). He is currently writing two books: The Wines of South-west France (for the Classic Wine Library) and a book on Cabernet Franc, worldwide. He also writes for the wine media and has published in Vines Magazine (Canada), Wine Spectator(US), and The World of Fine Wine (UK), on guildsommm.com (US), and elsewhere. He wrote a weekly wine column for the main Ottawa daily newspaper for 15 years and currently writes the wine features for NUVO, Canada’s leading luxury lifestyle magazine. He has judged in wine competitions in Canada, the U.S., France, Italy, Chile, and New Zealand, and he regularly travels to wine regions throughout the world.
Emily’s career in wine began just out of college when a burgeoning interest in wine landed her a job as a server at Gramercy Tavern in New York City. For the past 16 years, she has worked in various capacities in the wine business: first as a salesperson for wine importer Kysela Pere et Fils and later moving to Napa Valley to be in the heart of wine production. She spent two years with Chappellet Winery in Napa before coming on board with Jackson Family Wines. There, she has held various roles and currently represents the Spire Collection in the Southeast U.S. Her passion for learning about wine encouraged her to embark upon the Master Sommelier diploma– in 2009, she enrolled in the Court of Master Sommelier introductory course, going on to earn the Master Sommelier diploma in 2013. Emily was the 19th woman in the world to earn the title and is one of 256 Master Sommeliers worldwide.
Peter Plaehn is a 20+ year veteran of the hospitality industry with experience in restaurant operations, corporate training & development, education and wholesale distribution. He has opened nearly a dozen restaurants across the West Coast for a variety of concepts as a trainer and manager. Upon returning to the Midwest, he focused on wine and beverage and has held positions as General Manager and Sommelier for the award-winning Nicollet Island Inn, Luxury/Craft Specialist for Wirtz Beverage Group and was the opening Beverage Director for the JW Marriott Minneapolis, Minnesota’s top luxury hotel, and Beverage Director for The Landing Hotel and Ninetwentyfive restaurant with 6-time JBF nominee Chef Lenny Russo. He is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators and in 2016 became the first sommelier in Minnesota to achieve the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier certificate. In 2018 he relocated to Houston, Texas, to take a position with Grand Award-winning Pappas Bros. Steakhouse and prepare for the Master Sommelier diploma exam.
Thomas Price has been in the hospitality industry for his entire adult life. His first restaurant job was as a dishwasher at a diner in Juneau, Alaska, at the age of 14. By 18, he was the day lead cook at an upscale burger house called Harry’s in Anchorage. He moved into the front of the house as a server and bartender upon turning 21. His passion for wine was instantaneous, and was fueled by stints at Zeppo’s, an Anchorage wine bar, and its parent restaurant, The Marx Brothers Cafe. Thomas and his wife Jessica operated their own restaurant, Luau Polynesian Lounge, in Seattle, between 1997 and 2004. Following that, Thomas took a positon at Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill and began to pursue Master Sommelier certification. He achieved Basic certification in September 2004; Certified Sommelier certification in 2006; Advanced Sommelier certification in 2007 (passing on the first try); and Master Sommelier certification in May 2012. During those years, he was promoted to Sommelier/Captain at Metropolitan Grill; moved to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, where he was Wine Director for its Seattle and Bellevue locations; and returned to the Metropolitan Grill in 2007, where he served as Head Sommelier. He is currently the National Director of Wine Education for Jackson Family Fine Wines.
Andrew Rastello is a wine professional with a career spanning 23 years and experience from distribution to the restaurant floor. He is currently Assistant Wine Director at Eleven Madison Park.
Editor at Vinous, covering the wines of Spain, Australia, the Rhône Valley, Beaujolais, Oregon, Paso Robles, the Santa Lucia Highlands and Chile as well as pink wines from around the globe. Formerly Assistant Editor of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar and, long ago, the National Sales Manager for Rosenthal Wine Merchant.
Sean Razee MS, one of only 274 wine professionals in the world to have achieved the title of Master Sommelier, began his wine career in 2002. Since then he has developed award-winning wine and spirits programs for The Ritz-Carlton and Wolfgang Puck, as well as consulted on numerous esteemed beverage programs. Sean served as Corporate Beverage Director for Vail Resorts, overseeing world-class beverage programs at all 11 of the company’s domestic ski resorts. Recently he was tapped to build and manage a premium wine distribution branch of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Colorado, where he served as general manager. Sean currently holds the position of Director of Fine Wine, working with the company’s domestic and international portfolio of world-class producers. When not lecturing, conducting staff trainings, or working with aspiring students, Sean also works as an instructor and examiner for the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Philip Reedman has spent his working life in wine. He became involved with wine while working in a restaurant. Gripped by the seemingly endless dimensions of wine, he pursued a career in wine retail. WSET study followed, along with vintages at Hugel, Saltram and Taylor Fladgate. In 1996, Philip passed the Master of Wine examinations. He consults to wineries, vineyards and regional associations on new product development, blending and winemaking, business transition, market access, brand development and marketing.
