Written By: Rachel Voorhees, Director of Wine Education
For the past three years, we have been the proud sponsors of the Guild of Sommeliers Top|Somm competition. The Top|Somm and TopNewSomm are competitions for wine service professionals administered under the framework of the Guild of Sommeliers. Each competition affords wine service professionals the opportunity to fine-tune their skills and compete for the title of Top|Somm (open to competitors 30 years of age and older) and TopNewSomm (open to competitors 21-29 years of age). These competitions recognize excellence and encourage mastery of wine and spirit knowledge and service.
The important role of wine education and service is something we here at Rodney Strong recognize and support in our efforts to bring fine Sonoma County wine across the country. We are pleased to sponsor Top|Somm and together with our sponsorship of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Sommelier Stars program, and our support of the Alexander Valley Cabernet Academy, we continue to invest in wine education because we believe it truly benefits our industry and ultimately people who enjoy fine food and wine.
This year, the competition will take place in Sonoma County this upcoming weekend; April 18th through the 20th. We will commence the three days with a welcome dinner here at the winery on our new Terrace. The competitors will compete in the competition on Sunday, April 19th at the Hyatt in Santa Rosa. We will then conclude the three days with a blending competition here at the winery in our Artisan Cellar, led by Rick Sayre and Greg Morthole, two of our winemakers and Rachel Voorhees, our Director of Wine Education.
We wish each and every sommelier the best of luck in this year’s Top|Somm and TopNewSomm competitions! Read a little bit below about each of the competitors!
Andrey Ivanov: Andrey is an Advanced Sommelier and the Director of Beverage at Reeds American Bistro in St. Louis, MO. Andrey’s passion for wine was awakened while working under Scott Gaghan, Certified Sommelier at Vin de Set. He passed his Certified Sommelier Exam in 2009, and the Advanced Exam in August 2011 where he received the Rudd Scholarship and the Johnston Medal for achieving the highest overall score in the country that year. He is currently studying for the Master Sommelier Diploma. Andrey is an avid member of Cardinals Nation, a blockbuster movie buff, and a fan of most things Spanish. Travel, cooking, and the leisures of sommelierdom are definite favorites as well.
Dana Gaiser: A thirteen-year veteran of the wine industry, Dana Gaiser has served as a Sommelier and Beverage Director at top restaurants including Veritas, Estiatorio Milos and others in New York, Nantucket and California. He is currently Key Accounts Director for Lauber Imports, the fine wine division of the largest wine and spirits distributor in the United States. Dana first developed a taste for wine in his teens, when his parents started buying fine wine. By 18, he was selecting wines for their cellar and developing a palate for his first loves: Burgundy, German Riesling, and Champagne.
David Keck: David achieved his Advanced Sommelier certification in October of 2012, in which he also won the Rudd Scholarship for top honors. He is continuing to pursue his Master Sommelier Diploma with the Court of Master Sommeliers. In July of 2013, David opened a wine bar in Houston called The Camerata at Paulie’s with Paul Petronella of Paulie’s Restaurant. Camerata has quickly risen to local as well as national recognition. Co-founder of the Houston Sommelier Association, Keck is active in wine education both locally and nationally, and was recognized by the Houston Press as Houston’s Best Sommelier 2014.
John Wabeck: John started his career in food and wine in the kitchen. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1992, and after working at several high profile kitchens in Washington D.C., moved to Napa where he was the executive chef of Brix Restaurant. After moving back to Washington D.C. a few years later, while still cooking, he did the both the menu and the wine list for several restaurants but the allure of wine was strong. Wabeck left the kitchen for good and became wine director at Inox Restaurant in Virginia, where has honored by being named one of Food and Wine Magazine’s “Top Sommeliers of the Year.” Wabeck is an Advanced Sommelier currently attempting the Master Sommelier Diploma.
Jonathan Ross: Jonathan Ross began his career in restaurants and hospitality a little over a decade ago in Central New Jersey. After spending a few years in some of the Garden State’s top restaurants, he moved to Manhattan, working on the management teams of Anthos, Mia Dona, and Oceana. He is an Advanced Sommelier and is currently the Head Sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Drawing on an affinity for the outdoors and hundreds of hours logged on trails and in canoes, he plans to one day canoe from Colmar to Kolbenz along the Rhein River.
Martin Beally: Martin moved to Seattle in 2005, starting his career in the hospitality industry as a line cook for the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant group. Martin made the transition to front of the house at Kimpton’s Tulio Ristorante, where he quickly became the Wine Steward. However, his love for wine did not truly blossom until a last minute chance to take the Court of Master Sommeliers Intro exam was offered by his mentor, Master Sommelier Emily Wines, in the summer of 2011. Martin soon became obsessed and earned his Certified and Advanced pins in successive years. Currently, Martin is the Assistant Wine Director at Wild Ginger Seattle.
