Austin’s 10 Best Drink Slingers: Meet the CultureMap Tastemaker Award Nominees for Best Beverage Director

What is the right cocktail to drink while listening to Gary Clark Jr.? What wine will bring out the best in braised rabbit? The 10 nominees for the CultureMap 2014 Tastemaker Awards in the Best Beverage/Wine Program category keep Austin at the forefront of trends in craft cocktails and fine wine.

Whether working at a cozy wine lounge or a fine dining restaurant, this year’s nominees share a passion for constantly studying beverages to ensure they buy and serve the very best drinks available. (They’re also sharing with us the best beverage options for spring.)

CollinsbyNilsJuul-Hansen (1)Craig Collins, Beverage Director, ELM Restaurant Group
Craig Collins became enamored with wine while working at a Texas winery during college. He is currently the beverage director for ELM Restaurant Group where he oversees the programs at 24 DinerEasy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden and Arro. In 2011, he passed the esteemed Master Sommelier Exam, joining an elite club of less than 200 people worldwide at the time. He is an active member in the Court of Master Sommeliers and frequently serves as a featured speaker at wine and food festivals across the country.

What was your first memorable wine? I experienced my “aha” wine while living in Italy with Chef Andrew Curren. It was a bottle of 1998 Brancaia Il Blu, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that opened my eyes to the rest of my life.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? My guilty pleasure is an ice cold can of beer when I get home at the end of the night. Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap always does the trick.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc. The acid of the goat cheese balances out the saltiness of the cheese and cuts through the fat. It is one of the classic pairings that works every time.

What should Austinites drink right now? It sounds a bit cliché at this point, but rosé. We are moving into the hot time of the year and there is nothing better than an ice cold glass of pink wine.

Sam Hovland, Wine Consultant, Swift’s Attic
Sam Hovland has worked at The Austin Wine Merchant, Headliners Club, Sardine Rouge, Demi-Epicurious, Mars Restaurant and Bar and Twin Liquors. Hovland became the wine buyer for East End Wines in 2010 and continues in that role today. He worked with Mat Clouser, the chef at Swift’s Attic, to develop and maintain the Swift’s Attic wine list. As an extension of that partnership, he is looking forward to buying wines for Clouser’s new restaurant, Wu Chow.

What was your first memorable wine? My first experience was with wines pilfered from my father when he was hosting art openings at the Austin Conceptual Visual Artists Association. I then made wine in the early 1980s, and distilled it (thanks, Science Academy). I was really blown away by a 1967 Richebourg, older vintage Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, Henri Jayer Pinot Noirs and Domaine Huet Vouvray sweet Chenin Blanc early on in my sommelier career.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? I like very cold tallboys of cider after a day of drinking wines for work, vermouth and Cava and 10,000 beers. I once ran out of wine, and had Sauternes poached foie gras on Ritz crackers with ice cold Budweiser standing in a friend’s kitchen in the middle of the night.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My four favorites are Sonoma Coast or Oregon Pinot Noir with duck (Doritos crusted for extra naughtiness); Alsatian Riesling with escargot soup; Muscadet and oysters; and the classic vintage Port and Stilton.

What should Austinites drink right now? Bubbles, Mondeuse, Sherry, pink wine, orange wine, natural wines and food-friendly wines that are funky with higher acid, lower tannin and lower alcohol.

josh_lovingJosh Loving
Josh Loving has worked in both the front of the house and back of the house at such notable Austin restaurants as Fino, which he helped open in 2005, Vino Vino, Asti and East Side Show Room. Most recently, Loving was part of the opening team at Josephine House & Jeffrey’s, where he served as beverage director. He left Jeffrey’s this year to focus on his own project, and is currently tending bar at Half Step.

What was your first memorable wine? I think it was 2003, I was working a private party for wine collectors and they gave us the rest of their wines including a vertical from the 1970s of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy from Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret. I didn’t know what they were, but I remember telling myself to remember the labels so someday I could recall what they were.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Cheap beer: Coors, Miller High Life, Tecate, etc. I try to stay away from cheap wine, but I crush cheap beer.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? It’s a tie between Champagne and raw oysters, and fried chicken and Riesling.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sherry. I feel like I say this every year, and every year it gets a bit more traction. But yeah, Sherry.