He has served as a judge at regional, capital city and international wine shows and was Chief Judge at the Riverland Wine Show in 2018. He has been a speaker at industry conferences and lecturer by invitation to University of South Australia. Philip also works with The Australian Wine Research Institute’s Advanced Wine Assessment Course. He is a certified educator for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and Barossa Wine School. He is highly involved in wine education through the Institute of Masters of Wine where he is Chair of Theory Education. He mentors students and teaches at IMW seminars in Europe and Australia.
In October 2017 Philip co-authored, with a team of international researchers, the peer-reviewed publication: “Expectation or Sensorial Reality? An Empirical Investigation of the Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers.”
After years of training under Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, David set off on his own and is now wine director of Shanahan’s Steakhouse in the Denver Tech Center. He plans to sit for the Advanced Exam in Spring of 2019 and continue his journey to become a Master Sommelier.
Laura’s career in wine started as a Sommelier in 2004. The early years were spent alongside the industry’s finest, including World Sommelier Champion Gérard Basset MS, MW.
In 2009 Laura won the prestigious “UK Sommelier of the Year” title and in 2010 achieved Master Sommelier status from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Laura’s time as a Sommelier saw her visit many of the world’s vineyards and head up wine teams for restaurants, including Gerard Basset’s Hotel TerraVina and Michelin-starred, award winning La Trompette.
Inspired by the passion of the English winemakers she met and excited by the quality of the wines she tasted, Laura continued her career at the pinnacle of the rapidly evolving English wine industry.
Laura joined Gusbourne in 2015, as Global Ambassador, where her role encompasses ambassadorial and development duties both in UK and internationally.
She also works closely with winemaker Charlie Holland and the winemaking and vineyard teams.
Based in London, Laura judges for Sommelier competitions as well as national and international wine competitions. She is an active member of the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe and a regular host of tastings, wine dinners and seminars.
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.
Treve Ring is a wine writer and editor, judge and speaker, and perpetual traveller. A certified sommelier, WSET diploma holder, French wine scholar and instructor, and Sherry instructor, she is based on Vancouver Island, Canada, though is most often found on a plane or in a vineyard.
After completing her Art History degree with Distinction from the University of Victoria and being exposed to the world of wine business at Christie’s in London, England, she switched gears, leaving the realm of art for the world of wine. Her work is regularly seen in numerous publications including Meininger’s Wine Business International, World of Fine Wine, Sommelier Magazine, Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits, Quench Magazine, WineAlign and Alchemist, and she is an executive editor at Gismondi on Wine, Scout Magazine, and SIP Northwest Magazine.
She tastes thousands of wines each year, and is an established wine judge in Canada, the UK, South Africa and the US. Though her travels take her all over the wine world, Treve has spent the last few years concentrating and researching sparkling wine globally.
David is Executive Director of WSET America. He has a 15+ year background in sales management and business development within both hospitality and distribution.
In a career that has spanned over 30 years, Jasper has worked in virtually every aspect of the wine trade, including Restaurant (Ratcliffe’s), Sommelier (San Simeon, Atlantic Cafe), Retail (Marty’s, Sigel’s), Wholesale (Republic Beverage) and Importer (Wilson Daniels). Having traveled extensively throughout France, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of Burgundy and is happy to answer any questions you might have. As the Director of Wine Marketing for Sigel’s Jasper works to find the best wines and the best values to bring to our customers. Follow Jasper on Twitter and Facebook as sigelswinebuyer.
Lars Ryssdal uses his deep background as a wine educator and twice- certified sommelier as Co-Publisher of Art Culinaire Magazine, the hard-bound document to modern cooking for over 31 years. Among his many roles previous to publishing, he served as General Manager of Napa Valley’s Ackerman Family Vineyards, Brand Manager for Corliss Wine Estates and as a working sommelier for Seastar Restaurant, The Herbfarm, and Cascadia in and around Seattle. Lars was the training manager for Young’s Market in Washington and Oregon.
Lars takes pride in his 10-year stint as Chef Sommelier for the Children’s Hospital Auction of Washington Wines, and as Service Director for Taste Washington. He proudly earned the appointment by the Washington Wine Commission as the state’s first and only “Ambassador of Wine.” Recently Lars has taken the volunteer position of Chef Sommelier of the San Francisco Chapter of Meals on Wheels for their annual gala.
Lars has helped facilitate the careers of many aspiring sommeliers with his heartfelt involvement in the Court of Master Sommeliers and Society of Wine Educators. Before wine, Lars hustled records in the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 years. Gaining airplay for the early Huey Lewis and the News albums (among many others), Lars brought the first Hip Hop records to the West coast. You can occasionally hear him humming “hotel… motel…. Holiday Inn…” Lars held positions as a promotion manager with Motown and as a regional promotion manager with Elektra Records. Lars chaired the Strategic Partner Committee and is on the Marketing & Promotions team for Napa Valley Vintners. He still listens to a lot of music.
Monica Samuels is the Director of Sake and Spirits for Vine Connections. The portfolio consists of sakes from 16 artisanal breweries throughout Japan and is curated in collaboration with John Gauntner, the world’s leading non-Japanese sake educator. Monica manages the sales of the Vine Connections sake portfolio through the 50 states of America and several provinces of Canada.
