Salut! / The Somms

Meet the sommeliers for Naples Winter Wine Festival 2023

An esteemed crop from around the globe brings their wine expertise

BY January 19, 2023
The 2023 Naples Winter Wine Festival Sommeliers
Sommeliers pictured in order from left to right. (Courtesy Images)

Gillian Ballance 

Gillian Ballance is one of the wine world’s leading women. The national education manager for Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates distributor is an inaugural member of the James Beard Foundation’s Beverage Advisory Board, which launched in 2019 to grow and diversify the foundation’s beverage programming, including educational efforts, sustainability initiatives and equity directives. Ballance earned her spot on the board following a successful career launched by mentor, sommelier and TV personality Andrea Immer Robinson. Ballance worked under Robinson at popular New York City fine-dining spots, including The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World, where she studied the more than 100,000-bottle cellar. She later worked in California as wine director for Bottega Napa Valley, Cavallo Point Lodge and PlumpJack Group, before landing at Treasury, one of the world’s largest wine companies.

Thatcher Baker-Briggs

Born in a small city in Canada, Thatcher Baker-Briggs knew from the age of 10 that he wanted to go into the restaurant biz. His professional trajectory led him to the kitchens and dining rooms of some of the world’s most influential restaurants, including three Michelin-starred Saison under chef Joshua Skenes, the highly regarded Takazawain Tokyo and the two Michelin-starred COI in San Francisco. After his role opening ANGLER in San Francisco, he founded Thatcher’s Wine Consulting in 2019, lending his expertise to a wide range of industries, including technology, publishing, finance and politics. In 2021, Thatcher launched his eponymous online bottle shop, where he focuses on wines from dynamic and emerging winemakers. From exceptional everyday bottles to rarefied finds, his cellar focuses on honest expressions of climate and terroir across Europe. Baker-Briggs was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 2022 Future 40.

Fernando Beteta

In his latest worldly venture, Guatemalan-born Fernando Beteta joined fellow Master Sommelier Ken Fredrickson as a partner for Chicago’s luxe wholesale distributor High Road Wine & Spirits in April. His role as marketing partner comes on the heels of a successful career in high-end hotel restaurants (with features in top publications such as Crain’s Chicago Business and Wine Enthusiast). He was also named one of America’s Best New Sommeliers by Wine & Spirits. Beteta learned the ropes working in his family’s lauded restaurants in Antigua, Guatemala, before traveling to Switzerland for a formal education in hotel management. His path eventually led to The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, and NoMI at the Park Hyatt Chicago. When not traveling the world or working with his distribution business, Beteta loves to host private wine dinners in his Chicago abode. 

Pablo Braida

The first Argentinian to earn the Master Sommelier title, Pablo Braida left his small town to see the world. He worked his way around the world, taking odd jobs to fund his travels. A gig at the century-old Berkeley Hotel in London introduced him to the pleasures of fine wine. The wanderlust went on to work as a sommelier at Mallorca in Barcelona, where he met his now-wife, Lila Wallace, who is from Iowa. In 2015, their love story brought him to California, where Braida worked as a wine manager and sommelier in Sonoma, Napa and St. Helena before the pandemic and wildfires in California nudged him to move south to Texas. He now works as a consultant for Dallas-based Monarch Restaurants.

Andy Chabot

Andy Chabot started his two decade-career at Tennessee’s revered Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain as a server for the property’s restaurants when he was fresh out of The Culinary Institute of America. Since, he’s catapulted the beverage programs at the Great Smoky Mountains establishments, including growing the property’s cellar from 17,000 bottles to 166,000 in six years and earning a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program at The Barn at Blackberry Farm in 2014. (The property won a second James Beard Award for Outstanding Service in 2015.) Now, the young somm uses his platform for the greater good, working with a Tennessee high school to help students with special needs learn culinary skills. He’s also spoken at roundtable discussions for Alzheimer’s Association to advocate for funding and research.

Julie Dalton

Julie Dalton was waiting tables while studying biotech at Texas A&M (and later Johns Hopkins University) when she fell in love with wine. For four years, the STEM-minded wine-lover balanced the two careers while studying to be an Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator. In 2010, she left biotech to pursue vino full-time, working for lauded chefs and restaurateurs throughout Texas before she landed a spot at the five-star, five-diamond Post Oak Hotel as the chief sommelier and wine director for the property’s rustic-contemporary wine bar. Along the way, the riesling-lover earned several Best Sommelier rankings and was the first female to win Houston’s Iron Somm competition.

