Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tribute--Audrey Elyse, A Bio of Me


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I discovered the wonders of wine – oddly, or perhaps not so oddly - as a biochemistry student in Virginia’s wine country.  I come from a family of PhDs, and for most of my undergraduate career at the University of Virginia (UVA), I thought that I too would be defending theses for much of my adult life.  To my surprise, my studies took on a dramatically different path, as did my life. 

At some point toward the end of my stint at UVA, I stumbled upon a tiny wine shop near the downtown mall in Charlottesville, Market Street Cellars. I picked up my first fresh baguette, artisan brew, a couple bottles of Penfolds (ha!), headed home for the night to plan a party, and fathom over my first encounter with wine in my new adult world. Of course, my roommate from Ecuador quickly deflated my excitement by pointing out that Penfold’s Bin whatever could be purchased at any old grocery store. The sigh of disappointment leaked from my balloon of enthusiasm, but not to fear, I realized my new quest: educate myself about anything and everything vino.

My best friend, Doo-Hyun, better known as Dooshady, happened to have a French girlfriend who was an amazing cook, not to mention Audrey Hepburn’s identical sister. We set up shop in the world’s smallest kitchen and prepped my shabby chic living quarters for a night of culinary delight, copious alcohol—albeit refined tastes for college fare—and all the additional imaginings of laid back illicit activities. A colorful group of students representing almost every continent descended upon my humble abode to enjoy the experimental dishes doled out by the self-discovered foodie duo.  I enjoyed preparing global grub from the latest issues of Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and Gourmet magazines, but my true passion lay in meticulously choosing the perfect wine for each culinary delight, or better yet, tasting it!  This collegiate wine/foodie obsession of passing a simple pleasure unto others marked the beginning of my unending love affair with wine. Little did I know a decade would pass before my experiences would yield to the science of baking and I could draw from a basis of food and wine repertoire without having to incessantly Google. Assembling kitchen spontaneity with no recipe card in sight proves most self-satisfying.

Shortly after graduating, I pursued my passion and began my post-graduate career as a wine consultant with Country Vintner, an Virginia-based wine importer.  In this position, I designed programs and led client training on critical subjects such as wine education, proper serving etiquette, and wine pairing. I sold wine of course, in small amounts—always the underdog with the gigantic feat of building a client base in a market saturated with desperate wine sales people. I wanted more though, and I started considering the restaurant side of wine, time to get out of sales, and truly learn the art of wine paired with culinary endeavors.

After three years of experience with well-respected players in the DC metropolitan region, including Georgetown Wine and Spirits, Keswick Hall, and Kluge Estate and Winery, I joined the Kimpton Hotel management team in summer 2007 to launch Rosslyn’s first global wine and gourmet store, Domasoteca.  Featuring over 450 bottles of wines I personally selected, Domasoteca provided a distinct wine experience with a special emphasis on Italian wines.  In this position, I soon acquired Cowgirl Creamery, Tomales Bay Distributing, and a range of chocolatiers to add artisanal cheeses and chocolates to my wine world.  Working for such an artsy hotel chain, I quickly discovered my knack for creating imaginative wine events that excluded nothing. I matched wine to Aboriginal art, swirled the best vino at marshmallow-making demos, and wowed peeps with hands-on chevre making classes, chef demos, book releases, and progressive wine dinners paired to music. The project proved disastrous on so many conceptual and financial levels, and the economy spiraled to a halt with the housing market crash. But, I was able to mentor under a magnificent wine aficionado and educator, Lisa Airey, who now directs the educational programs for the French Wine Academy.

Overall, my experiences were finally taking shape—leading to a fledgling wine philosophy I could call my own. I teach simplicity, defined flavor, and Passion; yes, with a capital P. As a young, curious, and approachable woman, I represent the antithesis of the traditional wine expert and I want to expose people of all drinking levels to the profound intensity wine brings to life itself.

Currently, I am a certified Sommelier accredited through the Italian Association of Sommeliers. I hold an Advanced Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and a French Wine Scholar certification from the French Wine Academy. I am pursuing my MW in the hopes to consult and write in the fine wine industry. Ultimately, I want to imagine again and live for passion and tastes. Dream the passion. Live the dream.

Who knows when life will throw you a curveball? Good food, better wine rescinds the drastic blows, evens the playing field, and sustains true craft. I had to make a life-changing decision to leave a promising Sommelier career when I discovered I was pregnant. My beautiful daughter inspires me daily to pursue my dreams. I want her to know good wine, great wine, and legendary wine. Audrey Elyse is a beauty, and to her I will drink. I write this blog for her, in hopes to share my Tales as a Sommelier, record my most memorable experiences, and seek the good life. I want her to see her mother smile. Eat. Pray. Love—as it goes.

The attributes of a signature wine entail a sense of place, monumental flavor, intoxicating bouquet, ever-changing finish, and the epitome of balance. I strive to walk that line, search for mother nature’s perfect balance, write a masterpiece with my life. Maybe I will have to settle for average in the end, but at least I strive to write the masterpiece of my so called life.

Prost! To Audrey with Love