“That’s Christie Dufault,” said the maître d’. “You’re going to be getting to know her.”
Chad Zeigler was 22 years old at the time and in his first wine job, at The French Laundry. Dufault, then the wine director for Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco, had booked a table for lunch, and she made a point of coming over to introduce herself to Zeigler, green as he was. Carlin Karr, wine director for Frasca Hospitality Group’s four restaurants, tells a similar tale: “I distinctly remember her saying, ‘I just wanted to come and introduce myself and offer congratulations and my support and say bravo. Women need to support each other.’ It meant so much to me at [the beginning of my career].”
Michaël Engelmann MS remembers working with Dufault at Gary Danko in 2005. French by birth, he was in his first job in the US. “She speaks perfect French and understood where I’m from and what I might be going through moving to a new place.” She invited him to his first American Thanksgiving dinner that year. “She helped me keep an open mind about wine and its different styles, because people enjoy them. That’s something that’s stuck with me for the rest of my career. If I’m in Paris, and I give a tasting of wine from South Africa or something, it’s important to remember that there’s a time and place for everything. I get to introduce new horizons to people in my job.”
As Dufault progressed through wine director positions at Bacar, Gary Danko and Quince, she went out of her way to make herself available to the next generation—which is now her full-time role at the Culinary Institute of America. “I often tell my students that servers should be mini-sommeliers. There’s a sommelier role in every position,” she says, adding, “I have this belief that sommeliers—especially head sommeliers and beverage directors—they have an obligation to help everyone else on the staff learn.”
Asked about her own mentors, Dufault gave five names, explaining that if she could take one thing from each of these five, it would make up who she became as a sommelier. Debbie Zachareas taught her how to be a buyer; Emmanuel Kemiji MS saw when she was ready for the top job; Evan Goldstein MS inspired her to be an educator; and Larry Stone MS provided copious support (“He ultimately officiated my wedding”). Every person we spoke to about Dufault highlighted her graciousness. She says she learned that from mentor number five: Michael Bonaccorsi MS, then the wine director at Spago in Los Angeles. “He was so gracious and genuine and unpretentious. His approach to guests [and ‘the wine dialogue,’ as Dufault calls it] was the embodiment of a sommelier working in the best service of guests—Michael was the champion of that for me.”
“So much is changing about the role of the sommelier,” Dufault says. “What will that look like in five or ten years to be truly serving the guests’ best interests? How do we make it more inclusive? How do we make it more diverse? Those are all big questions, but we’re always going to need gracious and knowledgeable wine professionals.”
This story appears in the print issue of February 2022.
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