W&S Best New Sommeliers of 2011
Alexander LaPratt
db Bistro, NYC
Age: 29

Alexander LaPratt was bagging groceries just outside of Detroit when he noticed that a buddy was making a killing at the restaurant around the corner. "I went to a place called Papa Vino's and picked up Wine for Dummies," he says. "I wasn't even that interested in it, I just needed the money." That attitude changed shortly after he was hired at Morels in Bingham Farms where Madeline Triffon, MS, directs the beverage program. "Any time you're around someone who's very good at something you need to pay attention and learn from them," says LaPratt. "I tried to soak up as much as I could."

Later, managing the dining rooms at Michael Mina's Detroit restaurants Saltwater and Bourbon Steak, he met Rajat Parr, MS. "Parr came out to train the staff and told me that I should work for him in San Francisco," recalls LaPratt. Parr didn't actually have any positions available at the time, but there was a possible opening at The French Laundry.

"I wrote a cover letter and left it open on my computer for three days—I wasn't going to send it," he says. "Then one night, I had had a couple of Manhattans. I sent it off, and a week later they called me back. I went nuts." He started as a food runner and quickly worked his way up to being "cellar sommelier," a cellar-only role they invented for him since he was already volunteering so much of his time there.

Close to two years later, in November of 2009, LaPratt stepped into the role of head sommelier at db Bistro in New York. Since then, he's hit the competition circuit full-steam, taking first place at the Ruinart Chardonnay Challenge and second in the Sud de France last year. And this year, he won the American Sommelier Association's contest, taking the title Best Sommelier in America 2011.

—Carson Demmond

eye opener

One of the servers at Morels let me taste a Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz. I remember thinking, "There might be something here." It's not an incredible wine, but it was so special because it opened my eyes to wine.

full speed

I landed in New York blind with no guarantees; had all my luggage with me. The next day I came in [to db Bistro], did inventory and cleaned up the cellar. I had caught the redeye, then the next day started at work.

thinking like a winner

When I started studying for the Best Sommelier in America competition, I said, "I'm gonna win this, guys." If I say it out loud, it makes it real for me, so I have to work really hard.