Monica has over a decade of experience in the sake industry, including 6 years as the Sake Ambassador for Southern Wine & Spirits in New York. She was also the Corporate Sake Sommelier for SUSHISAMBA, an international restaurant group fusing the flavors of Japan, Peru, and Brazil. She has been recognized for her efforts in sales and education in Wine Spectator’s “Sake’s True Believers (2013),” Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Tastemakers Under 40 (2014),” as a recipient of the prestigious “Sake Samurai” recognition (2017), and most recently as part of the IWSC and WSET’s “Future 50 Awards (2019).” Monica’s education in sake includes studying under John Gauntner and his Sake Education Council, where she received both Certified and Advanced Sake Professional distinctions; she is also a WSET certified Educator for the Level 3 Award in Sake. She has assessed sake for different competitions internationally and is currently a Panel Chair for the International Wine Challenge sake category.
Monica was born in Los Angeles and spent summers in Tokyo at her grandmother’s house growing up. As a bilingual individual with a unique perspective on two very different cultures, she has been particularly successful in demystifying sake for the US audience. Her years in the hospitality business and ingrained passion for the restaurant industry have given her an exceptional understanding of pairing sake with food, particularly outside of the traditional Japanese setting.
Ronan was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire and has been involved in the wine business for nearly 25 years. His previous experience includes Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Pied à Terre and wine merchant OW Loeb. He worked for the Gordon Ramsay group as Executive Head Sommelier for eight years, mainly in the three-Michelin star Royal Hospital Road plus created the wine lists and trained wine service teams for Claridge’s, the Connaught, the Savoy, Boxwood Café, Maze and several overseas operations. He was also at the Greenhouse restaurant (which had the U.K.’s most substantial wines list of 3,400 bins) and the Director of Wines and Spirits for the Hotel du Vin group (14 hotels). Also as the Head of Wines for the prestigious Dorchester Collection UK that consists of the Dorchester, Coworth Park and 45 Park Lane (with the three-Michelin starred Alain Ducasse restaurant and Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, Cut). Currently, he runs his own consultancy and wine training company, The RS Wine Academy, specializing in managing private portfolios, wine training to the trade and public and wine events. He also acts as the CEO for the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe which currently runs courses and examinations in Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Austria, Greece, and the UK. Ronan is also Head of Wines for 67 Pall Mall; a private members’ club for wine lovers with sites in Londons St James and soon to be Singapore. The club has over 17 full-time sommeliers on the team with a wine list of more than 6,000 bottles and 800 by the glass. He is also a Master Sommelier, a previous winner of the UK Sommelier of the Year competition and has competed twice representing the UK in the European Sommelier Competition. When not drinking wine Ronan runs marathons and can be found deep diving shipwrecks from the south coast of England.
Courtney Schiessl is a Brooklyn-based wine journalist, educator, and consultant who has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir. She regularly contributes to publications such as Forbes.com, SevenFifty Daily, GuildSomm, The SOMM Journal, Tasting Panel Magazine, Beverage Media, The Alcohol Professor, and more, and she was formerly the in-house Tastings Editor for VinePair. Courtney was introduced to the world of wine through her work running public relations and marketing campaigns for wineries and wine regions, and she continues to consult on beverage-related projects and conduct private wine education seminars for both consumers and trade. Courtney is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently pursuing the WSET Diploma in Wines.
Based in Miami, Florida, Ray Sholes is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Ray has a discerning palate and is a passionate wine lover. He is known not only for his incredible tasting abilities and vast knowledge but also for his friendly, relaxed and professional approach to wine education (with a few jokes along the way.) Having grown up in Compton, California, Ray admits, “I come from a world where education in fine wines, sake, craft brews, and spirits did not exist.” His fascination for wine took off after graduation from Johnson & Wales University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree of Food Service Management. Ray’s thirst for wine has taken him across the globe to vineyards where he learned and improved his skills beyond textbooks. Ray has been in the restaurant and hospitality industry since 2005 and has wine list creation, dynamic staff training and restaurant management under his belt. When he isn’t hosting tasting events, he works as beverage account manager at Carisam-Samuel Meisel, Inc. Ray is motivated to one day have a platform to educate those that typically that do not have the opportunity to learn about the amazing beverages of the world.
Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is the fourth woman and among only 50 people in the US to attain the international title of Master of Wine (MW). She has trained thousands in the industry, judged international wine and spirits competitions, and been honored with an international tasting trophy for her palate. She holds an additional five leading wine and spirits certifications. As founder of MasterWineOnline.com, Jennifer helps wine students get their wine credentials and where they want to be in their wine careers faster with less effort and better results through online courses, programs, and webinars. Jennifer is a renowned author of several books on wine including The One Minute Wine Master, Pairing with the Masters: A Definitive Guide To Food & Wine Pairing and Rosé Wine: A Guide To Drinking Pink. She is also a professor with five courses on wine and spirits for The Great Courses and one of the rare female members of the Chevalier du Tastevin, Commanderie de Bordeaux as well as a member of The Board of Directors at The American Friends of La Cité du Vin. Jennifer is also a partner in preference AI technology firm Wing Ring.In addition to being a TEDx Speaker with over a hundred thousand views, Jennifer is a frequent guest on national television including NBC’s Today Show, Fox Business, Fox News, Fox & Friends, CNN/Money, CBS, Anderson Cooper, Bloomberg TV among others. She has also been featured in world-class publications such as The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Gotham, O The Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, Shape, Food & Wine, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, and many more. With an energetic, dynamic personality, Jennifer has also hosted seminars with Food Network Stars such as Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, and Jacques Pépin.
