Drinks

Crushing It

These innovators are redefining the wine world

If the word sommelier makes you think of an ascot-sporting, tuxedo-clad man looking down his nose at anyone daring to mispronounce Viognier, that image is about to change.

A new generation of American wine experts is coming to the fore, making the world of wine a more inviting space for drinkers of all races, genders and ages (older than 21, of course). They may hail from all corners of the country, their hands in all sectors of the industry, but they all have one thing in common: a dedication to putting the fun back into vino. Meet the new wave of experts shaking up American wine.

Belinda Chang
James Beard Award-Winning Sommelier at Large
Chicago, IL

Photo: Jason Little

In the late 1990s, Belinda Chang made a name for herself at Charlie Trotter's as one of the era's few female wine directors. Over the years—working at Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You, The Modern and Monkey Bar in NYC, Moёt Hennessy and, most recently, as director of wine and spirits at Chicago's Maple & Ash—she went from curious biochemistry student to James Beard Award-winning "wine girl at large" (her words). Today, she aims to keep the somm world focused on the things that really matter. "More than taste of wine, I love the culture—the art, the science, the work, the authenticity, the history and politics, and especially the joy." And when asked about her hope for the future, she says, “I’m dreaming of a return to the classics. I’m tired of weird wine that doesn’t taste great—delicious is delicious.”

Bertony Faustin
Winemaker, Abbey Creek Vineyard
North Plains, OR

Photo: Carly Diaz

One of just a handful of black winemakers in the industry, Abbey Creek Vineyard's Bertony Faustin draws inspiration from his personal experience growing up as a Haitian immigrant in a world that didn't always accept him. But making fantastic wine isn't all Faustin's does. He just wrapped the first season of a reality show about wine competitions called Best Bottle and is releasing a documentary in June called Red, White & Black, which shines a light on the disparity between the industry's publicly white face and a history built primarily on the backs of minority agricultural workers. "Being able to use my position and influence to bridge the gaps of exclusion in the industry is why I do what I do," he says. "I'm able to change the perception of what wine drinking is or can be by giving all minorities a chance to see themselves where they once may not have felt welcomed."

Femi Oyediran
Sommelier/Owner, Graft
Charleston, SC

Photo: Christopher Shane

This 29-year-old Advanced Sommelier, who was on Zagat's 2016 30 Under 30, began his career nine years ago as a server at the prestigious Charleston Grill, while moonlighting as a DJ. "I didn't know much about wine at the time, so I picked up some books just for casual reading. I was kind of harassing Charleston Place's wine director, Rick Rubel, with incessant questions, but he was stoked that I was into it and just started scheduling time for us to taste together." These days, Oyediran is gearing up to open Graft, a Charleston wineshop and bar that represents his first independent venture with partner Miles White. "Sharing wine with people is really just like being a DJ," he muses. "You hear sommeliers talk about the successive lineup of bottles they opened recently, and it pretty much sounds like Questlove talking about the last set list he geeked out on."

Laura Maniec
Master Sommelier & Cofounder, Corkbuzz
New York, NY/Charlotte, NC

Photo: Katrín Björk

Laura Maniec opened Corkbuzz's first location in 2011, two years after becoming one of just 18 female Master Sommeliers in the world at that time. Since then, the game-changing wine and small-plates studio has grown to a mini empire that includes outlets in New York's Chelsea Market and Charlotte, North Carolina. And that's not all. "I'm working on a new project called The Weekly Tasting, where a series of four-bottle packs of wine gets delivered to your door," she says. "It's a really exciting way to try new wines, geared toward people who want to break out of their comfort zone and learn about wines they would otherwise have not tried on their own.”

Andrew Jones
Winemaker, Field Recordings Wine
Paso Robles, CA

Photo: Jennifer Olson

Wine? In a can? If you ask Field Recordings' Andrew Jones, pushing the boundaries of what wine can look like and how it can be enjoyed is just an extension of his lifelong love of the grape. Jones's forward-thinking approach to winemaking goes hand in hand with his commitment to small farming, a refreshing departure from where he's worried his industry is heading. "The family winery seems to be slowly fading away as the big players keep acquiring and consolidating things," he says. "I'm hoping wine goes in a good direction as it becomes more a part of our culture, but in general, we have a lot of work ahead." Good thing he's up for it.