Bill Norris, Alamo DrafthouseBill Norris, Beverage Director, Alamo Drafthouse
For 20 years, Norris has poured drinks in venues across the country, winning numerous awards and cocktail competitions along the way. He was on the opening staff at Fino, where, according to the Austin American-Statesman, he “planted the sacred seeds” of the modern cocktail in Austin, before creating the nationally recognized bar program at Haddingtons. Norris is currently the beverage director for Alamo Drafthouse, overseeing the cocktail and beverage programs at Midnight Cowboy400 Rabbits and other Alamo properties.

What was your first memorable wine? It was probably a Chablis Grand Cru. One of my early jobs was at a restaurant in New York City where all the wines were from Skurnik’s book, and he led a tasting. I just remember thinking, “So, this is why people like white wine!”

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Vinho Verde from the lobster bottle (Santola). There is nothing better for an Austin summer Sunday afternoon.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Vintage Champagne and potato chips. And I’m not joking.

What should Austinites drink right now? It’s springtime in Austin, so I recommend rosé, preferably Provençal or Spanish. Or Champagne. Champagne is always good.

Paul Ozbirn, Olilve & JunePaul Ozbirn, Wine and Beverage Director, Parkside Projects  
Ozbirn got his start in Austin’s restaurant industry in 2006 as a server at Vin Bistro, which sparked his passion for wine. He held various positions at Botticelli’s, Wink Restaurant and Paggi House while studying to attain Certified Sommelier status through The Court of Master Sommeliers. Ozbirn became the Beverage Director for Parkside Projects to hone the predominately Italian wine list at Olive & June. He is expanding his role to manage the beverage and wine programs at The BackspaceParkside and Chavez.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2002. My dad couldn’t find it in Birmingham and asked me to buy it at my local wine shop in Huntsville. It was the start of a long relationship with said wine shop and my love for the balanced, lush and fruit-forward wine. I still love the wines today despite the fact that I’ve really moved away from buying and drinking that style.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? After a long day of tasting and discussing nothing but wine, the last thing I crave is wine. If I’m at a bar, I’ll drink Hops & Grain ALTeration, but I’m always up for a Lone Star with a lime. Another guilty pleasure is chilled Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka!

Your favorite food and wine pairing? A big glass of Lambrusco with the new late-night burger at Vino Vino is a pretty stellar meal. I’m always up for Riesling with just about anything.

What should Austinites drink right now? We’re really diving into the orange wine thing at Olive & June. We serve an abundance of small bites like quail, pork and meatballs that pair really well with either full-bodied whites or lighter style reds. Orange wine is perfect for those plates and introduces tannin to white wine drinkers in a much more approachable way. My favorite at the moment is Ezio Trinchero Bianco 2007.   

Brian Phillips, Eddie VsBrian Phillips, Manager and Sommelier, Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc.
Over the past 14 years, Phillips has worked in venerable Austin establishments such as The Driskill Hotel and Haddingtons and currently manages the beverage program at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. He not only serves wine, he also makes wine called “Ground Up” from Texas Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional grapes tended and harvested by the team at Pedernales Cellars.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was a sip of my mom’s Beringer White Zinfandel when I was around 10 years old. It was memorable because it was so bad. I can’t quite recall one wine that sent me down the rabbit hole. It was a natural progression with an endless quest to find wines that make me stop and look both inward and outward at the same time.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Like all somms, at the end of a long day serving our guests we want something clean and simple like beer, or a cold, classic martini. My guilty pleasure is a shot of really cold silver tequila (no salt, no lime, no mixology). 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My go-to wine and food combo is spicy and sweet Asian with the classic off-dry wines of the world. I am super happy with Thai food and an assortment of Loire Chenin Blanc, German Riesling and fungus infected Alsatian beauties. 

What should Austinites drink right now? Everyone should be drinking wine, period. There has never been a better time in the history of wine to drink it in terms of quality and world representation. When treated right, wine is restorative, contemplative and, in turn, good for society. Every region and corner of the globe produces something special and we owe it to those producers to try it and give it its moment of silence.    

