Bill Elsey’s Fast Track to Wine Success

What happens when you are a rising star in the wine world and recently crowned Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011 at TexSomm? You get asked to host videos, host a VIP reception at Chef’s Under Fire, host #SommChat, host elegant wine dinners and you get job offers. That’s right, and the soon to be opened Red Room Wine Lounge lured Bill Elsey way from Duchman Family Winery to be their new Sales Manager and Sommelier.

Bill at Chefs Under Fire

This is a big win for Alexander Andrawes and the folks at and a big loss for Duchman. Not only is Bill exquisitely knowledgeable about wine and the beverage industry, but he’s also a delightful conversationalist who puts people at ease. His customer service skills seem innate and he says, “My philosophy is to make people feel comfortable and welcome first and foremost.”

Here is a young guy that has been on a fast track to success. He started from ground zero and has worked hard to be one of the top wine experts in the state – he won the Best Sommelier title five years to the day after starting in the wine industry.

Bill got started in the wine industry by joining Duchman Family Winery right out of college. He grew up in nearby Wimberly, Texas in a foodie home that prized cooking and gardening and cooking, but wasn’t wine-centric. Once he joined the winery as a part-time tasting room grunt, he fell in love with the industry right away. He soon started working full time and began studying wine, and in particular Italian He soon became the bar manager Trattoria Lisina, the Italian restaurant on the Duchman property, and  learned more about wine and food pairings.

His experience at the restaurant stirred a desire to become a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. He took the introductory course and realized he was woefully under prepared. While he passed, he vowed to never be that under-prepared again. He hit the books and took the certified exam a year later and passed it as well. He also joined the Society of Wine Educators, to continue learning and tasting because being a normal somm isn’t enough for this guy. Through the second program he also became a Certified Specialist in Spirits as well as a Champagne and Cork Specialist. Up next, in November he will take the final exam to become a Certified Sommelier. He is self admittedly obsessed with learning. His roommate recently commented that Bill hadn’t left the table for 10 hours on a Saturday because he studying. Come on Bill. . .

All of this hard work has led to the next step in his career. He shared a little bit with me about the job change. “Deciding to change jobs didn’t come easily. I had really grown into my role with the Duchman Winery and felt a strong sense of connection to the owners, winemaker, and the wines. Working there for the past 5 years has been the single greatest influence on my wine career thus far. That being said, I think I reached a point where I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment and allow my knowledge of wine to grow. Working for Alex not only allows me to be in a role as a wine buyer and sommelier for, but I will also be working in a wine ‘lounge’ setting when we open the Red Room. Having the ability to be around some of the best wines in world on a regular basis was a big reason I decided to take the position.”

Bill is looking forward to expanding the reach of He is excited about The Red Room Lounge concept and bringing the wine bar-come- lounge to life. Oh, and he’s also hosting a Iberian wine cruise next May that sails from Barcelona, Spain to Southampton, England. Sounds like a tough assignment.

How do I get that job? Bill has some advice for aspiring sommeliers. Spend $100 to get a membership to the Guild of Master Sommeliers website. It has a massive database of study guides and review quizzes to help you study. Also join a study group of similarly determined wine enthusiasts.

What are you drinking?


Discover the Right Bottle at Austin Wine Merchant

Trying to select a bottle of wine to accompany dinner can be daunting for even experienced wine drinkers. Walk into the wine section of an average grocery store and you’re confronted with hundreds of labels from producers all over the world. Now walk into a wine shop and the selection explodes. It’s impossible to know all of the producers you like even within one region. Can you imagine if you had to have that kind of comprehensive knowledge for a test in school. No way. How can an average mortal be expected to find the right bottle for dinner? Let’s not even talk about finding the right wine for a special occasion dinner with someone you are trying to impress.

Here’s an idea – go to a wine shop with incredibly knowledgeable, unpretentious and attentive staff who are eager to match your preferences with a great bottle of wine. There are shops like this in every town. In Austin, one that you can count on for fantastic advice is the Austin Wine Merchant. This shop on W. 6th street has been demystifying wine buying for schleps like me since 1991.

This isn’t a wine mega-store, but they have a fantastic selection. Co-owner, John Roenigk, and his staff choose wines with an eye for what customers will enjoy at prices that make sense. How do they know what customers want? They keep track. You can let the Austin Wine Merchant keep your purchases in a database. The next time you visit, they can make recommendations based on what you like the last time. It takes the guessing out of it.

I overheard John counseling one customer, “Do you really want to buy a $15 Burgundy? I’ll tell ya, the best $15 Burgundy is a Côtes du Rhône.” That’s the kind of help that makes the difference between having some wine and having wine you like.

I talked to a couple of customers in the store about what they like about the shop. They drive out of their way because they learn something new about wine every time they visit. They like the large selection of small producers and old world wines that are priced competitively. They admitted that they were initially intimidated by the higher-end appearance and assumed it must be an expensive shop full of trophy and first growth wines for oenephiles. They were pleased to see that despite a serious approach to wine and some higher-end selections, this is a store that caters to casual and expert wine drinkers alike. Oh, and they love the wine tastings held every Saturday from noon to 3:00 p.m.

What do I mean by “serious about wine”? The first thing is that keep the entire shop chilled to 65 degrees F and at a constant humidity. Take a coat if you plan to shop for a long time. This is one big wine cellar. They also arrange wines geographically by appellation within regions. That might not be unique, but it sure is helpful.

After watching John dish out advice to several customers. It was my turn to let him find a nice bottle for me. I bought two right away. I intended to review those wines, but, uh, Beautiful Wife and I liked them so much we drank them in one sitting with a fantastic dinner. I didn’t take the time to write a single note. I guess I’ll have to go back and buy more.