Excerpt from “Secrets of the Sommeliers”



“Much like their forebears, few of today’s top U.S. Sommeliers came into the restaurant business planning to do what they are currently doing. But a common factor binds them now: a passion for wine that almost defies description.  Both their professional lives and their personal lives are centered around wine.  Their friends are wine drinkers.  They base meals not around what’s in the refrigerator, but around what they want to drink that night [authors note: guilty of same, nearly 100% of my meal planning time].  They routinely talk with one another about wine and read wine magazines in their spare time.  They travel to wine-growing regions on their vacations and spend their own hard-earned money collecting the very bottles that they open and serve every night.  Thus, the first step toward becoming a sommelier is to identify your passion for wine.  It need not be a lifelong passion, but it must be driving.”

~ Rajat Parr, Master Sommelier, Winemaker, Wine Director for Mina Restaurant Group, Partner/Proprietor, Sandhi and Partner/Proprietor, Domaine de la Côte

I identify so strongly with this writing, and often worry that I bore those around me who don’t draw such joy and obsession from wine as I do.  Call me a nerd, consider my pursuits foolish, fail to understand, maybe judge from your vantage points and wine experience.  Validation exists for me the moment I am moved to do crazy things like write this blog, maintain this site, pursue Sommelier status while not working in the field, cite this work and identify it to my passion.  Consider me, thrilled.

Elegance, Success, and Tears at Table 65

“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you, becomes your trademark.”

I cannot credit those words to any particular person but I wish I knew who first said them.  They are the truth of my personal ethos for success in business.  Fancy dinners, considerate wine choices, expensive gifts emblazoned with corporate logos, flashy buzzwords, [and really] all things aside, authenticity can not be forced.  It is needed from every level of your organization, from every entree on the table, from every soul  and every touchpoint present in the intersection of your dealings.  When it happens, and everyone shows up – the synergy of winning takes flight.    

One look at this table and I thought, where else would I want to spend an evening with my colleagues and precious clients?  Avant Table 65 inside the Rancho Bernardo Inn is set behind glass doors at the entry of the restaurant, so you feel a bit like shiny salt water fish in an aquarium.   Notably, the prized feature is the circular table located inside a professional chefs kitchen. Regardless of how large the private space behind glass walls was, the feel is surprisingly intimate and we quickly forgot for the night that we were fishes being gawked at. Offering personal time with the service team, prix fixe personalized menus, a dining space separate from restaurant floor noise, it was the ideal location to host clients for what turned out to be the most fun business dinner that any of us had ever had.  We hooted, we hollered, we plotted April Fool’s jokes, we lingered over two hours to our delight.  More below, but first, the wine:

A quick survey of my guest preferences at Table 65, and with guidance of the Sommelier onsite at Avant, I was led to select an organic, light bodied red wine against the California fusion fare that Avant specializes in.  I expected all the perfumed aroma, translucent color, ripe fruit, easy body, and cool climate cranberry that I got from my table pleasing bottle of Penner Ash Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.   The northwest wine region of the United States is characterized by fruit forward wines, and if you associate Cab as King in Napa, you can deduct that Pinot Noir is King to the Willamette Valley.   If you’re ever in position to select wine for a table of people, Pinot Noir is a finicky grape, but a beautiful wine with wide appeal; a safe choice for anyone new or old to the spectrum of red wine.  A number of my guests had fish entrée meal preferences at the table, everybody having wine wanted red, and I had one specific request for organic wine, so the Penner Ash fit the bill nicely.

Generally pleasing, the disposition of Pinot Noir is like your easy-going, no drama best friend, who is reliable and can always be counted upon when meeting new friends for the first time.  The Penner Ash has no stage fright either; the bottle appeared on stage at appetizers through to desert and was a crowd pleaser until the end.  A last-pour, standing ovation came during the encore performance – a vanilla bean salted caramel cheesecake adorned with pumpkin puree.


Avant Wine Cellar Looking Into Table 65

Now that the technical of wine is aside, I must apologize.  Apologize for having TOO MUCH FUN at dinner so much that I can’t articulate the magic in fairness to you or to the quality of time spent crying tears of laughter at dinner that night.  We ended up staging pranks in the parking lot, traveling the property like a college frat house.  If I ask for time with my clients at dinner, it is time away from their families, it is time away from their regular resting patterns, time that deserves the respect and effort of forging a real bond with them.   Wine and excellent food alone cannot do the trick.  You have to bring YOU to the table, and I think that is the ultimate secret of the best Sommeliers.  The search for business relevance is constantly on my mind when it comes to my professional, non-wine student life.  Finding success in the boardroom is much like finding success at a dinner where your guests are your clients.  You can’t fake your way through a wine list any more than you can fake your way through a sales pitch, or an investigative deep dive into mutual business operations.

Winning at both business, and business dinners, involves the crafting of a client experience that matches their needs, tastes, and preferences, with your talents, your understanding, and a strong individuality of your personal brand.

Take the time.  Master that.  And above all else, have FUN.  Enjoy the souls you share your table with!


The Chef’s Experience on Table 65

This one’s for my oenophiles.

Settled in the Rancho Bernardo hills of Southern California lies Avant inside the Rancho Bernardo Inn.

The Table 65 experience is a delightful option for those looking for an elevated dining experience, connected right to the action of a restaurant wine room and private kitchen.  I’ve just booked this table for an intimate, private wine dinner next month.  The Chef will design a custom menu in accordance to seasonal California fresh fare, and I am working with the restaurant to select options and pairings for my clients [translate: moonlighting in culinary, obviously].  Full experience and complete review with Avant Chef and Avant Sommelier is coming soon!  Stay tuned, friends.

Time to Nerd: April 7, 2018

Hello and happy new year, friends!

Looking back at ’17 and in the now of ’18, it is apparent that committing to patterns and habit setting in the fourth quarter of last year was an obvious personal challenge.  Accomplishing anything in the fourth quarter of the year seems like a good idea, and possible until work commitments, holiday pressures, last minute business travel, and the pop-up needs of family and friends take importance over the spend of your personal time.  I’m just trying to stay in my lane, y’all.

That said, authenticity and passion are like best friends.  Several weeks or months of time could eclipse and the very moment of reunion tells the truth that they’ve never left your side.  As I return to The Client Bar after a stint of silence, I am accompanied by the familiarity of enthusiasm and a sense of relief to be back on track.  I’ve missed hosting you very much and finally have something new to share, Client Bar!

April 07, 2018 is my official date for level 1 certification.  I’ll sit for the exam in Napa, but  between now and then will spend my nights and weekends [between yoga classes] completing 14-modules of online study and various mock exams to prepare myself with. The instructor led, in-class portion of study will provide me with the official course materials from London, nine wine tasting exercises, wine and food pairings, and other activities before the actual exam takes place at the culmination of a full day of classroom study.  I am excited to experience the classroom portion, and from it build new structure and organization around the foundation of my wine knowledge.  The exams are sent to London for grading, and if I pass, I will be awarded with the WSET Level 1 award in wines, accompanied by the iconic lapel pin.

Certification is an impossible magnet to avoid – so I’m relieved to have committed the enrollment cost and set the schedule for the remaining four months of study.  When starting this blog last year, I set the aggressive goal to achieve certification by December 31, but have given myself the grace to adjust that timeframe in order to stroll slowly through this journey, enjoying every view and perspective that is mine to obtain.  I hope in your endeavors you find the same mindfulness and strive for the same richness of your experiences.

Peace and love to you in your places,

Reyna J.

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