Jason Smith is an Advanced Sommelier, a Walter Clore Scholar, and a Certified Specialist of Wine. He works as Assistant Wine Director at Wild Ginger, 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.
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.
Justin Vineyards and Winery. Former Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers–Americas. Awarded “Best Sommelier in the World in French Wines and Spirits.” Has worked principally as a sommelier since 1979, with stints in wine retail, wholesale, and importing. Avid reader and award-winning writer.
Bree is an Australian-born Master of Wine with nearly two decades of international experience in the wine industry in Canada, the US and Australia. Her wine career began in Canada with sommelier and buying roles in Vancouver and Nova Scotia. In Australia, she has national sales and a brand management position with Australia’s family owned DeBortoli Wines and was director of sales and buying with The Spanish Acquisition, a premium Spanish and Portuguese wine importer.
A certified WSET educator since 2008 and Master of Wine since 2016, she lectures across all levels of the WSET certification and produces wine education programs for both trade organizations and consumers in Canada, the US and Australia. Extensive travels through the wine regions of the Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe, the US, South Africa, and Australia have informed her market presentations and writings for wine publications Alquimie, Hardie
Grant and Gourmet Traveller Wine, as have consulting vintage positions in Australia, Austria, Georgia, Portugal and Oregon. She is a regular wine judge at international competitions such as TEXSOM International Wine Awards, Decanter and regional shows across Australia.
She currently resides in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where she is director of education at the Oregon Wine Board and owns a wine brand and consulting company, Constant Crush Advisors, with her winemaker husband.
After Krug-Cup-winning* Master Sommelier Larry Stone won the prestigious Grand Prix de Sopexa title in Paris for Best Sommelier in the World in French Wines, he continued as a restaurateur and sommelier for the next 25 years, associated with Four Seasons Hotels, Charlie Trotter’s, and Rubicon. At Rubicon, he joined forces with NY restaurateur Drew Nieporent, Robin Williams, Robert De Niro and Francis Ford Coppola.
Larry has served as Trustee of the James Beard Foundation, on the board of the Court of Master Sommeliers and also served on the board of the Kronos Quartet. He has won numerous awards and mentored a host of young sommeliers. With everyone he teaches, Larry tries to instill a sense of service and respect for all people.
A Seattle native, Larry has had a long love affair with the Eola-Amity Hills. There, he bought a highly coveted farm on an exceptional site in 2012. He planned and planted Lingua Franca, using clonal and massal selection of vines to ensure the finest quality material. In 2016 Lingua Franca winery was completed, with Dominique Lafon as the consulting winemaker and the brilliant young French winemaker, Thomas Savre.
Today his sole focus is on Lingua Franca Estate Wines, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
*The Krug Cup is awarded to those Master Sommeliers who pass their exam on the first attempt.
Guy is one of only 274 Master Sommeliers (MS) in the world. He is also a Certified Wine Educator (CWE), Certified Spirits Specialist (CSS), Certified Bordeaux Wine Educator, and previous board member & past President of the Society of Wine Educators. Guy has also served on the Board of Directors of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and has been recognized as a Houston icon for his contribution to the wine and food industry of Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Houston Hilton School for Hotel Restaurant Management. He is the Texas Director of Wine Education for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits Company. Guy has been the featured “wine expert” on the PBS cooking series Cucina Amore with Damian Mandola and Johnny Carrabba, the founders of Carrabba’s Restaurants. He has also appeared on a number of radio and television talk shows covering wine and food. He was a featured speaker at the Smithsonian Institute Folk Life Festival in Washington D.C. lecturing on the Texas wine industry. He is a member of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and owned and farmed Stout Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country AVA, producing Syrah and Tempranillo grapes for the pasted 20 years. He is an active wine judge for a variety of national competitions; including the TexSomm International Wine Awards, California State Fair, Jefferson Cup, Missouri Grape Growers, Indiana State Wine Competition, and the Houston Rodeo Wine Competition. Guy is also a member of the Houston Food and Beverage Managers Association and founder of the Houston Caesar Salad Competition for Charity.He is an active spokesman for the adult beverage industry.
Chris is a New Englander, having grown up throughout upstate New York, Amherst, Boston and Cape Cod. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY graduating in 2000 and has worked in restaurants across the country including Denver, Phoenix, Santa Barbara and Seattle.