Erik Elliott

Fresh on the Master Sommelier scene, Philadelphia native Erik Elliot passed his exam this past August with the promise of a stellar career on the horizon. The Temple University graduate fell in love with hospitality and wine while working at his hometown’s fine-dining chain Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. He pivoted to the slopes of Aspen to pursue his burgeoning wine dream and spent six years learning the ropes through the James Beard-nominated wine program at The Little Nell. He’d often ventured to France, Italy and Spain in the off-season to learn about Old World vines to deepen his know-how. Now, working in Napa Valley as estate director at Heitz Cellar, Elliott hangs his hat on elegant, balanced bottles from sustainably farmed vineyards.

Audrey Frick

Sommelier-turned-journalist Audrey Frick started her wine-soaked career as a server in a Northern Italian restaurant in Boulder, Colorado. Within four years, the oenophile scored a position as sommelier at Denver’s upscale, open-kitchen Tavernetta. In 2016, while working in Denver, Frick earned her Advanced Sommelier credential from the Court of Master Sommeliers. She also worked as a wine director in New York before transitioning to her current, full-time position reviewing wines from Oregon, Sonoma, Champagne and Piedmonte for critic Jeb Dunnuck.

Dana Gaiser

New York-based wine-industry veteran Dana Gaiser earned one of the top scores in the country on the Advanced Sommelier exam in 2013. He has left his mark on restaurants and hotels throughout the U.S., earning top marks along the way (he won Top|Somm East Coast in 2013 and placed second at Top|Somm Nationals in 2015). Gaiser currently works for New York City’s Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. The amateur chef and his wife split their time between Brooklyn and Connecticut, where the couple also runs food-and-beverage education firm Vitamin D Consulting.

Morgan Harris

In the five years since San Fransisco-based Morgan Harris earned his Master Sommelier title, the young oenophile has racked up appearances in the media, with features on NBC and Esquire Network. The freelance wine writer and brand director is known for his raw, unfiltered opinions, and his personality played a key role in journalist Bianca Bosker’s 2017 New York Times bestseller, Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste. In it, he likens wines to “the boyfriend who generally treats you like shit but shows up at the right time with flowers and chocolates.” On his journey to Master Somm, Harris balanced a 9-to-5 marketing job and night shifts at top restaurants (he worked under Michelin-starred chef Danny Grant at San Fransisco’s Cotogona). Now, in addition to working as sommelier for Saison Hospitality, he pens articles for publications, such as Wine Folly.

Jennifer Huether

Canada’s first female Master Sommelier, Jennifer Huether, launched plant-based entertainment company The Social Herbivore with vegan food consultant Priya Rao in 2019, when the duo saw a gap in high-end catering and wine-pairings for vegan cuisine. As the project picked up, the team penned the first book dedicated to the topic, with sustainable hosting tips, wine pairings for vegan dishes and tips for building a cellar. Before her plant-based ventures, Huether made a name in the wine world leading the multimillion-dollar beverage program at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, where she mentored nearly a dozen budding sommeliers. Now, as an active member of the Court of Masters, she’s constantly working behind the curtain at competitions, seminars and fundraisers, and has been a major advocate for women in the wine world.

Élyse Lambert

This Montréal native might just be Canada’s next queen of wine. Élyse Lambert is the second Canadian woman to earn the coveted Master Sommelier title, and she’s a regular contributor to Journal de Montréal and Radio-Canada’s morning show, Médium-Large. She has made it to the top of many of the country’s bests lists in her 20-plus years as a sommelier consultant. Her education from Quebec’s hospitality-driven l’École Hôtelière des Laurentide catapulted her career in esteemed restaurants and resorts throughout the Great White North, including Daniel Boulud’s French concept at The Ritz-Carlton, Montréal. In 2016, she ranked fifth in the Best Sommelier in the World competition, and she’s served as a judge in similar events. Lambert runs seminars worldwide, often promoting fellow women to get into the field.

