Rachel DelRocco has been in the service industry since high school, but it took a move to Austin for her to find her niche: booze. She took a job at Austin's now-shuttered Fino, a Mediterranean restaurant which somewhat improbably incubated much of the city's best bar talent. Now the beverage director at Qui, DelRocco brings her passion for spirits and wine to crafting the wine list at one of Austin's hottest restaurants.
DelRocco's extensive experience as a bartender makes her unique in the world of sommeliers. Paul Qui says her balanced background is a major coup for the restaurant. "The most appealing thing is she's focused on the wine as much as she's focused on the bar. I feel like somms are somms, but they're not bartenders." As for the usual divide between those worlds, DelRocco doesn't see the reason.
With wine and spirits, you can travel a lot without going anywhere
"Everything starts out as a wine or a mash," she says. "Spirits are just put through an extra step." The world of booze is a mix of sensuality and geekiness, according to DelRocco, and the global, place-based nature of the best wines and spirits means there's always new worlds to uncover. "That's the great thing about wine, or spirits —you can travel a lot without going anywhere. You can taste terroir in tequila, in rum, as well as in a wine."
After working her way up from host to bartender at Fino, DelRocco worked behind the bar at Contigo and Midnight Cowboy, two prominent and wildly different bar programs. Contigo is a sophisticated neighborhood restaurant focused on ranch-style cooking, while Midnight Cowboy is Austin's premiere speakeasy, complete with unmarked entrance. At Qui, DelRocco tended bar and designed cocktails before coming under the wing of June Rodil, one of Austin's leading wine experts (who recently earned her Master Sommelier designation). "I miss working with June," DelRocco said. "All my mentors before were men — they were wonderful — but it was good to see a woman do this for a living."
Working weird hours makes people think the restaurant industry is not a real jobIn general, she is passionate about making the restaurant industry, and the beverage world in particular, a place where women can thrive. "I love staying up until 2 a.m. and doing a shot of Fernet at the end of my shift," she says. "But working weird hours makes people think the restaurant industry is not a real job." She sees that stigma as being particularly hard on women. But beyond the restaurant industry, DelRocco is deeply invested in supporting female winemakers. "Women are growing amazing wine, and as we're fighting our fight here on the restaurant side, it's important to support women fighting the fight on the grower side." Recent obsessions include Maggie Harrison, Elizabeth Foradori, and Ariana Occhipinti, whose wine DelRocco described in such glowing terms that, the last time I was at Qui, we were helpless not to order a bottle.
Qui is Austin's most unclassifiable restaurant. They serve three entirely different menus with three entirely different approaches and price points, all unified by the input of Top Chef winner Paul Qui and his team. DelRocco easily pivots from selecting a funky natural wine for adventurous diners at the 22-course tasting room to making sure she has iconic wines for those keeping it classic in the dining room, and offering great, summery sipping wines for the casual patio. Her passion for fortified wines and amari manifests in the restaurant's new aperitif happy hour. Her next big project? Education. And getting back to sipping more spirits.