His interest in wine first began while at the CIA under the tutelage of Stephen Kolpan and Michael Weiss but didn’t become the focus of his career until later as he was only 18. Pursuing the idea of owning a restaurant, Chris took additional classes in 2006 from the International Sommelier Guild to round out his cooking skillset. A newly minted Master Sommelier was his instructor, and Chris was immediately inspired to pursue the Court of Master Sommelier path. After seven years of hard work and study, Chris passed the Master Sommelier exam on his second attempt in 2013.
He has since worked not only in restaurants but also as a portfolio manager for an importer and distributor in Seattle where he managed relationships with over 300 producers. He also consults on beverage programs for new restaurants, judges for the Decanter World Wine Awards and speaks at numerous wine events throughout the year.
Currently Chris’ station is with Guildsomm as their Chief Instructor traveling all over North America teaching in-depth masterclasses on the world of wine. He also contributes to podcasts, videos and Guildsomm.com.
Dr. Liz Thach, MW (pronounced “tosh”) is the Distinguished Professor of Wine and a Professor of Management at Sonoma State University where she teaches in both the undergraduate and Wine MBA programs. Liz’s passion is wine, and she has visited most of the major wine regions of the world and more than 50 countries. In addition, she is an award winning author who has published over 140 articles and 8 wine books, including Call of the Vine, Best Practices in Global Wine Tourism and Wine Marketing & Sales. A fifth generation Californian, Liz finished her Ph.D. at Texas A&M and now lives on Sonoma Mountain where she tends a small hobby vineyard and makes pinot noir wine. She also works as a wine judge in various competitions, and has served on many non-profit wine boards. Liz obtained the distinction of Master of Wine (MW) in May of 2011.
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.
Marguerite Thomas is an award-winning photojournalist specializing in wine, food and travel. She is a columnist and features writer at Wine Review Online.
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.
Madeline Triffon joined Plum Market in 2011 as the in-house Master Sommelier. Plum Market is a full-service grocery retailer with stores in Southeastern Michigan and Metro Chicago. Madeline directs wine tasting events, hand selects wines for in-store and online retail sales, and serves as a corporate wine educator. Madeline is one of 182 professionals who have earned the title Master Sommelier as part of the American chapter; of these 29 are woman. There are 274 people worldwide people who have passed the exam since its inception. Madeline was the second woman in the world to pass the M.S. exam. She is a Chairman Emeritus of the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers and has also served as Scholarship Chair. For over 30 years, Madeline has directed wine programs & events in the Metro Detroit area. She has mentored dozens of service professionals and enjoys nothing more than watching them grow and excel. Santé Magazine named Madeline Triffon Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year for 1999. Restaurant Hospitality awarded her their Vanguard Award in 2002 for industry leadership and vision. In 2008, WCR (Women Chefs and Restaurateurs) awarded her their Golden Goblet Award for “Women Who Inspire”. Cheers Magazine gave Madeline their Award for Beverage Excellence in 2011. In 2012, Champagne Krug awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award for exceptional achievement in wine service, education and hospitality.
Master Sommelier Scott Tyree is a Freeport, Maine-based wine and hospitality consultant. A 25-year veteran of the wine industry, Tyree started his career at Chicago’s bustling Shaw’s Crab House before being offered the position of Wine Director at Restaurant Tru alongside James Beard Award winning chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand. During his 8-year tenure at Tru, he received many accolades including being twice chosen as Best Sommelier by the Jean Banchet Awards (a peer-given award by Chicago restaurant industry members); a James Beard Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Wine Service in 2004; Wine Spectator’s Grand Award 2004; and Best New Wine List from Food and Wine in 2001. In 2007, Tyree joined Hart Davis Hart, an internationally recognized fine wine auction house, as a wine buyer and marketing specialist. In 2009, after a return to the restaurant floor as the Wine Director of Michelin-starred Sepia Restaurant in Chicago, Tyree was once again chosen as Best Sommelier by the Jean Banchet Awards for an unprecedented third time. As a sommelier and consultant, Tyree has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit and Wine Spectator. He is currently wine director of Michelin-starred Chef Ryan McCaskey’s Acadia House Provisions in Stonington, Maine. In April of 2019, he earned the Master Sommelier Diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers becoming only the 256th person in the world to achieve the designation.
Certified Master Sake & Shochu Sommelier, Jizake Educator. Born in Japan where his family has grown Japanese wine grape, Koshu, for generations, Toshio grew up helping the business from a young age. Following his college education in the US and employment at an international trading company in Tokyo, Toshio joined Chateraise, a pastry and wine company as Director of Sales. There, he was put in charge of overseeing the personal wine collection of the company’s president, which intrigued him to enter the world of wine stewardship and research. Toshio joined Mutual Trading Company in 2002, where he is Manger of the Business Development Department in marketing Japanese foods, Jizake, and Shochu to the mainstream American trade. With his passion and expertise in Jizake, Shochu, and Wine, Toshio aims to further promote Japanese food and Sake cultures to new, international audiences. He has hosted “The Science of Sake” VIP Sake Pairing , “Mystery of Sake” VIP Sake Investigation Lecture,”LA Sake Festival” Sake Education Class, and “Japanese Food Festival” Sake Seminar in 2009. Since 2010, he has been Vice President & Executive Instructor at Sake School of America.
