Wine, Science, Hospitality & Curiosity

Jennifer looking the sea

From Jennifer…
My wine journey began with a glass of Chassagne-Montrachet in Tucson Arizona. I unenthusiastically moved to Tucson from my hometown Pittsburgh, PA when I was 20 because my parents transferred jobs. Both of my parents have PhDs and my father is also a Neurologist. I moved to Arizona planning to follow parental expectations; go to U of A, get a degree and get a job in science or medicine. I loved science and I was good at it but something about it fell FAR short of inspiring passion. As I contemplated my application to U of A, I found a posting on craigslist for a new hotel opening called Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. I joined the opening team as a pool server thinking this would be a summer job but was immediately hooked by the hospitality, luxury and lifestyle the resort cultivated. In our first staff wine class I tasted a White Burgundy from Pierre-Yves and was amazed by the complexity. We sure didn’t drink that kind of wine in Pittsburgh. I didn’t know this glass of wine would redirect my life. I put in a year at Ritz-Carlton leaving my application for U of A forgotten. After a year I was bored by the monotone desert of Arizona. Much to my parent’s chagrin I decided to pack up and move to San Francisco in pursuit of a new life in hospitality and wine.

When I arrived in San Francisco I realized what a tough scene it was. Fine dining restaurants maintained an intimidating level of exclusivity and I struggled to find a job that I wanted. I took up bartending in hotels, dive bars and night clubs while looking for my niche; I was then recruited to work at Press Club. Press Club’s wine list focused on small production domestic and international wines and the wine education was fabulous. The wine director Mauro hosted blind tastings for the staff using fun props like the “Les Nez du Vin” essential oil kit to help to us cultivate our developing palates. I couldn’t get enough; blind tasting was my favorite type of training. Something about the thrill of being put on the spot and asked to blind taste a wine always tickled me. From here I took classes, I read, I drew maps, I worked harvest, I applied myself and eagerly looked for my next step.

My next step was Burgundy icon RN74 where I met Aubrey my Power Pairing co-hort. She joined the sommelier team and we became fast friends. I didn’t have any actual experience as a sommelier, so I took a position as a bartender in the Owner’s Lounge; a resident only bar servicing Millennium Towers over RN74. Just before I started, I passed my Intro and Certified Somm Exam back to back with ease. I thought my wine knowledge was reasonable but I was quickly shown how far I still had to go. I had free rein to sell the residents whatever bottles I wanted but my knowledge of Burgundy and classic French wine was limited. I remember the first time I looked through the big beautiful red leather bottle list (in complete confusion) trying to figure out which of the twenty or so Grand Cru Chambertin my guest had ACTUALLY ordered. In that moment, I was reminded of how much I loved wine; just when I thought I understood it, it surprised me. Burgundy with all of its quirks, quickly became a well understood obsession. As Aubrey can attest, RN74 was a HIGHLY competitive learning environment. I learned as fast and I began to sell some truly amazing (and expensive) wine. RN74 was the turning point where I decided I would sit for my Master Sommelier Exam. I didn’t know the level of commitment it would take but I was ready and willing to find out. After a two year tenure, I was prepared to sit for my Advanced Sommelier exam and leave RN74 for my first official sommelier position at Epic Steak.

Admittedly, RN74 with its reputation and hype had given me a slight sense of entitlement and a temporary exclusive taste for expensive French wines. I started at Epic and immediately after starting, I failed my first Advanced Sommelier Exam. Part of it was because I thought I knew it all. I promised myself to remember the beginning of my wine journey began with hospitality. Hospitality is humble. Despite my new thorough knowledge of French Wine there was so much still to learn. I took that exam a total of three times over three years before I passed. Lucky number three. During these three years I worked at multiple Michelin starred restaurants such as Michael Mina, Keiko a Nob Hill, and Hashiri. I worked in sales, online marketing and consulted on restaurant openings and beverage programs. I studied, I worked and I didn’t sleep much. It wasn’t easy but I passed and it was worth it. That three year blur of studying and work was numbing and exhausting but I felt lucky to have found my passion. I fell in love because when you REALLY dig into it, wine is so closely linked to (my first love) science. I could talk about taste buds, flavor molecules, and viticulture all day. My romance with wine has been such an adventure.

After passing my Advanced, felt a little shell shocked but I didn’t slow down. I had priorities. I did a little soul searching, worked more, started my company OMvino, traveled, studied, and of course applied for my Master Sommelier Exam. My company began to thrive. I had clients that I truly loved, great consulting gigs and the opportunity to get paid to work internationally. I sat for my Master Somm Exam directly after getting back from a 48 hour trip to Russia for a consulting gig.  Needless to say, I didn’t pass.  I wasn’t ready but I didn’t forget to be humble.  I watched friends and peers become emotional about failing; I knew there would be a next time.

I thought it was important for you as readers to have some background on my wine history. I hope you enjoyed it!

NOW, to finish up, let’s be talk about the present and why we are REALLY writing this blog. The journey continues and it’s about to get even more exciting. I started OMvino over a year ago now and I just officially partnered with Aubrey.  I asked Aubrey to be my business partner because (as I joke) she is my work soul mate. I know it’s romantic but really, how many other Advanced Sommeliers are out there who are also yoga instructors? We stay humble, work hard and stay grounded. We both have grown SO much since our days together at RN74. Individually we’ve had the chance to pass our Advanced Exam, be wine directors, create award winning wine lists, build a company and now we create our own paths. Hence, the name of our blog, Power Pairing. This blog will be filled with our stories as we travel around the world, select wines, make videos, take pictures, write editorials, study for our Master Sommelier Exam and help build a groundbreaking app called Palate Club. Palate Club ties all of my favorite things (besides yoga) together. It’s science, plus wine, hospitality and blind tasting.  Currently, we are in the process of working with top data and neuro scientists to create an algorithm to track individual palate preferences. I think of it as the taste-genome project.  I look forward to sharing more information as things progress!
If you want to be guinea pigs for our pre-launch blind tasting events check out our website and join our mailing list. Even if we do this whole app thing totally wrong at least there will be free wine! Kidding. Stay tuned for our next few blogs and YouTube channel coming at you later this week!

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