How many years have you been in the business? Tell us briefly about your background and your current position today.
I have been working in the restaurant business since my fifteenth birthday. I love everything about the industry. That’s 18 years..wow. I decided to study Hospitality in College; it was a no-brained for me. I quickly got into wine and beverages at about 20 years old, and have been chasing opportunities to be able to focus on that aspect of the business for my entire career. I have been running beverage programs for over ten years, doing both wine and spirits depending on what the job was. Now I work at RNDC as a Fine Wine Specialist for the Estates Group, which is a small niche role that allows me to offer the best wines in the world to the best restaurants in the state. It’s genuinely a joy to be able to focus on my passion, and I feel so lucky every day.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Yes! So I got into wine at 20. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to go to Italy and take a class in Florence called “The Wines of Tuscany.” It sounds silly now, but at 20 years old I had no idea about the beverage industry or that “wine” was even a job. I was just excited to go on the trip! About 3 weeks into the class, our teacher opened a bottle of Tignanello for us to try. That sip immediately changed the way I thought about wine and I became passionate about learning more about it. I’ve been chasing that ever since. I jumped into fine dining and took every opportunity to find a mentor or a job that fit my goal.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
After working fine dining in the restaurant industry for nearly 20 years, I really enjoy being able to assist people in lots of restaurants do what they want to do: get great wine into guest’s hands. I love showing around special one-off gems, rare bottles, and prestigious houses. It is so rewarding to get to share what I have learned and what I love with so many people all over Georgia, and I learn a lot from them too!
What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?
I think I’m still struggling with that. I love to work and find myself working a lot. I know it’s a clique, but to me it truly isn’t “work” because I love it so much. But, I love to be outside. I’ve recently gotten into birdwatching. I love to take my dog to free spaces where she can run around. I also love dining at super old-school restaurants. It’s such a joy for me to be able to watch the service in action. I love the unpretentious service and food, and I find it very comforting after so many years working fine dining.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
That is such a hard question. I love the wine industry! But, I hope to see better avenues to success. Obviously people can read and study wine, but the “business” of wine is overlooked. The hospitality industry deserves people who know how to cost product, conduct inventory, navigate distribution, seek allocations, ect. There is virtually no solid way to become educated about the beverage industry. I can speak for myself and say that when I started buying booze for a living I was terrible at the business side of things, and I learned by making many mistakes over many years. I got very lucky with a series of great mentors, but that’s not common. People deserve to have a path to become educated (and paid) for this difficult work that requires years of study to be proficient.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
The path to success in the wine industry seems to usually involve years of practice for little pay. I remember when I was a server crowding around an open bottle of wine that a guest left on the table because it was so special and expensive and none of us thought we would ever be able to afford it. I thought I might never get a chance to taste anything like that again! With better balance in wages and better education opportunities in the industry, we can allow anyone the chance to follow their wine dreams.
How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?
I lived in New Orleans for ten years. While I live in Atlanta now, I run a small non-profit based in New Orleans called VINUM, that raises money to provide a series of tasting events for industry professionals there. We do our best to seek out people who are in the typically entry-level jobs: bussers, barbacks, hosts, and get them to come taste some world-class wine. That first taste is special, but to truly be involved in the business of wine I believe it takes some true education. We try to provide that service there.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?
Best advice I ever got: “don’t be a drunk.” This industry is SO fun, but it is still a multi-billion dollar business, and it is important to keep that in mind.
Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.
So many. Dan Davis, the Wine Director at Commanders Palace. Hugo Miller, who led a tasting and education group that helped me get my CMS Certification. Peter Apers, who mentored me on my first huge wine program. Marc Dorian, who taught me how to be a good buyer. Clarke Anderson, who taught me to be a better buyer. I could name 50 others