Justin Vann is the wine buyer for Public Services Bar, Theodore Rex, Better Luck Tomorrow, Mala Sichuan Restaurants, and the OKRA Charity Bar. He also likes to drink it.
Dirceu Vianna Junior, known to most as “Junior,” is originally from Brazil, where he studied forest engineering and law, before moving to the U.K. in 1989 and becoming involved in the wine trade the following year. For the most of his career, he has been a director at some of the most important wine distributors in the U.K. In 2008, he became the first South American male to obtain the title of Master of Wine and received the Viña Errazuriz Award for Excellence for the Business of Wine paper. After three decades of experience in different sectors of the wine industry, he founded Vianna Wine Resources, a company that consults to wine businesses across Europe, Africa and South America. He is also a judge at selected wine competitions, a wine educator and writer. He is a regular speaker at wine events around the world, as well as making appearances on radio and television.
In 2007, after two decades of working as the wine director at several of New York City’s iconic restaurants, Beth von Benz founded her own consulting company, MvB Consulting, to focus on education, training and brand development. Since then she has developed relationships with leading companies and some of the personalities who make up the beverage industry. Beth also contributes to various wine publications, sits as a judge at regional wine events, and is on the advisory board of the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium.
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.
Kelli White is the senior staff writer at GuildSomm, an international membership organization for wine professionals. Previously, she was a sommelier at Veritas in New York City and PRESS in Napa and a writer for Vinous. Kelli is the author of “Napa Valley, Then & Now” and recipient of the 2018 Roederer Chairman’s Award.
Matt Wilkin Master Sommelier has travelled the globe for 30 years immersing himself in all facets of the wine industry; from humble beginnings in McLaren Vale South Australia, before venturing further afield to the UK in 1998 following a number of years working in hospitality & wineries throughout Australia and France.
Matt has held a variety of prestigious roles including Executive Sommelier with Chef Eric Chavot at Michelin two-starred Capital Hotel Group London, where he oversaw wine purchasing, staff training, private client tastings & cellar management for 6 operations. He now jointly owns London-based wine company H2Vin specialising in the Loire, Burgundy, Rhône, Spain & South Africa. Matt also consults several London restaurants, educates and adjudicates for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ worldwide, assists as a regular Judge for The UK Sommelier of the Year Competition, TEXSOM IWA and Decanter World Wine Awards.
His dedication has been recognised through a number of high profile Awards and Achievements: Champagne Trophée Ruinart UK Sommelier of the Year 2005, MS Diploma Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Diploma, Dom Perignon Award of Excellence 2004, Wine International Sommelier of the Year 2002, Harpers & Queen / Moët & Chandon UK Sommelier of the Year 2002, Hunters & Frankau 2002 Cigar Travel Award Scholarship, Gosset Champagne Trophée Cèlébris UK 2002 and Young Australian Achiever of the Year in the UK 2009.
Away from wine Matt is an avid Sports Motorcyclist, Skier, Canoeist, Mountain Climber, plays league Squash and league Cricket…
As a teenager, Virginia saw the happiness and joy wine brought to her parents and their friends after a hard day’s work in their small vineyard. It was here she decided winemaking was going to be her career. “I loved the idea of growing fruit, and then turning it into something that could be more beautiful and would make people happy.”Virginia Willcock is now the Chief Winemaker behind some of Australia’s most critically acclaimed wines, at Margaret River’s founding wine estate, Vasse Felix. She joined as Chief Winemaker in October 2006.Virginia has an insatiable curiosity for the role microbiology plays in grapes and vineyards in making more environmentally expressive wines. This has driven the revolutionary development in winemaking style at Vasse Felix and served as inspiration for many other producers around Australia – in particular her work with wild-yeast fermentation in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.Virginia is one of the most awarded female winemakers in Australia, having been named ‘Gourmet Traveller WINE Australian Winemaker of the Year’ in 2012 (she was also a finalist in 2010), ‘Winemaker of the Year’ by The West Australian Good Wine Guide 2013, and ‘Winemaker of the Year’ in the 2017 Australian Women in Wine Awards. Virginia was also nominated as ‘Winemaker of the Year’ in Wine Enthusiast Magazine USA’s 2014 Wine Star Awards, and ‘Winemaker of the Year’ in the ASVO (Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology) Award for excellence 2016. A respected authority on Margaret River winemaking, Virginia has represented the region as presenter and panellist of numerous international media, trade conventions and masterclasses, in addition to being a sought-after regional wine show judge. She also served on the board of the Margaret River Wine Industry Association for several years. Virginia has completed 27 vintages in Margaret River, and worked international vintages in Albania, Italy in Trentino, Sicily and Abruzzo as well as New Zealand. Virginia’s Winemaking Philosophy:“Make the wines you love to drink. As winemakers we scour the world to find those rare and precious wines we will most love. So at Vasse Felix, with our pristine environment and historic vineyards, we must strive to make just that. To perfect a distinctive style that is unique and special, that people all over the world will recognie.”
