Best New Sommeliers

Best New Sommeliers of 2019

Wine & Spirits asked sommeliers from around the country to nominate rising stars, restaurant wine buyers with fewer than four years under their belts who are making an impact in their cities. Our winners received broad support from their peers, and are serving exceptional wines at their restaurants. Here are our profiles of each shining star, including their arrival in the wine world, favorite bottles from their lists, and projects outside of their restaurants.

Mark Guillaudeu | Commis, Oakland, CA

“Mark has personally been my somm at Commis several times, and he really listens and hones in on what I’m looking for. He is super professional; there’s not a snobby bone in his body. He also does tons for the wine community.”
—Andrea Hines, Octavia, San Francisco, CA

Photo by Cayce Clifford Photo by Cayce Clifford
Mark Guillaudeu began his career in Washington DC shortly after earning an MA in the History of Religions from the University of Virginia in 2012. He was helping to open a local market and café and decided to enroll in a WSET class to learn more about wine. Soon, he’d left the grocery business behind and moved into restaurants as a sommelier at The Curious Grape. He set a goal to work in a Michelin-starred dining room, moving to San Francisco in 2016 to take a sommelier position at Roka Akor, a Japanese steakhouse.

While he was looking to join a tasting group, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article claiming that the city’s once-great sommelier culture was dying, with cities like Los Angeles and New York taking SF’s place. Guillaudeu decided to launch his own group, with six other sommeliers. Today that group, which meets twice a week, has grown to include more than 150 people, at least 44 of whom have since passed the Court of Master Sommeliers certified-level exam. Guillaudeu himself is currently studying for both the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine exams.

His current position also came through a connection in that tasting group. On a Saturday in 2017, the beverage director at Oakland’s Commis gave his notice; over the weekend, one of the restaurant’s captains, and a tasting group member, submitted Guillaudeu’s resume. By Monday, he was the restaurant’s new beverage director, no staging required. The 26-seat restaurant had just opened a cocktail lounge next door, allowing Guillaudeu to double the program to 600 labels on the list.

Since taking over, Guillaudeu has finetuned the list, especially since Commis chef James Syhabout has continued to incorporate Laotian flavors and techniques into his dishes. Gone are the Sancerres and many of the Burgundies the list once held; in their place, he’s added a range of Austrian bottles. “Old grüner is hauntingly beautiful,” says Guillaudeu. “The wines offer everything I want that sauvignon blanc, Burgundy and riesling offer, all in one beautiful package.” —Sydney Love

Vanessa Rea | Eastern Standard, Boston, MA

“Vanessa has taken Eastern Standard’s list to new heights by opening up the cellar, making judicious selections and keeping pricing sane. Whether your tastes run to natural Jura wine, classics or a good glass of cab for a burger, there’s a lot to choose from. Her passion and knowledge have made a wine destination in this city all that much better.” —Ian Halbert, Gordon's Fine Wine, Boston, MA

Photo by Adam DeTour Photo by Adam DeTour
Vanessa Rea calls herself a latebloomer for wine. She was working at Café Colette in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as a bar manager, when owner Erin Gerken began inviting her to tastings with sales reps. Soon, Rea joined the Intensive Sommelier Training program at New York’s International Culinary Center, studying under Scott Carney, MS. In 2015, while still at Café Colette, she applied for a junior sommelier position at Untitled at The Whitney in Manhattan; Eduardo Porto Carreiro offered her a position as a floor sommelier, instead.

Rea returned to her hometown of Boston in 2018; that September, she became the wine director at Eastern Standard, a brasserie-style restaurant that’s been going strong for 14 years.

Her first order of business was to reorganize a cellar “filled with treats from wine directors past,” including finds such as Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc 1983, ’98, and ’00. Rather than continue to sit on these wines, Rea has been pulling back-vintages—like a 2009 Muscadet from Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière or a 2012 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese—into the active cellar. She also redesigned the list, from a two-page menu to a book full of 300 wines.

At the same time, she’s making her own additions to the list, particularly from the US. “I am so impressed at the quality of wines coming from California, especially, but also Washington and Oregon,” says Rea. “So, we brought on quite a few wines from Arnot-Roberts and Martha Stoumen.”