Nathan Prater, The Red Room LoungeNathan Prater, Sommelier and General Manager, Red Room Lounge
A native Austinite, Prater is currently the general manager of the Red Room Lounge, a hidden gem of vinous solitude. He began his education with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2007, and after six years of dedicated study and practice, he sat for the Masters Exam in 2013, passing the service portion. He plans to take the other sections of the Masters Exam in Aspen, Colorado in mid-May. Part of his study is the pursuit of the perfect gin martini, which he calls the “elixir of quietude.”

What was your first memorable wine? A bottle of 1983 Château Lynch-Bages sparked my interest for wine, while a 1978 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea inspired the drive to become a sommelier. 

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A third gin martini.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? French rosé and escargot.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sidecars, Aviations, Micèl Prosecco, Domaine Houchart rosé or a Gibson with three onions.

Paula Rester, CongressPaula Rester, Wine Director, Congress

Paula Rester worked at Congress from its opening in December 2010 until January 2012 when she left to become the general manager of Vino Vino. In October 2012 Paula rejoined the Congress team as the Sommelier. Rester draws on her education as an actor at the University of Texas and her experience as a nightclub jazz singer to bring a spirit of performance and presentation to wine and food. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.

What was your first memorable wine? Travaglini Gattinara, for the shape of the bottle and the aromatic nature of the Nebbiolo.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Rye whiskey manhattans.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne and French fries.

What should Austinites drink right now? Rosè! Because (in my best Game of Thrones voice…) summer is coming. My favorites include Inman Family Endless Crush Olivet Grange Pinot Noir Rosè 2013 and Clos Cibonne Cotes du Provence Tibouren Rosè 2012.

June Rodil, Qui

June Rodil, Director of Operations, Qui
Rodil leads operations of Paul Qui’s flagship restaurant, Qui, and the multi-location casual concept, East Side King. She has an extensive wine background and has served as the beverage director for the Uchi Restaurant Group and Congress Austin. Rodil relishes the perfect pairing and believes that this can be accomplished when a chef and sommelier have mutual respect for each other and have the same goal: happy guests.

What was your first memorable wine? I first started really getting into wine and food when I was a server at the Driskill. I went in to dine there for a birthday celebration to see what the tasting menu was all about. I scoffed at the buttery Chardonnay that was on the tasting menu, but the simple butter poached halibut with tomatoes was transformed into something else altogether by the wine … It always reminds me not to turn my nose at a wine. There are definitely moments for each wine, and if not moments, then at least dishes that go well with it.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A Lone Star tallboy and a shot of bourbon after a long shift. It gets me every time.

Describe your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne, Champagne, Champagne, and anything! Champagne and French fries are a must. For complete dishes and something that I like to do at Qui, I suggest a red Burgundy with saba. It’s really a stunning pairing and one that I love introducing to people.  

What should Austinites drink right now? This is the season for rosé! Rosé in any style to satiate any palate. The range of grape flavors, texture and fruit concentration is huge. It’s available in everything from bubbles, to a salty, barely pink Côtes de Provence.

Dhal Smith, UchiDhal Smith, Beverage Director, Uchi/Uchiko
Smith joined Uchi in 2009, where his extensive travels in Asia fueled a fascination with the history and culture of the wine and sake on the menu. Rodil, who was beverage director at the time, encouraged Smith to become a certified sake professional. That education was the beginning of his passion for food and beverage pairings and how the right match can elevate the experience.

What was your first memorable wine? It was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape about six years ago with a former roommate who was a wine rep. I was struck by all that it had going on. There was great depth of fruit, leather, tar, savory, and it had this really meaty texture. They are still some of my favorite wines.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Jameson. 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? I really love pairing sweeter wines with meat. Instead of red wine, choose Riesling Spätlese or Chenin Blanc that has some richness that goes great with beef, lamb and pork. The acid cuts right through the fat and the ripe fruit balances the savoriness. A pairing that I love to do at Uchi is a Norwegian mackerel with truffle oil and yellow tomato on top with Royal Tokaji dessert wine. The mackerel is quite gamey and savory along with the truffle and the fruit and acidity of the wine is a perfect match.   

