Best USA Sommelier Winner BIO

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rom a start at Glen’s Garden Market in Washington D.C where he assisted in the local, sustainable/organic beverage program after completing a Master’s program in Buddhist Studies, Mark Guillaudeau had a need to continue learning. He went on to finish his WSET Level 3 and then took on the role of sommelier at Curious Grape in Shirlington,Virginia followed by roles with Richard Sandoval and Robert Wiedemaier's restaurant groups. Mark then packed up and headed to California where he earned his Advanced Sommelier certification and went on to be named one of Wine & Spirits Magazine's Best New Sommeliers of 2019. Other challenges include runnning the beverage program at Roka Akor in the Financial District and the two Michelin-starred Commis in the Piedmont Neighborhood of Oakland (since 2017), whose bar was named “Best Bar in the East Bay" by SF Magazine and one of Esquire’s “Best Bars in America” in 2019. Currently Mark’s priority remains mentoring students and preparing for the rigorous Master of Wine and Master Sommelier exams in 2022.

How did you get your start in the wine industry as a sommelier? I got my early start homebrewing mead in Virginia, but my professional start came years later at a local grocery concept called Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. It was an opening that pulled together people from all walks of life passionate about sustainability - but the opening beverage guy snuck out the back door at 9:45pm on opening night. I invested heavily in my own education in those early years (with key help from my first boss in the business, Mrs. Danielle Vogel), and I got a very good return on those investments for many years. How has the pandemic changed your job description? I’ve done just about everything during the pandemic - virtual tastings, education, to-go cocktail programs and converted our bar space into a retail shop. I am glad to be back in service, doing what I love. What do you think are the biggest obstacles to becoming a sommelier today? The world of wine is broader than ever before at exactly the moment the iconic wines are further out of reach than ever before. At the same time there is a broad populist movement away from credentialling and the deep, broad knowledge it entails. For example, I have friends who work now in the natural wine sphere exclusively: their unfamiliarity with what I consider the iconic wines of the world is as great as mine with what they consider the great wines of the world. The consensus over a common core of knowledge is fracturing in front of our eyes - which makes getting started trickier than ever. How have your wine preferences changed over the years? I’ve found my palate has shifted more by geography than anything else: as I grow older I increasingly prefer wines of savour, mostly from Eastern Europe: Georgia, Hungary, Slovakia, and my favorite: Austria. I’ve found as well its easier to make sense of wine styles by tracking medieval governance than it does modern nation (i.e. that the wines of the old Venetian republic share more in common than the wines of the old Kingdom of Aragón, even though some of those territories are part of the same countries today. To that point: I absolutely adore the wines of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Republic of Venice - whatever side of whichever border they’re from today. What might you be doing today if you didn’t become a sommelier? I’d originally set out to be a Humanities professor (History of Religions with a focus on Tibetan Buddhism) - and my interim had been tech vis-à-vis web development. The plan had always been to pivot back to either if hospitality hadn’t served my needs but it’s been almost a decade now and I haven’t looked back.

What wines on your list are you most excited about recommending right now? Two great underappreciated passions of mine are Rioja and Grüner Veltliner - both, ideally, aged. As a style I find so few people have been exposed to them - especially the textures and flavors grüner picks up as it develops. To that end probably the 1935 Bodegas Palacios Reserva Especial and the 2001 Emmerich Knoll Ried Kreutles grüner. Other than wine, what makes you tick? Language. From the time I was a kid I always wanted to understand what other people were saying in the grocery store. I’ve always gotten a kick out of learning new languages and for a while was thinking about pursuing a career in linguistics. It’s tough to beat the opportunities to travel when you’re a translator and educator - outside of wine, of course! This is the first national competition run in conjunction with ASI (Association de la Sommelerie Internationale), in many years. A win could lead to international competition experience. What does representing the USA on the world stage mean to you? The US sommelier community has been largely focused on the CMS for the last decade since the Somm documentaries. The community is looking for greater diversity and I think it important we look outward as well. Participating in the ASI gives us the chance to learn with the international sommelier community. Some of the most rewarding parts of my trips abroad have been hearing from sommeliers in Brazil or Moscow or Toronto what the trade is like in their corner of the world. The rising tide lifts all boats - now is our chance to be a part of it. What have you learned from watching previous competitions? The biggest difference that I’ve had to take away from old competitions is the tasting format. I’ve pursued both the MW and MS paths - but the ASI format including service, glassware, etc. is a different format still - and under MS-like time constraints. I really love the way that the ASI method incorporates true practical components into its tasting - decanted or not, glassware, temperature - the real nitty gritty of wine service rather than the intellectual effort of the CMS deductive method or the economic and trade focus of the MW. What is your comfort zone – theory, service or tasting? I have always felt there is nothing worse that can be done to me in examination or competition that I have not endured worse in Michelin service. In the MW program I have been blinded on just about everything: sparkling English rosé, Muscat de Setúbal, amphora-fermented Chilean Cinsault, and even Niagara Chardonnay. When I sat the Master Sommelier exam I was disappointed by the caliber of question and narrowness of scope. By contrast, the ASI has felt like the exam I was studying for all this time. I guess that means I am most comfortable with theory?

In what language (other than your mother tongue) would you choose to compete how would you prepare to do so? For now I will be competing in French. Language prep for me is (I think?) pretty typical for somebody developing their language skills outside of school: daily vocabulary flashcards, two tutors, watching French TV, and using wine and culinary-focused vocabulary books. I’ve also found a series called “News in Slow French” that offers contemporary news in at perhaps 70% speed to aid comprehension. What advice would you give to others that may want to compete in the future? Take the plunge! Embrace the freedom to study anything and everything! Shuck off that angel on your shoulder that tells you you’re digging too deep and go for true, genuine mastery of your field! Oh, and this: you’re not a wine professional, you’re not a beverage professional, you’re a fermentation professional - study everything from tea to tobacco, coffee to kombucha, sake to cider to Scotch - and be sure you don’t forget your cheeses too! The sommelier was the purveyor of the king’s provisions - not just his cellar. Remember that! What is your corkscrew of choice? The Coutale Sommelier Series ‘Innovation.’ They’re sturdy, aren’t expensive, last about 2 years under full time work and strain, aren’t serrated and work like a charm. What drink is your drink of choice after a challenging day of service? In what I hope is my most clichéd of answers: an ounce of Fernet from the freezer, sipped neat. Where would you like to make wine? Before the land prices skyrocket more than they already have, I’d settle down in the Wachau Valley in Austria. The most savoury and chiseled riesling in the world and a host of others - my favorite grüner included - to play with. And those views can hardly be beaten. Red, white, pink, cloudy or fizzy? Judging by my recycling bin, white and fizzy in about equal measure.

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