Featured Wine Professional: Tami Wong
Location: San Diego, CA
Current Job: Manager/Sommelier, Juniper & Ivy
Notable Awards: Wine & Spirits Magazine Best New Sommelier 2014
Everyone has a story. Tell us how you knew you wanted to become a sommelier…what was your “light bulb” moment?
One night after my shift early in my 3rd Corner days, my GM Alex gave me a crate of white Burgundy left behind by a distributor. I sat down with 8 or so bottles, an atlas, a tasting grid and a spit bucket. I had no idea that that was how chardonnay was supposed to taste. Then each bottle was different even though they were from the same little area in the world. I was hooked. I had to find out more. I am still not interested in much else.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
In the morning I either taste with my group or with vendors or I study after I take my son to school. I try to work in some exercise and lunch. I head into work around 2. I direct stocking of the wine wall and putting away deliveries and update the wine list. Then I go into manager mode and work the floor. I usually close the restaurant. When I get home I try to read some more and most likely will enjoy a glass of wine. Repeat.
Any perks to working with a celebrity chef?
Chef Blais brings a lot of press that kicked off the restaurant in a major way. We are fortunate to always be busy. His fans tend to be adventurous eaters that will take a chance on the Leap of Faith wines on my list. Personally, he is super supportive and encouraging.
What is the most difficult part of your job as a sommelier?
I can’t possibly buy all the wine I want to and I have to say no all the time to my friends that sell it.
Describe the philosophy that guides your wine program
It’s about what is in the glass. Balance is the most important thing. I seek classic wines from classic producers from classic areas on one hand, and unknown wines on the other which may be classic in their areas, we have just never seen them. I gravitate toward the weird, obscure stuff. I prefer organic, biodynamic and sustainably produced wine but I am not dogmatic about it if the wine is delicious and delivers at its price point. Someone much wiser than I once told me that there are wines of love and wines of fear. I support wines of love.
What was the last wine that really made an impression on you?
I’ve tasted some amazing California chardonnay lately that defies the oaky buttery stereotype. They are Old World in style with just enough of the plush fruit to provide a counterpoint to the acid and minerality. Littorai Mays Canyon, Red Car Hagan Vineyard, Ceritas Porter-Bass Vineyard…
On your days off, what do you like to drink?
Rosé or high acid mineral driven white wines but it depends on what I’m making for dinner. I’ve also been more into bubbles since I did Ruinart Challenge.
Which wine region is top on your list of places to visit?
I’m on a plane to Washington State Road Trip right now, and I’m headed to Priorat to work harvest in October. I’ve never been to France or Italy so those are on the top of the list. I have a thing for Piedmont. I would also love to be in Beaujolais on the day they release Beaujolais Nouveau.
If you could change one thing about the wine industry, what would it be?
I wish people would stop making cynical crappy wine that dumbs down people’s palates.
What is your definition of success in the industry?
I feel most rewarded when I can tell that a member of my staff is taking my efforts at education to heart- when I can help someone else progress as a wine professional. I also love it when I open a bottle for someone and they love it. To be happy and to make others happy.
What advice do you have for someone considering a similar career path?
Stay curious, study, taste as many different wines as you can. Don’t perpetuate the stereotype of the pretentious somm. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully a nap. Just kidding. I am all about the doors opening when one is ready so we will see. I also hope to take and pass the Advanced course through the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2016.