Salut! / The Somms


Uncorked

There are a total of 269 distinguished Master Sommeliers in the world, and 17 of them descend on Naples this month to lead your wine enjoyment during Naples Winter Wine Festival.

BY January 1, 2022

Gillian Ballance

Recently appointed to a seat on the James Beard Foundation Beverage Industry Advisory Board, Ballance—who was mentored by Master Sommelier and TV personality Andrea Robinson—is one of only 28  women to pass the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas. She made a name for herself at popular New York City fine-dining hotspots, including The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World, home to a cellar with roughly 100,000 bottles. She then opened Cello Wine Bar before branching out to make her mark on hotels and resorts and working in California as wine director for Bottega Napa Valley, Cavallo Point and PlumpJack Group. Currently, Ballance serves as the national education manager for Australian distributor Treasury Wine Estates, working with brands such as 19 Crimes and Stag’s Leap.

 

Jesse Becker

Global pours (German, in particular) are Becker’s specialty. Certified as an ambassador for Germany’s Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VPD)—the designation for the country’s top vineyards—the Master Sommelier also touts wines produced in Austria, France and Greece through his work with Winebow’s Craft + Estate portfolio. With knowledge stemming from his work with top U.S. restaurants—including the former Tra Vigne in Napa Valley, Park Hyatt Chicago’s NoMI, and Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado—Becker is respected for his thoughtful writing on fine wine. The Chicago-based sommelier, a partner at global wine education center Tendril Wine, also shares his insights and experiences as a Certified Wine Educator and accredited Bordeaux tutor.

 

Fernando Beteta

The only Guatemalan to become a Master Sommelier, Beteta has been featured on 40 Under 40 lists in Crain’s Chicago Business and Wine Enthusiast and was named one of America’s Best New Sommeliers by Wine & Spirits. A partner at Chicago’s Connoisseur Wines, Beteta learned the ropes by working in his family’s lauded restaurants in La Antigua, Guatemala, before traveling the world to gain his formal education. He started at the Hotel Management School in Lausanne, Switzerland, and worked in hotels throughout Europe, Thailand and the United States. Stateside, he managed the Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, and NoMI at the Park Hyatt Chicago, overseeing more than 10,000 bottles. When not traveling the world or working with his distribution business, Beteta hosts private wine tastings online and in-person through his company PopSomm.

 

Jeremy Broto-Mur

French-trained Broto-mur began his wine journey in 2005 while studying hospitality management and working at the former Le Rive Droite in Villecomtal, France. His job at the restaurant sparked a passion for fine dining and wine, and the French Alps native went on to taste and learn about wines in France, the U.K., Ireland, Switzerland and the U.S. Along the way, he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco and New York and learned from top chefs, including Patrick Guilbaud, Philippe Rochat, Anne-Sophie Pic, Gary Danko and Daniel Boulud. In 2009, Broto-mur was named the National Winning Sommelier at the World Skills Competition in France, and he earned his Master Sommelier diploma in 2021. Today, he’s learning about winemaking at Rivers Marie Vineyards in Calistoga, California.

 

James Bube

A board member and treasurer of Second City Sommeliers tasting group in Chicago, Bube is a Master Sommelier and national wine director for the Hogsalt Hospitality restaurant group, including revered New York and Chicago establishments, such as Au Cheval, Gilt Bar, 4 Charles Prime Rib and Bavette’s. The Windy City-bred somm came in as a close second at the 2016 National Top|Somm and won the 2017 GuildSomm Online Wine Competition. When not cooking or making the perfect canelé, the former director of education for Heritage Wine Cellars in Illinois focuses on mentoring young oenophiles in Chicago.   

 

Dana Gaiser

For the past two decades, Gaiser has left his mark on beverage programs in New York, California and Nantucket, Massachusetts. He served as sommelier and beverage director at the esteemed Estiatorio Milos by Costas Spiliadis, one of the top restaurant chains in the world for Mediterranean seafood. Now, Gaiser works for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits and runs his food and beverage consulting and education company, Vitamin D Consulting, with his wife. Lauded for earning one of the top scores in the country on the Advanced Sommelier exam, Gaiser won Top|Somm East Coast in 2013, placed second at Top|Somm Nationals in 2015 and passed the Master Sommeliers Diploma Exam in 2018. He and his wife split their time between Brooklyn and Connecticut.