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Maria Garcia
Wine Director, République
Los Angeles, CA

Photo: DYLAN + JENI

Though she hasn't been in the industry as long as some, the 33-year-old high school history teacher-turned-République wine director dubbed "one of the most influential Latina sommeliers in the country" by the L.A. Times, has already made quite a splash within L.A.'s booming dining scene. "The face of Los Angeles wine has completely changed, but it’s also changed because the face of the restaurant industry has changed," she notes. "There’s been more of a drive for more sommeliers, and it’s a pretty diverse group. The move toward casual high end seems to be continuing, with really great beverage programs and food, but without fussy service. The people here have a lot of passion and are really taking the next step seriously." 

Chrishon Lampley
CEO, Love Cork Screw
Chicago, IL

Photo: Jason Little

In today's world, the number of Caucasian wine professionals still far outweighs African Americans, and rectifying that statistic has been one of the central forces driving Chrishon Lampley's 20+-year career as an entrepreneur. She started Love Cork Screw after a devastating structural accident destroyed her award-winning South Loop bar, Three Peas Art Lounge. First came a blog, and as her readership exploded, LCS became a radio show and, finally, a full-blown wine business. Lampley's company, now a licensed wholesaler and importer with a seven-state reach, also produces several different varietals under the Love Cork Screw name. As if that weren't enough, she also sells handmade scented candles. "I'm an extrovert, so I enjoy being around people—and drinking wine, of course. So I just combined the two!" she explains. "It's created an unexpected platform for me to inspire other entrepreneurs and learn from them. The connections are priceless."

  • Belinda Chang

    Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    What was your first real wine experience?

    “My interest was piqued in college. The school was encouraging us to explore the city, and my roommate and I scored ourselves an invite to the Greek Festival. It was the first time that I drank copious quantities of wine. I fell out of my chair when we got up from dinner.” —Belinda Chang, James Beard Award-winning sommelier and Chicagoland native

  • Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    What inspired you to join the wine world?

    Chang credits Master Sommelier Joseph Spellman for convincing her to join the field. "I blame him for my dropping everything, moving back to Chicago and the career trajectory that followed."

  • Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    How have you seen the industry change?

    “When I was the wine director at Trotter’s in the late 90s, it was a huge deal to be a woman and a sommelier running the program in a Wine Spectator Grand Award restaurant—it was even pretty unusual to have a devoted wine professional in most restaurants. That’s certainly not the case today!”

  • Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    On her drinking philosophy:

    “I never drink wine alone, and I rarely drink wine away from a table filled with either cherished guests or good friends.”

  • Bertony Faustin

    Photo: Carly Diaz | @carly.e.diaz

    What were you doing before you got into wine?

    "I was in the fitness and medical field before—massage therapist, personal trainer, anesthesia technician." —Bertony Faustin, winemaker and owner of Oregon's Abbey Creek Vineyard & Winery

  • Photo: Carly Diaz | @carly.e.diaz

    Did you grow up around wine?

    “My parents didn't drink and neither did I until I started my label. My love for wine came late in 2010 when I realized the power of using it as a tool to share my message.”

  • Photo: Carly Diaz | @carly.e.diaz

    What inspired you to join the wine world?

    "My career was inspired after the passing of my father. It was my way of doing justice to his immigrant legacy of being successful in spite of adversity."

  • Femi Oyediran

    Photos: Christopher Shane | @cshanephoto

    Did you grow up around wine?

    A young gun in one of the country's hottest culinary destinations, Charleston, South Carolina-based Advanced Sommelier Femi Oyediran's rise to greatness has been anything but conventional. "My parents were not about that," he says, describing his booze-free upbringing. "I tell my friends I grew up in the first-generation Nigerian-American temperance movement."

  • Photo: Christopher Shane | @cshanephoto

    Do you remember the first time you tried wine?

    “I snuck a sip at a buddy's Bar Mitzvah—sorry, Mom! Honestly, though, there was no real ’OMG’ moment for me; it was more a progressive interest. But I do remember the wine that made me rethink the potential effect great wine can have—an Elderton Command Shiraz '04 back in 2008. For a dude that was used to Yellow Tail, it was definitely a 'WTF' moment."