What should Austinites drink right now? Craft beer is blowing up right now and I think that brewers are really pushing the boundaries seeking out new and different nuances. Whether it’s barrel-aging or the use of some indigenous yeast, beer is becoming so varied — and almost wine-like in some instances. For wine, I choose Riesling because it is so versatile and it’s possible to find one that will pair with almost anything. They will age for decades and continue to gain complexity.

Tickets for the third annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which take place May 7 at Brazos Hall, are available here.

This story was originally published on CultureMap. Disclosure: I am a CultureMap Tastemaker Award Judge.

Photo Credits:

  • Craig Collins – photo courtesy of Nils Juul-Hansen
  • Josh Loving – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • Bill Norris – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • June Rodil – photo courtesy of Qui
  • Dhal Smith – photo courtesy of Uchi/Uchiko
  • All other photos by me.

What are you drinking? 


Austin’s top sommeliers say wine is just a condiment

This article was co-authored by Jessica Dupuy and originally appeared on CultureMap Austin as a part of its Tastemaker Award Nominee series.

Very rarely do you get to gather some of the city’s top sommeliers in one room, let them loose with a couple of bottles of wine

The blind tasting challenge. Photo by Jessica Dupuy

in a bag for them to blind taste, and listen to them talk about what feeds their thirst for wine and spirits. But since they’ve all been nominated for a Tastemaker Award, we thought it might be a good excuse to get these experts to dish on something they love most: wine.

We organized a Monday evening blind tasting for this purpose and found that, while these laid back wine and cocktail experts with impeccably discerning palates all have an individual style, their passion for what they do has led them to collaborate and grow their strengths in recent years — the key ingredient in elevating Austin’s wine and cocktail scene across the board.

Meet Tastemaker the nominees

Josh Loving, wine director and Bar Manager at Fino Restaurant Patio & Bar

A native Texan, Loving moved to Austin from Corpus Christi in 1999 to attend the University of Texas. He’s worked in both the front of the house and back of the house at such distinguished Austin locales as Zoot, Vino Vino and Fino. He joined Fino when it opened in 2005 — one of the last original employees on board — and has since earned his Certified Sommelier pin through the Court of Master Sommeliers and took on the bar, Loving has a well-rounded appetite, knocking back neat spirits, craft brew from Jester King and Austin Beer Works, Vermouth and Soda, and German or Austrian wines.

Chris McFall, wine buyer and sommelier at Paggi House

After emigrating from Detroit “Rock City” to Georgetown at an early age, McFall almost qualifies as a native Texan. He attended Southwestern University and was an organizer for the International Student Foundation. After a night of plundering Coors Light and Jägermeister shots, his friend, who just happened to be a member of the famed Bertani Italian wine family, introduced him to the world of fine wine by uncorking a 1968 Bertani Amarone. McFall fell in love — with wine, that is.

McFall worked his way through the restaurant world at the likes of Georgetown’s Monica’s, Lamberts and Sullivan’s before knocking on the Paggi House door for an opportunity as wine buyer four years ago where the Certified Sommelier has since called home. McFall’s drink of choice is Fernet-Branca.  He says, “Fernet is bitter and a little acidic. Just like me, it takes a little getting used to. Once you do, you’ll love it.”

Dirk Miller, bar manager at Wink Restaurant

Hailing from Shreveport, LA, Miller went to college in Nashville for a business degree, and did what lots of people do in Nashville; he played music. To fund his habit he turned to a life of work in fine dining in Nashville in 1998. He eventually made his way to Austin to pursue his passion in music, but continued his pursuit of fine wine and food. He has worked his way up at Wink from wine buyer to bar manager since 2006 and has also earned his pin as a Certified Sommelier.

Miller’s mood steers his personal drink selection. “I can never drink the same thing twice. There are so many good things to drink out there.” He likes the influx of Italian wine happening now, particularly whites like Lambrusco and Friuli.

June Rodil, beverage director at Congress

Born in Philippines, Rodil moved to Dallas at age four and on to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 1998. She made her way through college and the Driskill Hotel, where she worked her way up from cocktail waitress to floor sommelier over the course of seven years. She then moved on as beverage director at Uchi and Uchiko, after which she helped to opened Congress.