Rea is working to integrate these new selections with the restaurant’s classic bistro dishes. “John Ragan [of the Union Square Hospitality Group] said it best: ‘Wine is like the condiment to a perfect meal—something to really highlight your experience, not only with what you’re enjoying but who you’re dining with. It should be a wonderful accent but not necessarily the end-all be-all.’ Just getting to enjoy a night off with friends and family and sharing a glass with one another is amazing.” —Julie H. Case

Hannah Williams | Blue Hill Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY

“It does not matter if you have never had a sip of juice in your life or you are a Master Sommelier (at Blue Hill she takes care of both): She will take you on a wine journey that you will never want to come back from.” —Scott Woltz, Quality Branded, NYC

Photo by Ricky Rhodes Photo by Ricky Rhodes
Hannah Williams went to Scotland to study literature at the University of Edinburgh, and came back a wine maven. “They had a wine society, and I thought, ‘How awesome; I’d love to learn how to taste wine,” she recalls. A Miami native who’d initially pursued a career as a ballet dancer, she had no wine experience, but aced a tasting test that earned her a place on the society’s blind-tasting team.

By the time she returned to the States, she’d begun to consider wine as a career. “I love the people, and love the academic side of wine—delving into the history, lore, climate; studying wine really encompasses everything,” she says.

To test the waters, she took an internship at this magazine in 2015, which led to a place on the opening team of La Sirena, a Bastianich Hospitality Group restaurant, in NYC. “Since I had never worked in a restaurant, Jeff Porter and Luke Bolens set me up with six-month stage with the company,” she recalls. She graduated early so she could work wine dinners at Lupa and the floor at Del Posto, soaking up as much knowledge as possible.

That experience clinched it for her. “It was Jeff Porter who really captured it for me: He said that when you go to a table, you’re not just talking wine. You’re talking politics, history, current events, things that will make a connection with the diner.”

Since April 2017, she’s been at Blue Hill Stone Barns, where she was promoted to head sommelier in August 2018. Her first buying project was revamping the Italian section of the 2,600-label list; lately, she’s been reworking the glass pours, a challenge given the ever-changing and extensive array of small plates that constitute a meal here. And, in every other waking moment, she’s studying for her Master Sommelier credentials, having recently passed the Advanced exam. —Tara Q. Thomas

Kat Hawkins, Shaw’s Crab House, Chicago

“Kat has become a fierce champion of hospitality, and done so in an uncompromising way that puts the guest first. She doesn’t have an ego. And she has pride and passion. It’s the perfect combination.” —Justin King, Bridge Street Social, Dewitt, MI

Photo by Ryan Segedi Photo by Ryan Segedi
Kat Hawkins first got into wine while working at a large Italian chain restaurant in Detroit, her hometown. The company offered a bonus to any employee with the initiative to gain a certification from the Society of Wine Educators, and they were willing to pay the tuition. Then a starving college student, Hawkins took the bait. “I ended up falling in love with all these facets of the wine world,” she says. “Wine is never boring.”

After more than ten years in restaurants in Detroit, including sommelier gigs at Joe Muer Seafood and Wright & Company, Hawkins moved to Chicago in 2018 and went to work as the beverage director for Shaw’s Crab House.

Hawkins’s love of white wine is influencing the way she’s rebuilding the list at Shaw’s. She has been bringing in Sicilian whites, Txakolinas, older white Riojas from R. López de Heredia and more Savennières. She’s also expanding the restaurant’s Burgundy selections. “I inherited a host of New World reds, which was strange; and I don’t have as much white Burgundy as I would like, but if you build it they will come, right?”

With sauvignon blanc as the restaurant’s number-one seller, she has been looking for ways to dig deeper into lesser-known regions, artisanal producers and other compelling alternates. “My customers have no problem leaning into the mineral-driven, high-acid styles and it’s easy to lead them into other styles and introduce them to new things,” says Hawkins. “I have an entire page of Didier Dagueneau selections now that I’ve been able to collect. Those are my shiny new toys.”

This feature appears in the print edition of October 2019.
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Tags  Best New Sommeliers  Best New Sommeliers 2019  Vanessa Rea  Mark Guillaudeu  Kat Hawkins  Hannah Williams  Eastern Standard  Commis  Shaw's Crab House  Blue Hill Stone Barns  

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