 

Peter Granoff

Granoff was just the 15th American to earn the coveted Master Sommelier title. He’s also one of only 14 Americans to receive the Krug Cup, which is awarded when an individual passes all three parts of the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination on the first attempt. Granoff—a consultant for the industry-favorite Coravin wine preservation system—has worked in many hospitality industry sectors, from bartender and waiter to food and beverage director, wine buyer and sommelier. In 1995, he and his brother-in-law launched Virtual Vineyards, the first U.S. entity to sell wine online. He now co-owns Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and Mission Bay Wine & Cheese in San Francisco, and Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant in downtown Napa.

 

Morgan Harris

After 10 years working on all sides of New York City’s restaurant scene, the Master Sommelier relocated to San Francisco, balancing marketing work with night shifts at the acclaimed Italian restaurant, Cotogna. Morgan’s experience selling to a diverse, demanding clientele for more than a decade grounds his tailored approach to beverages and shaping narratives around them. In addition to contributing to major media players, including Wine Folly, Vivino, PUNCH, GuildSomm and Wine Access, Morgan has appeared as talent on NBC and the Esquire Network. He was also a principal character in the New York Times nonfiction bestseller Cork Dork.

 

Élyse Lambert

Montreal-born Lambert, who obtained her sommelier degree from L’École Hôtelière des Laurentides, started her career at prestigious Canadian spots, including Relais & Châteaux restaurant l’Eau à la Bouche. She built the wine program at Montreal’s popular Le Local restaurant and joined the team of talented sommeliers at Daniel Boulud’s Maison Boulud at The Ritz-Carlton, Montreal. The second Canadian woman to earn the coveted Master Sommelier title, Lambert’s accolades include Quebec’s Best Sommelier, Best Sommelier of Canada and Best Sommelier of the Americas. In 2016, she ranked fifth in the Best Sommelier of the World competition. From her home in Montreal, she now works as a sommelier consultant for private and corporate clients; facilitates wine education seminars in Canada and around the world; writes for Le Journal de Montréal; and shares her passion for wine on “Médium Large,” Radio-Canada’s morning show.

 

Jack Mason

Achieving Master Sommelier status at age 27, Mason has been featured on Forbes 30 Under 30 list and was named one of  Wine & Spirits’ Best New Sommeliers in 2015. The Texas native cultivated his appreciation for wine while studying at the Culinary Institute of America. He kicked off his career as a sommelier in Houston at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse while simultaneously passing the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Examination. Mason moved to New York City in 2013 and worked at award-winning restaurants Ai Fiori and Marea. He then joined restaurateur Danny Meyer in opening Marta in The Redbury New York hotel. After he was inducted into the Court of Master Sommeliers—an experience chronicled on the Esquire Network series Uncorked—Mason rejoined Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. He is currently director of wine operations at the Houston and Dallas locations, where he oversees an inventory of more than 60,000 bottles.

 

Steven McDonald

Before moving to Houston in 2011 to join the sommelier team at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse—often deemed home to one of the country’s best wine lists—McDonald worked in New York City, where he helped open Michelin-starred Ai Fiori with chef Michael White. He also served as a wine buyer for Clo Wine Bar in the Time Warner Center. In 2013, McDonald stepped into the role of wine director at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse’s Houston Galleria location. While building his career, he won the Periwinkle Foundation Iron Sommelier competition in 2014, was named My Table’s Service Person of the Year for Houston in 2015, and received his Master Sommelier pin in 2018. Having studied music education, McDonald incorporates his background in education with his passion for wine, teaching various wine groups in Texas and New York, and acting as a regular guest speaker at Oklahoma State University’s Wine Forum of Oklahoma.