Austin Heidt: Austin Heidt is the Assistant Sommelier and waiter at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado. Having been in the industry since he was 13 years old, he brings a lot of experience and passion to the table including the Everest Restaurant and Tenzing Wine and Spirits in Chicago. In the educational realm, Austin attended the University of Denver Hospitality Program followed by receiving his Masters degree from the Cornell Hotel School and finally completing the ACAP program at the Culinary Institute of America. He is a Certified Wine Educator and holds an Advanced Sommelier certificate with the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Jackson Rohrbaugh: Jackson Rohrbaugh began his restaurant career at 16 in the kitchen of a summer camp, but transitioned to the front of house while earning his Creative Writing degree at the University of Washington in Seattle. A year abroad in Perugia, Italy sparked his love for gastronomy and local wines. He began working at Canlis in Seattle and discovered a deeper curiosity for the world of wine and bar service under Nelson Daquip and James Macwilliams. The charms of aged Bordeaux, Mosel Riesling and Scotch captured his imagination, and he soon put himself to work studying, passing his CMS Advanced exam in 2012 and earning a Rudd Scholarship and Johnston Medal in the process. In 2013 he joined Christopher Tanghe, MS and chef Jason Stratton to open Aragona in downtown Seattle. He returned to Canlis to be Assistant Wine Director in 2014.
Jane Lopes: Starting her career in Chicago, she managed LUSH Wine and Spirits, a boutique wine, beer, and spirits shop, while simultaneously bartending at the craft cocktail mecca The Violet Hour. In August of 2011, Lopes moved to Nashville to be the opening Beverage Director at the nationally-acclaimed Catbird Seat. Here, Lopes’ most exciting role was to design and execute pairings for a weekly-changing ten course tasting menu. Her unique style of creating pairings and approach to her beverage program in general has been acclaimed/featured in the New York Times, Imbibe, Wine Enthusiast, Tasting Table, and Eater, as well as other local and national media outlets. Lopes moved to New York in January of 2013 where she worked at Maialino and Ristorante Morini before landing at Eleven Madison Park in October of 2014. During her tenure in New York, Lopes passed her Advanced Exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers, was named Wine & Spirits Best New Sommelier 2014 and won the Chaine des Rotisseurs Jeune Somm Nationals 2014.
Martin Sheehan-Stross: Martin attended the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Diego State University, graduating in 2009 with a concentration of Restaurant Operations. As part of his academic studies, Martin completed two internships, the first in the Food and Beverage department of the Hilton Torrey Pines, the second at the AAA Five-Diamond Grand Del Mar Resort, serving as a Food and Beverage Supervisor helping to oversee the wine list at Amaya Bistro, featuring over 800 selections. It was during this time that Martin found his passion in wine sales and service, passing the Certified Sommelier Exam in 2009. In April of 2013, Martin earned his Advanced Sommelier Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers. When the opportunity came up to take on the sommelier role at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco, he jumped at the chance to work with a Grand-Award winning wine list in a Relais and Chateaux environment. He currently serves at the Beverage Director at Chef Tyler Florence’s flagship restaurant, Wayfare Tavern.
Mia Van de Water: Mia Van de Water is the Wine Director at Union Square Hospitality Group’s North End Grill in New York City. Though her career in the hospitality industry spans more than a decade, Mia’s passion for wine truly blossomed in 2008, when she moved to New York City and took a job serving at the iconic Union Square Café. In 2012, Mia participated in the opening of North End Grill, becoming the first floor sommelier, and eventually manager and Wine Director under the mentorship of John Ragan, MS. Last year, Mia passed the Advanced Sommelier Exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers; she is a Rudd Scholar and the Johnston Medalist for 2014.
Morgan Harris: Morgan has competed at a national level for the Guild of Sommeliers’ Top New Sommelier and the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Jeunes Sommeliers competitions; he was also a winner at the 2011 Ruinart Champagne Challenge, and he spent that fall working as a harvest assistant at Waters Winery in Walla Walla, Washington. In 2012, he was named one of Wine & Spirits magazine’s Best New Sommeliers.” In February 2014, Morgan passed his Masters CMS theory exam on his first attempt and will be making his second attempt at the service and tasting portions of the exam this May.
Currently, Morgan works as a sommelier at the Michel-stared Aureole restaurant in New York’s Times Square. He hopes to spend his career promoting wine as one of the planet’s finest agricultural products and a humanizing force for social good.