Chris Miller

While working in fine-dining restaurants in his native New Orleans, Chris Miller—owner of Seabold Cellars in Marina, CA— fell in love with wine. After a visit to a winery in Woodinville, Washington, he cashed in a finance career to focus on grapes. He moved to Seattle to work as a sommelier at the legendary Canlis. The city served as a basecamp for frequent visits to the then-emerging wineries of Walla Walla, where he learned the craft, studying under renowned winemaker Greg Brewer. After winning the title of Best Young Sommelier in the World, Miller was recruited by Wolfgang Puck to oversee the beverage program for Puck’s flagship restaurant, Spago, in Beverly Hills. Nine years ago, he began to make wine on California’s Central Coast. At his Seabold Cellars, Miller emphasizes minimal-intervention winemaking. He also launched a secondary label, Bold Wine, with more attainable bottles.

George Miliotes

A firm proponent of by-the-glass lists, George Miliotes encourages imbibers to discover new wines and adventurous pairings. While working at California Grill at Walt Disney Resort in the ’90s, he created one of the first lists in the country to offer 100 wines by the glass. Now, at his Wine Bar George, he serves up 140 bottles by the glass, emphasizing varietals and producers he discovers on frequent trips to wine-growing regions. A grandson of Greek immigrants, Miliotes is forever seeking the most compelling vinos. He’s also had a hand in shaping Naples’ wine scene, serving as head sommelier for the national Darden Restaurant group, behind establishments like Capital Grille and Seasons 52. Five years ago, he returned to Orlando, where his family long ran a specialty market and cafe. His Wine Bar George at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort remains the only wine bar in Florida run by a Master Sommelier.

Andrew Rastello

Andrew “Rusty” Rastello’s love of wine first found purchase in the 200-page wine list at the Kazimierz World Wine Bar in Scottsdale, AZ. After spending his formative years working behind the bar and behind the scenes as a sommelier and wine distributor in Phoenix, Rusty left Arizona in 2012 to rise among the ranks of  New York oenologists. Pouring for decorated restaurateur Danny Meyer at Gramercy Tavern (winner of nine James Beard Awards), Rastello became one of the first sommeliers in the restaurant’s 20-year tenure. He worked as assistant wine director at the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, and in 2019, traded coasts to join another Michelin favorite, the three-starred SingleThread Restaurant in Healdsburg, CA. As wine director, Rastello established the eponymous online wine shop, SingleThread Wines, and now crafts daily pairing menus for the 10-course, farm-to-table fare from his 2,600-bottle list.

Pier-Alexis SouliÈre

Pier-Alexis Soulière spent the first 12 years of his career working in some of the most demanding environments, from Montreal to London to Sydney to New York to California. He worked in prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants, like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and The Modern, and in 2014, won the World Young Sommelier of the Year competition in Copenhagen, where participants present their skills under grueling conditions. Two years later, he became one of the few somms under 30 to earn the Master Sommelier certification. Soulière went on to rack up a roster of awards. Now, he resides in his hometown of Quebec, where he founded P-A Soulière Sélection maple syrup, which he bottles as “cuvées.” When he’s not in his sugar shack, you can find Soulière consulting, leading tastings and overseeing cellar management for hotels, events and private clients.

Scott Turnbull

Master Sommelier Scott Turnbull left Penn State University and went off to teach English in France’s Rhône Valley. While tutoring sommeliers at Lycée Hotelier de Tain l’Hermitage hospitality school, he learned about wine as he led the students to decipher their tasting notes. After two years, Turnbull moved back to Pennsylvania and traded the classroom for the cellar, working at the opulent French bastion Le Bec Fin. He later moved to Atlanta, where he took over the head somm role at acclaimed chef Günter Seeger’s restaurant, then back to Philly to run the wine program at two lauded establishments, including Four Seasons Philadelphia’s five-star Fountain Restaurant. A decade ago, he moved west to work at Napa’s luxurious Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection, followed by The Restaurant at Meadowood in 2018. Now living in Napa, Turnbull sells wine as a consultant for distributor and importer WineBow.

Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas cut her teeth as a sommelier world-renowned Le Bernadin in New York. In 2016, the Indian-American chef and somm co-founded Kalamata’s Kitchen, a children’s book series that encourages kids to experience the world through food. The brand now includes interactive online games, videos, kid-friendly city guides and stories from acclaimed chefs; live events; and soon, a television series with Imagine Entertainment. The books, geared at kids ages 4 to 6, aim to inspire confidence in children of color while encouraging all kids to view food and culture with curiosity and compassion. As a sommelier, Thomas—who graduated with a master’s in English Renaissance literature and later almost went the pre-med track—delights in sharing wines from less “traditional” regions. She claims a love affair with Spanish vinos, including Mencía, an aromatic red from Northwest Spain. 

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