 

Michael McNeill

McNeill—Georgia’s only Master Sommelier and a two-time recipient of the American Sommelier Association’s Best Sommelier in America award—has worked alongside some of the top chefs in the country: Lespinasse’s Gray Kunz, The Ryland Inn’s Craig Shelton, and Günther Seeger and Bruno Menard of The Dining Room. His resume includes stints at prestigious properties like The St. Regis New York and Atlanta’s The Whitley (formerly The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead). In addition to ranking as a top sommelier in the country, McNeill has represented the U.S. in two world finals: the Grand Prix SOPEXA, Paris in 1994 (which earned him the role of president of the jury for the U.S. competition three years later) and the Concours Mondial du Sommelier in Tokyo in 1995. Three years ago, he joined Georgia Crown Distributing Co. as director of education to help boost the distributor’s operations in Georgia and Alabama.

 

George Miliotes

Regarded as one of the restaurant business’ foremost wine experts, this Master Sommelier is a passionate educator who makes annual trips to wine-growing regions from France to South Africa. Miliotes is the grandson of Greek immigrants and a restaurant and hospitality business child who began his love affair with wine while working at his family’s specialty market and cafe in Orlando. He later served as general manager of California Grill at Walt Disney World Resort, where he created one of the first wine lists in the country to offer 100 wines by the glass. From 2002 to 2016, he oversaw all aspects of wine culture for Darden Restaurants, including The Capital Grille and Eddie V’s, and he was one of the founders of Seasons 52 in Naples. Miliotes returned to Disney to open The Landing at Disney Springs’ Wine Bar George—the only wine bar in Florida led by a Master Sommelier.

 

Christopher Miller

Spending his college years working at fine dining restaurants in his hometown of New Orleans, Miller’s love of food and wine took hold early. A serendipitous visit to Washington wine country solidified his path. Three months later, he moved to Seattle to study wine at the legendary Canlis restaurant while commuting to Walla Walla to learn about winemaking. Several years later, after being named one of  Wine & Spirits’ Best Young Sommeliers in the World, he was recruited to serve as wine director at Wolfgang Puck’s flagship Spago, Beverly Hills. Eventually, Miller traded in his suit and tie for boots and jeans and committed to making wine in the Central Coast. He is now the owner and winemaker for Seabold Cellars & BOLD Wine Co. in Marina, California.

 

Jarad Slipp

The owner of Knead Wine, a retail wine and pizza shop, as well as the coffee, cocktail and wine bar, Tremolo, in Middleburg, Virginia, Slipp began his culinary journey early. He worked at the three-Michelin-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London and opened his own restaurant in Washington, D.C., all before 30. Prior to opening Knead Wine in 2020, he served as restaurant director for notable restaurants in D.C. and New York, including CityZen, Fiamma, Nectar and Tahoga. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Italy, Slipp—who earned his Master Sommelier Diploma in 2014—is an avid cook and an adrenaline junkie, favoring adventurous activities, such as cave diving, heli-skiing and skydiving.

 

Pier-Alexis Soulière

For more than a decade, Soulière has worked in some of the most prestigious Michelin-starred establishments around the globe: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London, The Modern (at the Museum of Modern Art) in New York City, and Manresa in Los Gatos, California. In 2014, he won the World Young Sommelier of the Year competition in Copenhagen, and in 2016, he earned the Master Sommelier title at age 29. Soulière—who recently founded a wine consulting company—has also been recognized as a top sommelier in Canada. In 2019, he represented the Americas at the World’s Best Sommelier Competition held in Belgium and reached the World Top 10 ranking.

 

David Yoshida

Yoshida—a board member for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, and the Aloha Wine Foundation—discovered his love for wine in grad school while teaching others about it at Yale. He then moved to be a sommelier with the AvroKO group in New York City. However, his thirst for more wine knowledge led him to Washington, Spain and France, where he spent a few years working in vineyards and wineries. Now the wine director for the start-up Pollux Wine, an online service that hand-selects wines based on your preferences, he is also assisting chef Jason Kiyota in opening Threadfin Bistro in Honolulu. 

 

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