1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role?
I was born and raised in Wyoming. I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend UNLV Hotel College.
I had an opportunity in my freshman year to do a paid internship in Nanjing, China for 6 months. Following China, I completed my Spanish minor in Bilbao, Spain.
Both experiences in Asia and Europe allowed me to understand a sense of place, culture, food, and wine which expanded my universe, literally.
Upon my return to Las Vegas to complete my undergraduate program, I was also finally 21 years old (yay!!) and enrolled in my first wine course at UNLV.
I got bit by the wine bug as well as being lucky to have access to great classical wine education with two M.S. Profs at UNLV. The rest is history!! I worked as a sommelier at some top casino restaurants. I sold wine for suppliers for 4 years and also worked in distribution for close to 5 years.
In 2010 Wine & Spirits named me one of the top sommeliers working the floor in the USA.
2. Why did you choose this industry and what do you love about it? I got hooked and wanted to be just like my mentors who both were Master Sommeliers on the strip in the early 2000’s at the Bellagio and happened to also teach at UNLV. I however did not pursue the MS title.
I am a certified sommelier level 2 CMS, and level 2 WSET.
3. What challenges have you experienced in your profession in 2020?
All of them. What feels like a complete collapse locally of the wine profession.
Very few of my peers survived being furloughed indefinitely and were eventually laid-off, including me.
I tried to find a new job this summer, and that turned out to be a ruse. Both experiences made me sit back and think that when you have nothing to lose it’s time to take a big risk.
I am currently in the process of starting my small business. I am very optimistic and excited for the new year!
4. What are some of your favorite and comforting wine/wine region/pairing?
Lately I am loving simple rose’s to pair with everything my husband cooks for us. We really enjoy cooler climate wines. Typically higher acid varietals. A few of my favorites this month at home are listed.
A. Von Winning Rose Pinot Noir Pfalz, 2018 - Electric acidity for Pinot Noir with its northern exposure, and steep slate slopes influencing the expression of this varietal. Andreas Hutwohl is such a talented winemaker using natural methods. I had a chance to work the Nevada market with him a few times and this house wines are second to none. I encourage anyone to drink this producer regardless of the site when you have an opportunity to do so. I’ve never been disappointed. The house has been producing in the Pfalz since 1718. I love this wine with my husband’s salt and pepper pan fried bone in pork chop with garlic bok choy side and steamed white rice.
B. Domaine de Marquiliani “Le Rose Gris de Pauline” Vin de Corse, 2019 - this rose looks like water, I’ve never had a rose so translucent! It’s delicious. Varietals are 50% Sciaccarellu, 40% Syrah, 10% Vermentino from vines bush trained planted in 1964. Schist and Granite soils give this wine the right amount of minerality for my personal preferences. On the nose the wine is fairy delicate, it’s more about the palate on this bottle. A great pairing is chilled soy marinated tofu topped with butter sautéed sliced radishes.
My husband gets all the culinary credit. I just pick our wine. We make a great team for dinner. I do the dishes, usually!
5. Any advice for aspiring industry candidates?
Food & Beverage is a labor of love. If you don’t feel the passion for people plus a particular niche then it’s often a career short lived. I chose front of the house which better suits my strengths. At the beginning of my college years I was a culinary major within the umbrella of my Hotel major. I switched to beverage once I realized I just did not have the physical stamina nor the rhino thick skin you need to survive what was a brutal environment 20 years ago. Back Of the House vs. Front Of the House has evolved somewhat since then. Slightly, kinder in 2020 +. The BOH was considered an environment where you had to be tough as nails mentally and physically. A very thankless side of our industry historically.
My wine mentors helped me decide to focus on the FOH, where hours are also long but the rewards of guest interaction and being an expert in wine and food pairings are expected. It’s a very rewarding side of the field. I got lucky in my timing and in my mentors.
If you don’t succeed just keep on trying. That mentality also helped me be lucky in sales. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Keep asking, politely for what you want in your career.
6. Please share an anecdotal moment that you will never forget!
When I realized in 2003 you can make a career out of tying people, customer service, history, language, food, wine, travel and sensory all into a career. Wine is a conduit for everything I love in life. I would have never had access to the wines I have become fond of if I didn’t work for 15 + years in wine as my career.
I am now eager to share what I have learned with those who love wine regardless if they are industry or aficionado’s.
7. Is there anything else you would like to share or mention?
Don’t listen to anyone who claims to know it all. That’s impossible. There are too many wines in this world to “know it all”. Learn what you like. That’s all that matters.
Also try as many types of wines as you have access too. Retry wines you rejected years ago. Your palate changes and evolves. Mine certainly has.
I also love sharing wine with my dad who has been a life long wine lover as well. He also has a great palate; we like similar wines. It’s nice we share something in common as we both love wine and food.
But great company is the best accompaniment to any meal.
Kelly: "I got bit by the Wine bug"