Rodil holds an Advanced Sommelier (Level III) certification from the CMS. Her talents are well recognized as the 2009 Texas Best Sommelier at the Texas Sommelier Conference and as the Wine & Spirits Best New Sommeliers of 2011. Her drink of choice? “Bubbly, of course. It’s a panty dropper.”

Mark Sayre, sommelier at TRIO at the Four Seasons Hotel, Austin

Houston native Mark Sayre discovered his zeal for wine while waiting tables. An avid music fan, wine began to hit notes for him in the same way music did. Before long he had jumped into the world of wine with both feet. His passion and drive has earned him an Advanced Sommelier certification from the CMS and he will sit for the coveted Master Sommelier certification this July. (There are only seven Master Sommelier in the entire state of Texas. Sayre hopes to make it an even eight.)

He has been recognized as the 2007 Texas Best Sommelier and the Wine & Spirits Best New Sommeliers of 2010. When Sayre is off the clock, he prefers Champagne. “It is the perfect balance of things. High acid, cold and carbonated. It goes with everything and is the only thing that sounds good to me when I’m hung over. I don’t think I’ve ever said, ‘no I can’t do a glass of sparkling.’”

The Tasting

The room was quiet as the nominees swirled, sniffed and tasted both a white and two red wines, but after a minute or two, deliberate descriptors began to erupt from the group. For a crisp white wine words such as “vibrant,” “white flowers,” “baby powder,” “aggressively green” and “high minerality” circled through the room. Within a few moments, they all narrowed the mystery wine down to a 2010 French Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc).

The reds were just as easy. A California 2008 Pinot Noir from Sonoma prompted descriptions of “cinnamon,” “mint tea,” “orange blossom,” “hot,” “chocolatey” and “strawberries and cream,” while a 2009 Syrah blend from the Southern Rhone invited words like “chewy,” “meaty,” “peppery,” “iron,” “stinky.” (Our personal favorite was June Rodil’s comment on the Rhone wine as having an “animal, butt hair quality” — who says you have to be refined when it comes to wine?)

CultureMap: What makes a good Sommelier/Beverage Director? 

Chris McFall, Paggi House: You really have to trust yourself and keep in mind that you’re not buying for your own particular palate. You have to fill in for what you think other people are going to like.

Josh Loving, Fino: I think you have to believe in what you’re doing, like Chris said. Let that guide your way. We’re all generally philosophically rooted. We might have to serve things that satisfy people but, you’d be amazed at what we’re able to introduce to people. You’d be surprised when you stick to your guns about the wine and cocktails you want to serve. It forces people to try something different.

Mark Sayre, Trio: The most important attribute is a lack of pretense; that unteachable characteristic of being able to serve with passion and help others. It is the antithesis of the caricature of the old stodgy sommelier with a cup around his neck looming around the dining room waiting to scoff at your choice or draw you into a price point that you’re not comfortable with.

CM: So, how does that effect your approach to customer service?

Dirk Miller, Wink: I think you really have to take yourself out of it sometimes. For me, my list is small and we have a lot of things by the glass. We will probably always have to have something that’s oaky and buttery, but it’s my job not to fill that spot with just any old California Chardonnay. It’s about finding something good and balanced that has a good reason to be there. I still want to be proud of that wines I’ve selected at the same time that I’m satisfying what people want.

Josh Loving, Fino: I have a more hardline approach. When you come to a restaurant, you order off the menu. You don’t tell the chef what to cook for you. For the most part, if you’re an intrepid diner, you probably don’t go to places that challenge your food palate. But if you like going to places to expand your horizons with the food, there should be no difference with cocktails or wine. We’re not in this to freak you out. We obviously like these things.

I don’t have an oaky Chardonnay, I have a really big, Viognier with tons of fruit, fresh acidity, higher alcohol, but it’s not juicy or fatty and oily, it lifts your palate. Wine is meant to go with food. Some of the wines that are big and over the top are going to kill your palate and our food doesn’t fit that. On the one night that you dine with us, you can have what we have on our menu. Other nights, drink whatever you want.

