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The Current Generation of Sommeliers on Their Influences and How They Got Into Wine

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Welcome to Vintage America, a column in which Eater Wine Editor Talia Baiocchi takes a hyperfresh look at all things wine-related.

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Following last week's news that Robert Parker was selling a considerable portion of his newsletter the Wine Advocate to Asian investors, many in the wine world took the opportunity to reflect on his influence. Parker has surely helped guide a large chunk of an entire generation to wine, but how influential has he been on the current generation? In order to better understand the experience of this generation's wine professionals, Eater tapped a handful of sommeliers, winemakers, and bloggers and asked them about their experience coming to wine, who influenced them, what they read, and why they fell in love with wine.

Here, now, please meet Whitney Adams, a sommelier at Terroni in LA, a buyer at Domaine LA, a blogger, and the host of The Crush podcast; Josiah Baldivino, head sommelier at Michael Mina in San Francisco; Dana Bea Frank, former wine director at Riffle in Portland, co-owner of Bow & Arrow Wines; Matthew Mather, wine director at Frasca and Pizzeria Locale, Boulder; and Joe Campanale, beverage director, Epicurean Management Restaurants.


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Whitney Adams:
Sommelier, Terroni; Buyer, Domaine LA; Blogger, Brunellos Have More Fun


When did you get into wine and how?
Around 2008 was when stuff started to get serious and I began actively studying and reading. I was managing an Italian restaurant in LA and, as a result of various circumstances, I took on the position of wine director. I honestly didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I just winged it. I happened to be very good at memorizing facts and the sensory experiences of all the wines I was tasting, so that worked in my favor. The more I tasted and researched ? something just clicked. I thought, this wine stuff is kind of fascinating! And I was hooked.

When you first got into it, who influenced you and why?
I was working as a hostess at CUT when I moved to LA and I met Wine Director Dana Farner. That was the first time I think I realized wine didn't have to be just a stuffy old dude's game. Because of my love of Italian wine and blogging (I started my own in 2009), the internet led me to Jeremy Parzen aka Do Bianchi. I learned about Italian wines and regions I might not have known about, but I mainly loved that his writing was informative and yet still fun and unpretentious. I can't go without mentioning Jill Bernheimer, owner of Domaine LA. She has inspired my palate and gave me the confidence to support the wines that I believed in.

How did you learn about wine?
The three things that have taught me the most about wine have been travel, working a grape harvest (DeConciliis 2009), and working retail for the past three years. In a retail environment I have been able to taste so many wines and work with almost every distributor, broker, and importer in California. And, of course, studying hard core for my Court of Master Sommelier certified exam a few years ago didn't hurt either.

What did you read and what books, magazines, etc. inspired you?
I've never been much of a traditional wine magazine kind of reader. I started out just reading the wine features in Bon Appétit and Food & Wine, because I loved that they are usually placed within the context of food. I've always enjoyed Eric Asimov's writing for the New York Times. I felt like I was learning almost anything I needed to know by keeping up with him. And since Italian wine was my gateway, Vino Italiano was the first book I really read cover-to-cover.

What about wine attracted you to it?
A sense of place, first and foremost. I'm a travel addict and feel the most alive when I'm exploring and seeing the world. When I started to really pay attention and taste, I felt transported. I wanted to know everything about who made it and when and where. I was inspired by a personal connection to the winemaker and their artistry and sharing their stories with my customers or friends or anyone that cared to listen. I also have to say that my happy place is sitting around a table with good friends, good food, and good wine. Wine has been at the center of some of my most memorable experiences.


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Josiah Baldivino:
Head Sommelier, Michael Mina, San Francisco


When did you get into wine and how?
I first got into wine during college. I was studying Business Management at Cal State Northridge and to graduate I needed a business internship. Rather than getting a job at an office making copies and coffee I decided to get an internship at the local wine shop, Silverlake Wine, in LA. I would stock wines, mop, and pick up lunch for everyone, and in return they taught me about the wines in the store. I soon found myself buying all sorts of books and learning everything I could about the wines. Not long after, I sold my scientific calculator and bought the Wine for Dummies book.

When you first got into it, who influenced you and why?
George Cossette, the former wine director at Campanile. He was one of the owners at Silverlake Wine and would literally teach me about six new wines every Sunday. He was like Yoda to me—very humble and quiet, but knew a ton about wine. Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson as writers. The World Atlas of Wine was the first book. My girlfriend (and now wife) Stevie bought me shortly after starting my studies. I was scared out of my mind when I first started flipping through the pages. It was far from the Maxim magazines I was used to at the time. The book was heavy and smelled like petrol, but the maps and writing were as intriguing as they were intimidating. I love that book almost as much as the girl who gave it to me.

What did you read and what books inspired you?
Other than The World Atlas of Wine, Sales and Service for the Wine Professional by Brian K. Julyan. I received this book when I signed up for the Master Sommelier intro exam. It was my Bible for a while.

What about wine attracted you to it?
Wine can appeal to any audience. Regardless of age or personal style, you can still learn about wine and develop a love for it. And once you truly have that knowledge and love you can sit down at any table with anyone, even if your backgrounds are very different, and you have the chance to enjoy the same bottle equally.


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Dana Bea Frank:
former wine director at Riffle NW, co-owner of Bow & Arrow Wines


When did you get into wine and how?
When I returned to Bend, OR from the Peace Corps in 2003 after three and a half years in Romania, I thought I wanted to pursue a culinary career. After a short period working in pastry and garde manger, I quickly realized I wanted to interact with diners face-to-face. I got the chance to work front of the house at a restaurant with a deep wine program. I knew nothing about wine then, but the bar manager and wine director were both young, hip dudes; there was so much passion for wine running through that restaurant. A group of servers started a tasting group, and that was that. I was completely hooked, read everything I could get my hands on, tasted wine everyday, and eventually took my first and second level exams with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

When you first got into it, who influenced you and why?
My biggest, and most immediate, influence early on was Tim Rippa, the bar manager/wine director at the restaurant I mentioned. He was the antithesis of what I thought "wine people" were supposed to be like: he was into skating and surfing, spun vinyl in his garage, and he was (and still is) SO kind, and didn't really care about fancy wine. He cared about making wine accessible. Once I moved to Portland, OR, I was also mentored by (my now husband) Scott Frank, who was buying wine for a small local chain of grocery stores, where you could buy Champagne Pierre Peters and [Domaine de la Pépière] Clos des Briords on the shelf. And lastly, Whitney Schubert, who's now at Polaner Selections. She really helped me define what was important about wine and the type of young woman I wanted to be in the industry.

What writers or books influenced you?
I read a lot of Hugh Johnson and carried a copy of his The World Atlas of Wine with me practically everywhere. Jancis Robinson's Vines, Grapes & Wines was also an influence. The first books I read cover-to-cover were Wine by André Domine and The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. I didn't get into reading blogs and periodicals for a couple of years, I was more of a book worm.

What about wine attracted you to it?
Honestly, at the time I got into it, I loved that I was a woman in my 20s in an industry that was so male-dominated. But I was really driven and excited about this entire, seemingly massive, world that I could learn about. I did fine in college, but I wouldn't say I was passionate about my studies. Learning about wine was like going back to school for me. Wine has an aesthetic that I was completely attracted to, and I wanted to be a part of something really beautiful. And, again, the people that I met—and truly connected with—over wine, are some of my favorite people to this day.
[Photo: Avila]


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Matthew Mather:
Wine Director, Frasca & Pizzeria Locale, Boulder, CO


When did you get into wine?
I first really got in to wine hard in the mid '90s when I was living in NYC. I was working at a restaurant called Luma for a chef named Scott Bryan (later of Veritas). He was both obsessed with, and very knowledgeable about, wine—particularly Burgundy. The wine writer John Gilman was also an important influence at that time, as he would often host wine dinners at the restaurant.

How did you learn about it?
I really began learning about wine when I moved to the Bay Area in 1996. I worked both retail and in a little restaurant called Rivoli with Lindsay Tusk, Jim Rolston, etc. This is when I began reading and tasting in earnest, and all of it really harnessed my curiosity. I became very interested in Rhône wines, particularly northern Rhône syrah.

What did you read and what books inspired you?
The writers that most influenced me were those that inspired me to drink the wines that they wrote about. Back then it was the Brits: Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson and, later, Andrew Jefford. In America: David Lynch.

What about wine attracted you to it?
I think what initially attracted me to wine were the details, the endless information. If you can never understand it all, how can you be bored? And, also, I love how the answer to one question always leads to three or four more.


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Joe Campanale:
Beverage Director, Epicurean Management Restaurants


When did you get into wine and how?
I first got interested in wine my freshman year at NYU. I would go into Union Square Wines and attend their free weekly tastings. I loved the atmosphere. When I studied abroad in Madrid and Italy, I loved visiting winemakers, learning about wine and they way they treated wine as an essential part of mealtime. When I got back, I took a job at Italian Wine Merchants and was hooked.

When you first got into it, who influenced you and why?
For sure Sergio Esposito at Italian Wine Merchants. He showed me how great Italian wine could be. And the folks at the International Wine Center showed me how gratifying learning about wine is.

How did you learn about wine?
After Italian Wine Merchants, I wanted to continue my education and took the Diploma class at the International Wine Center. I worked there so I could take the class for free, but ended up learning a bunch from my co-workers. I wanted to do every class available so I did a few levels from the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Society of Wine Educators. I'm still learning!

What did you read and what books inspired you?
At first, Wine for Dummies, then Vino Italiano, and now Reading Between The Vines.

What about wine attracted you to it?
I'm a city kid who likes to travel. I love how wine can connect you to some place and some person far away. Also I'm a fat kid, and I love to eat and wine makes food taste better.

[Photo: Krieger]


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