Laura Williamson is one of 27 female Master Sommeliers’ in the world. Originally born in a dry county in Arkansas, Laura passed the Master Sommelier exam, “the world’s toughest wine exam” as noted by Forbes Magazine, when barely a dozen women in the world had done so.
She directed Italian and German wine imports across the US for various companies prior to her role as Beverage Director and Chef Sommelier for Jean-Georges, a Michelin Three-Star, New York Times Four-Star Restaurant in NYC, and remains one of the few women globally to have held a position of this stature within the restaurant industry.
She currently advises, speaks, consults and teaches wine lovers to expand their joy and become their best personal guide by exploring exotic grapes from remote areas. Her online wine courses have assisted numerous consumers in unlocking their palate via the embrace of individual preference. Dually, she mentors executive women, training them to amplify their business negotiation power through meticulous wine list navigation and succinct dining etiquette.
Laura has shared her esteemed expertise through features on CBS, FOX, NBC, Forbes Magazine and Wine Spectator and is a best-selling author of Unlock Your Palate: How to Taste Wine, Impress Your Friends and Become a Wine Pro.
To contact Laura with questions regarding services, email: [email protected] or contact her cell: 970-376-0906.
Emily Wines brings an infectious vibrancy to the subject of wine. While she has earned the highest distinction from the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers, she is able to blend her vast knowledge of wine with an approachable personal style, translating the complex and often elitist world of wine into language that’s simple and straightforward.
Emily’s responsibilities include expanding and strengthening the Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club community, and advancing team members’ knowledge of wine. She serves as the liaison between the company and its individual restaurants, engaging with guests and the brand’s 350,000+ Wine Club members to create unique experiences centered around wine and spirits. She spearheads initiatives designed to enrich the guest journey through education, immersive events, collaborative partnerships and curated lifestyle adventures.
Emily is an internationally qualified sommelier, and one of only 149 individuals in the Americas to earn the designation of Master Sommelier. She is also one of just 15 professionals who have been awarded the prestigious Remi Krug Cup for passing all three sections – theory, service and blind tasting – of the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination on her first attempt.
Prior to joining Cooper’s Hawk, Emily worked for Skipstone Winery, where oversaw winery operations and traveled the country to educate restaurant staff. She has also served as Senior Director of Beverage and Bars at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, where she spearheaded the wine and spirits programming for 65 unique dining concepts across the U.S. Emily began her career at San Francisco’s acclaimed Fifth Floor, and was integral to the restaurant’s receipt of Wine Spectator Magazine’s prestigious Grand Award, as well as its nomination from the James Beard Foundation for Outstanding Wine Service.
David has been involved in professional education and qualifications in the field of wines and spirits for most of his career. He first got interested in training whilst working for what is now Diageo in the UK through the 1980s. A qualified teacher and a Master of Wine, he has worked for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in a variety of roles since 1990, including teaching and assessing at all levels, quality assurance and business development. He is now part of WSET’s Global Education team with particular responsibility for the delivery and assessment of its “train the trainer” program. Success in this Educator Training program is a critical element in any new application to offer WSET courses. Outside WSET, David is also a non-executive Director of the UK-based International Wine and Spirit Competition, and a regular judge in other wine competitions around the world. He is also a director and shareholder of a small nature reserve near his home in the countryside 50 miles north of London.
Allison Yoder is co-owner of Gemma – an iconic, seasonal, Dallas restaurant she and her chef-husband Stephen Rogers own and operate. Yoder’s emphasis on the wine, cocktails and hospitality program is what helped garner the much-deserved attention and highly acclaimed praise by critics, wine enthusiasts and diners alike. Just last month (December 2015) Gemma was named “10 Best Wine Lists in Dallas” via the Dallas Observer wine reporter, Brian Reinhart. The media has praised her wine list and tagged it as “exemplary”, “best in town” with “no shortage of delightful surprises”.
Gemma is one of Dallas’ most highly sought after dining destinations. Since opening December of 2013, the dynamic duo has received impressive accolades including but not limited to 100 Best Restaurants 2013, D Magazine; Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings of 2013, Eater Dallas; Best New Restaurants 2014, D Magazine; Best of Big D (Best Service), D Magazine; Best of Big D (Best Places to Eat After Midnight), D Magazine; Best New Restaurant 2014, Dallas Morning News; Dallas’ 10 Best Restaurants, Zagat; 5 Most Exciting Restaurants in Dallas, Modern Luxury Magazine; highly sought after 4-star review by Leslie Brenner, Dallas Morning News; #3 of Top 10 Best Restaurants in Texas – Where to Eat Now 2015, Texas Monthly; Best New Restaurants in Three Cities, The Week; Dallas Goes Local, Travel & Leisure Magazine; Dallas’ Top 10 Must-Have Restaurant Reservations, USA Today; 10 Best Wine Lists in Dallas, Dallas Observer; and many more…
Yoder grew up in Reedsville, Pennsylvania, a small rural community 168 miles northwest of Philadelphia, where farm to table was the norm, not the exception. They picked their fruit and vegetables from her mother’s garden or her grandmother’s orchard – filled with apples and cherries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Her father was a dairy farmer, and she and her older sister and younger brother woke up at 4 a.m. to help milk the 200 head of Holstein milk cows before school each day.