Mark Sayre, Trio: It’s important to read a guest to assess the level of assistance to offer and help them find something they want to drink. It’s a mistake to make selfish suggestions. Never make suggestions that ignore a customer’s needs.

Chris McFall, Paggi House: Everyone in this group like wines that taste like somewhere. We are all fortunate to work with fun, creative chefs and you can’t find their food anywhere else and we want our wines and cocktails to be the same. Enjoy it while you’re in this place.

CM: What are your biggest tips to for customers for getting you, the sommelier to help them best? 

June Rodil, Congress: It’s simple, just tell me what you like!

Dirk Miller, Wink: You want people to “use their words” to describe wine. I encourage them to have fun with that, but a lot of times, what they’re saying and what they mean are not the same thing.

They may tell me, “For God sakes, I want a dry wine,” but after talking to them a bit, I find out that what they mean is that they really want a sweet wine. Or they say they like “earthy,” but really they mean “oaky.” That’s a lot to decipher. Sometimes it’s better to say what wines you have had that you like so that I can try to narrow down that category.

Chris McFall, Paggi House: We not only have to do our homework for our own lists, but we have to know what’s on everyone else’s list. If they say they had a certain wine at Congress, I will probably know it and can find something similar.

One of the hardest things for people is to realize that we’re here to help. We’re not snooty and we’re not trying to steal your wallet. The most expensive wine and the best wine may not be hand in hand. If you can give me some parameters, I can probably find you what you like to drink. Some of my best regulars are the ones who are willing to take the “Pepsi Challenge.” The ones that have the best time are the ones that give me a price and ask me to pick a red or white. I usually come in lower and they usually try something they weren’t expecting.

Josh Loving, Fino: I’ve had people come in and say, “I like Malbec… and Zinfandel… and Pinot Noir.” Because I technically tend bar, I can be a little more sarcastic and I’ll say, “Alright honey, you just named three of the most popular red varietals on the planet. So you’re telling me you like red wine.”

It’s like saying, “I like meat.” Well, do you like beef, pork, chicken? You need to help us narrow it down.

June Rodil, Congress: Tell us what you like, and if you can’t say what you like specifically, don’t be afraid to let us do it for you. And don’t think we’re judging you. If you’re having a bad time, then we’re having a bad time. Oh, and don’t be afraid to say price.

Chris McFall, Paggi House: Yeah, definitely tell us a price. I like to work with people on the parameters they’ve set and have a great time doing it. Then they trust you and want to test the boundaries the next time. That’s the joy of going out.

CM: What makes a top notch wine program in Austin? Why is it that you guys were selected for being among the best? 

June Rodil, Congress: I think it’s because we have autonomy. It wasn’t so long ago when there were no beverage directors in town. And now there are lots of them. The fact that there is someone in charge of these things in a restaurant means that it’s more alive

Dirk Miller, Wink: The culinary vibe here is on fire and that extends to wine and cocktails. Plus, we’re all pushing each other to be better. We’re all on the same team and have all studied together or tasted together at some point.

Mark Sayre, Trio: Successful wine programs combine diversity, value and personalized service. In Austin we are able to branch out and include boutique wines on the list and offer great value because we don’t have to stick to corporate mandated margins.

About six years ago, a group of serious wine professionals in town started going through the Master Sommelier program together. We really formed a bond. There is a natural magnetism because we share a common lofty goal to raise the bar to make Austin a serious food and wine town. This distinctive vibe is a culmination of what we started in creating this sommelier community. Because I was part of the initial stages of that happening here, I feel a responsibility to the quality of food and wine in Austin.

Josh Loving, Fino: I think the other cities in Texas are a lot more reserved, they’re a lot more brand driven, the dollars makes all the difference. It’s not like that in Austin. It’s better.

Chris McFall, Paggi House: More and more people are willing to talk with us and try new things. I just served a guy from Houston a bottle of Lebanon wine who would have never tried something like that five years ago.

At the end of the day, I’m glad to be in company with the other beverage directors in town. We’re all really passionate about it, but we’re not the snooty figures that most people think of when they think of sommeliers. Wine should be fun. It’s a beverage. It’s a condiment — well, sometimes it’s a more expensive condiment, but it should be fun.

What are you drinking?