So tell us how you first became interested in wine.
Growing up in New Orleans, a big restaurant city, we were always going out to eat and enjoying the food and culture ingrained in the city. I always knew that’s what my path was. I always knew I wanted to be in the hospitality industry, and I wanted to own a restaurant one day.
I didn’t grow up in a wine family. My mom drank a glass of Chardonnay every night, and that was the extent. Back in 2001, after graduating high school and in between summers in college, I worked at the first wine bar in New Orleans that my cousins happened to own. It was very popular and busy, and I was making a lot of money for an 18-year old which I was really excited about! However, I quickly realized that I was also interested in wine. I loved taking the classes that the wine reps would come and give the staff on the wines on our list. That’s when I first started getting my feet wet in wine.
Right after graduating college, I moved back to New Orleans, and it was the same year that Katrina hit the city. I had just gotten a job with the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, so I was transferred to their restaurant in Southern California in Anaheim, The Jazz Kitchen, to work in the interim when the city was shut down. At the time, I still had an interest in wine, but I was more focused on the hospitality and operations side of the restaurant business.
A month into the job, I was introduced to our Duckhorn sales rep for the restaurant because she was also from New Orleans, and while we were discussing my career, she earnestly recommended that I go introduce myself to the Master Sommelier, Michael Jordan, who ran the wine program for the fine dining restaurant, The Napa Rose, in Disney’s Grand California Hotel that was next door because he hosted regular wine classes and was a revered mentor in the Sommelier community. I didn’t even know what a Sommelier was at the time, much less a Master Sommelier, but once I found out, I was hooked.
I originally planned to move back to New Orleans and pursue my master’s degree in HRT (Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism), but once I understood the extent of the Master Sommelier certification, I decided that it was equivalent to a graduate program and switched gears. I put my nose in the books for 13 years, passing the Advanced in 2009 and each section over the Master’s Exam from 2011-2017.
Speaking of New Orleans, what is the wine culture like there? It’s an amazing city!
Yeah. Thank you! Come visit! It’s a very Francophile-focused wine town, mainly Burgundy and Bordeaux (in that order) with a lot of collectors and deep cellars. Many were affected by Katrina, but there’s still a lot of breadth and depth to the cellars and a very vibrant wine community. There are people that are really passionate, but there’s not a lot of credentials here. It’s way more about people’s hands-on experience. There are career wine people and Somms that have only taken the intro class or something like that, but that’s about it.
You’ve traveled to most of the major wine regions throughout your career. What’s been some of your favorites?
Definitely Spain! I love the region. I think it’s gorgeous and I love the wines and the culture there. I’ve been to Jerez, where I got married, so that was a standout for sure. I’m a huge Sherry fan, as we have discussed already. So getting married there was a dream.
I love Barolo; for me, it is one of the standout wine regions. Just the sheer beauty took my breath away, and I love the wines. Those are probably my top. I mean, Burgundy is still very magical. I loved being there and going into Beaune; it is one of my favorite wine towns.
What is it like being the global wine trader for Vinovest?
It’s a new company that has started within the past year and a half; it is a platform designed to help people looking to invest in wine as an alternative asset. Basically, we are taking care of all of the processes and steps that go into collecting wine for investment purposes.
“We are democratizing wine investing.” It’s opening it up to anyone; it’s a thousand-dollar minimum investment, so relatively affordable for everyone. We take care of selecting the wine, so you don’t have to know about wine per se, and based on your investment style, we choose the wines for you, and the storage is taken care of. Theoretically, you don’t have to take possession of the wines unless you want to, which if you do, you could do that.
The wines are stored in bonded warehouses around the world, and once they reach their peak maturity, we will sell them for you. We talk with you depending on what amount you are looking to fund or what size portfolio you want to have, and then we take it from there.
How did you get into that?
I was referred to Anthony Zhang, the founder, by a couple of the initial advisors that worked with him in the beginning when he was getting started. I started working part-time as a portfolio advisor. I spoke with potential high-end clients, getting them familiar with wine investing and comfortable with the process we use and getting them to fund their accounts. Then, in April, I started full-time and moved into the wine trader position, where I am now solely responsible for all the wine buying for the company.
Gotcha. Very cool! Now let’s talk about Mitchell Somm Selections.
Yes. So that is the company that I started in the interim after I was let go from Wilson Daniels, but I have always wanted to have my own company. The best part about being a Somm is recommending wines to people that they would otherwise never be exposed to. Throughout my whole career, especially friends and family, they’re always asking me, “can you pick out wine for me? Is this good?” Especially any time someone goes to the grocery or buying wine, they’re calling me from the aisle asking what they should buy. So, it was kind of really just easy and natural, and no one has a wine club in New Orleans.
It was easy for me to say, let me pick out wine for you and have it be something that’s kind of on autopilot; you get six bottles once a month. So that’s just been so much fun, and it keeps me connected to what’s going on the ground versus the big fancy world of super high-end investment wines with elite collectors. It’s geared more towards the everyday wine enthusiast, and I get to connect regularly with all the wine reps, so I still have my pulse on the industry at both ends of the spectrum, which is fantastic.
How long have you been doing your company?
Since August, so it’s been about almost a year. It’s super rewarding, and I have about 50 members right now. So it’s very much just a one-person team. I operate out of an existing wine retail store, and they’re great to work with. They just let me kind of like do my own thing.
Good for you! That is very cool. What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Hmm, food and wine pairing. I love so many combinations, although I think Sherry pairings are my favorite. Crawfish etoufée and a salty, dry Amontillado Sherry from Valdespino is a flavor explosion!
Yum! Love the tie back to New Orleans!
Want to learn more? Liz Mitchell will be featured throughout the month of July 2021. Check out this week’s recommendations here!
Established in 2002, Benchmark Wine Group is the leading source of fine and rare wine retailers, restaurants, and collectors around the world. Based in Napa Valley, we acquire the most sought-after wines from private individuals and professional contacts, but only when provenance can be verified by our team of acquisition professionals. Our staff draws on decades of industry experience and is dedicated to providing exceptional service to all of our clients. Benchmarkwine.com offers 24-hour access to our cellar, displaying inventory in real-time.