  • Photos: Christopher Shane | @cshanephoto

    How do you think your generation is changing the wine landscape?

    "I think great winemakers are changing the way people talk about wine—categories defined by region are becoming less of a conversation, and people are intrigued by wines that, yes, show a sense of place, but, more importantly, are just delicious overall. My friends that were never interested in wine before are now excited to drink Champagne, Riesling, Rhone, Etna—all of it. The energy is different."

  • Laura Maniec

    Photos: Katrín Björk | @katrinbjork

    Have you always been drawn to wine and service?

    “I grew up around wine drinkers. On Sundays, my grandma's house was always bustling with people for supper, and the food and wine were always flowing. My first job was as a cocktail waitress at a local restaurant in Bayside, Queens, where I first learned about things like Amarone and Barolo.” —Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier and cofounder of Corkbuzz Restaurant and Wine Bar in NYC and Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Photos: Katrín Björk | @katrinbjork

    What's your favorite part about working in wine?

    "I love telling stories about the winemakers and vignerons who make incredible products. I love when a guest or staff member tries a great wine for the first time and has that 'oh my God' moment." An educator at heart, Maniec currently runs classes, tastings, curated dinners and events that target everyone—young and old, male and female—interested in learning more about her beloved beverage.

  • Andrew Jones

    Photo: Jennifer Olson | @jenjoi

    How did you get interested in winemaking?

    "I discovered wine while in college, but it really became a thing I wanted to continue after working for a large vineyard company as an intern. It’s the only real job I’ve ever had.” —Andrew Jones, winemaker at Field Recordings Wine and California native

  • Photos: Jennifer Olson | @jenjoi

    Have you ever considered a different career?

    “Making wine is the only thing I know how to do. I never think twice about it. Every day is a new challenge, and no two days are the same.”

  • Photo: Jennifer Olson | @jenjoi

    What's your first wine-related memory?

    “It’s generally a blur, but I do remember the first couple wines that really spoke to me: Adelaida Vineyards Zinfandel and Bonny Doon Viognier.” Since those fuzzy times, Jones has gone on to produce a whole fleet of boundary-pushing wines, like these canned numbers.

  • Maria Garcia

    Photo: DYLAN + JENI | @dylanandjeni

    Have you always loved wine?

    “I didn’t grow up around wine drinkers. I didn’t get into wine until my early 20s. I was teaching high school history at a charter school in Crenshaw, but at the same time, I was helping to cater small parties. I loved teaching, but I couldn't ignore how much more I was enjoying the food and beverage business.” —Maria Garcia, République wine director and L.A. native

  • Photo: DYLAN + JENI | @dylanandjeni

    What inspired you to work in wine?

    "There’s a part of me that’s in love with being a student. I remember listening to Diane De Luca talk at this little wineshop I worked at and thinking that I wanted to be as knowledgeable as she was. The stories were really special and a great part of what sold the wine."

  • Photo: DYLAN + JENI | @dylanandjeni

    What do you love most about your job?

    "This isn’t something everyone gets to do. We get to taste across the board at République, from everyday gulpable natural wine to Grand Cru Burgundy. It’s incredible that I get to go on the hunt for these gems."

  • Chrishon Lampley

    Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    What's your background?

    “I’ve always worked in high-end retail. From wine and spirits to clothing and shoes." —Chrishon Lampley, vintner, wine enthusiast, educator and CEO of Chicago's Love Cork Screw

  • Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    How did you get into wine?

    “After college, I found myself attracted to different wines. I’d order wine flights at restaurants and would be intrigued by the taste and the food pairings. I distinctly remember sampling a flight paired with a variety of cheeses. My palate did flips, and I was sold after that!”

  • Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    How do you see younger generations making their mark on the industry?

    “People are more open to having fun with wine and interested in wine cocktails. As for the business, the demand for local support is higher from distributors than it has been in the past. They are more open to try local wines with different blends from local vineyards.”

  • Photo: Jason Little | @jasonlittlephoto

    What do you think the future holds for wine?

    “I think the industry is headed towards a casual and less conservative market. It’s attracting millennial wine drinkers who are interested in fun. Traditional wine drinkers will remain prominent, but it’s exciting to see the younger generation become just as interested and create their own experiences.”

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