In 1988, Yoder attended University of the Arts in Philadelphia to study vocal performance and opera while working as a server to pay the bills. After graduation, she worked with the Virginia Opera company’s young artists program. When her contract was up, she decided relocated to New York to pursue her dream of being an opera singer.
After 10 years in New York, Yoder moved to Miami with the goal of gaining managerial experience in restaurants. She worked as an assistant manager at Prime 112 – a celebrity hangout and one of the hottest restaurants in South Beach. Just two years later, Yoder was offered a job as general manager at PRESS in St. Helena, in the heart of Napa Valley. She helped develop one of the most extensive all Napa Valley wine lists, which, together with an updated menu using seasonal ingredients, helped PRESS become one of the top dining destinations in Napa Valley. The dynamic husband and wife team (Rogers was executive chef) attracted San Francisco’s esteemed food critic Michael Bauer who gave the restaurant three out of four stars – twice – and called it “…the perfect marriage between food and wine.”
For an encore, she and Rogers decided it was time to go solo, move to Dallas (Rogers’ hometown) and open their very own restaurant, Gemma. In Latin, gemma means the bud of a plant; in Italian, “the precious one.”
Debbie Zachareas is the proprietor and managing partner at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco’s restored Ferry Building and at the Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchant in downtown Napa. She is a luminary for IfOnly and the consulting wine buyer for Boulibar in the Ferry Building. She is a well-known wine judge, lecturer, sommelier, and guest speaker throughout the country.
In Zachareas’ career, she has developed some of the most innovative wine programs that have helped to shape the city’s wine culture. She was the founder of one of San Francisco’s most extensive wine programs at bacar restaurant, the wine buyer for the Ashbury Market, EOS Restaurant and Wine Bar, the opening sommelier at Rubicon Restaurant, and the opening wine director at Vertigo in the TransAmerica Building. She won the inaugural Wine Director of the year award for San Francisco Magazine and was the only sommelier ever to have won the award twice. Zachareas has been nationally recognized in many publications, including Food and Wine Magazine, Market Watch, Wine Spectator and Saveur magazines, Bloomberg, Women in Wine Leadership, The California Wine Institute, and was named a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. She remains a renowned competition judge and brings passion and expertise wine to her profession.
Outside of the industry, Zachareas is a trustee for the French American International School and International High School, as well as Family House, San Francisco. She is involved in numerous fundraisers, including Family House, French American International, Make-a-Wish, and the Food Bank, just to name a few.
Together with fellow Master Sommelier Drew Hendricks, the two founded TEXSOM in 2005. The conference has become the premiere professional beverage education event in the country, attracting a prominent list of attendees, presenters, and sponsors from around the world. Tidwell is also Co-Owner and Producer of the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, formerly the Dallas Morning News and TEXSOM Wine Competition, one of the largest and most recognized wine competitions in the country. In addition to his work with TEXSOM, Tidwell is the Master Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Thanks in large part to Tidwell’s management, the hotel has been nominated five times for a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Beverage Program.
For nearly two decades, Drew Hendricks has been at the forefront of wine and spirits sales and education. His open nature and passionate drive for excellence is without equal. Time and again, throughout his career, he has demonstrated that he is one of the world’s best at his craft.
Hendricks is currently Director of Business Development- Fine Wine at Republic National Distributing Company in Texas and is one of fewer than 250 individuals in the world to hold the title of Master Sommelier. Service and education is what led him to partner with fellow Master Sommelier James Tidwell, in the creation of TEXSOM in 2005. The conference has become the premiere professional beverage education event in the country, attracting a prominent list of attendees, presenters, and sponsors from around the world. Prior to finding his path in the wine business, Hendricks served in the United States Army and put himself through culinary school at the end of his tour. Both experiences helped form his passion for wine and food, and helped form a foundational belief in the need for discipline and excellence in wine education and service.
Originally from Dallas, Donaji moved to Austin in 1992 to pursue a career in the high-tech arena. It wasn’t long before she found herself involved in numerous leadership positions in Austin’s non-profit community. It was her volunteer efforts that eventually led to a position as Director of The Rare & Fine Wine Auction in Austin. She has also has an extensive background in membership and sponsor relations. Donaji returned to Dallas in December of 2011 and is now the Events Manager for TEXSOM.
Amie Hendrickson joined the TEXSOM team as Operations Manager in January 2019 after 20 years as General Manager at Edmond Wine Shop, a fine wine and beverage retailer in Oklahoma. In addition to her duties at the shop Amie coordinated education for Wine Forum of Oklahoma at Oklahoma State University, a biennial education event that raises scholarships for the hospitality program. Her studies include the disciplines offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, Society of Wine Educators, and WSET. Amie has been an active and enthusiastic volunteer at the TEXSOM Conference and contributor for the Sommelier Retreat at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards.