Cappie Peete admits her beginnings with wine weren't that different from the most of us — yes, she has consumed corn-syrupy Arbor Mist, and yes, she wasn't so discerning before she started studying (early on, Zinfandel was a "revelation"). While majoring in hotel, restaurant, and tourism management at the University of South Carolina, she happened upon a wine course and was hooked. Her education progressed as Peete enrolled in a Certified Sommelier program after graduation, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
In that moment, Peete knew she wanted to learn as much as possible
Her clarifying moment came in a seminar in San Jose, California. An Antinori Tignanello Super Tuscan intrigued Peete, and she says, "It had the rustic dried herbs and dried fruit of a Tuscan wine, yet pushing towards the texture of the New World style with great balance and acidity." In that moment Peete knew she wanted to learn as much as possible.
After reading a newspaper article about North Carolina-based sommelier Julia Schiavone Hunt, Peete tracked her down to solicit advice. Hunt suggested the enterprising achiever look into Charleston fine dining institution McCrady's, as that's where she got her start. Peete lived in Greensboro, North Carolina at the time and knew she wanted to be a part of the growing scene in the Lowcountry. However, while Peete had superlative wine knowledge, she didn't possess much experience in restaurants, other than a hosting gig at barbecue chain Sticky Fingers. She knew this could be a hurdle, so she told McCrady's then-sommelier Clint Sloan she would do anything to get her foot in the door, even if it meant working for free.
"They called me back and offered me a server assistant position, which is where I needed to start," says Peete. She progressed to cocktail server, actual server, and then when Sloan announced his departure, he selected her to take the reins. In an interview about his move from McCrady's, Sloan predicted "It's only a matter of time before [Peete] passes the advanced sommelier certification ... She has the talent and the brain for it." He was correct, and at 26, Peete aced the Advanced Sommelier test.
These days, at the age of 28, Peete is the Director of Beverage and Education for the Neighborhood Dining Group. This new title means she establishes which wines might pop up as pairings for McCrady's tasting menu, instructs the staff on bottle availability, determines the flavor profiles of the many cocktails at NDG's Mexican-influenced Minero, and much, much more. McCrady's is held as one of the golden standards of fine dining in the Lowcountry, and Minero was one of the most-watched openings last year, with a planned expansion to Atlanta opening later this summer, so even more eyes (and taste buds) are currently on Peete's work.
A large part of what the young director does is educating the staff, making sure they are up-to-date on what wines are available, and seeing that everyone has tasting notes. Her vast comprehension is imparted in everyone in the dining room or behind the bar. Peete doesn't work the floor at McCrady's as much now, as she has sommeliers Garth Herr and Jodi Bronchtein for that, but her day always builds to creating a perfect moment for the guests at NDG establishments.
Peete is humble about her accomplishments. Talking to her, it's easy to understand how she's advanced so far in such a short time. She's always contemplating the beverage program at her restaurants or advancing her own knowledge. When asking about the popular frozen drinks at Minero, you can tell she's still thinking about all the elements in head—the work is never done.
From here, Peete plans to work towards the Master Sommelier designation. Fellow wine professionals in Charleston have attempted to reach the title of Master, but none have succeeded yet. "We're going to get a Master Sommelier in this town," says Peete with a smile, perhaps because she knows it will very likely be her.