The SOMM Journal

October/November 2014

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30 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014 { real somm stories } GENERAL MANAGER, RED ROOM LOUNGE, AUSTIN, TX by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle Joelle Cousins It's been something of a quick rise in Texas wine society for Joelle Cousins. A few years ago she was studying biology at the University of Texas and waiting tables at III Forks Steakhouse in Austin. "But you know how it is," she says while sitting in the Red Room Lounge, where she's recently become General Manager. "You graduate. You start looking at job offers. They're not that great. You start re-thinking your life. Luckily, I was still working at III Forks then. In 2011, they offered to pay for the CSW [Certified Specialist of Wine] test. That worked out really well, and a snowball effect just happened." And the snowball has gotten pretty big lately. In August, just days after taking Red Room's GM position, Cousins won the title of Texas' Best Sommelier at TEXSOM, the annual wine-education gathering in Las Colinas, just north of Dallas. Cousins, who passed the Level 2 exam of the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2012, used her preparation for Level 3 as the foundation for undertaking TEXSOM's competition, which tests in-state wine professionals on theory, blind tasting, and service. When asked which trait drives her success, passion or test-taking skills, Cousins responds, "I think it's both. Getting a degree in biology? You have to be a good test-taker. Mass-memorization is key. And there is just so much information you have to remember to pass these tests, too. I'm pretty good at that, but I don't think I could pull it off without having the passion there." Although still early in her tenure at Red Room, Cousins puts passion and intellect to practical use at this down - town retail and tasting space. The emphasis has always been on small, craft producers, but really there are no restrictions. "For me, building a better beverage program here is a priority, so growing my knowledge base is critical. The consumers are very educated and they have so many resources. You have to stay on top of all that to stay credible." Red Room is also a regular stop on the local somm circuit and a hangout for study groups. Cousins herself began studying at the Red Room a couple years before she started run - ning the place, and she continues to log steady hours here (off the clock) and elsewhere sharpening her tasting skills, broadening her range of knowl- edge, and talking shop with a growing network of industry professionals. "The beauty of Austin's wine com- munity is that it's close-knit, and when someone has bottles to taste, we all know about it and we'll compare notes," says Cousins. "I have a really great study group. We taste together every week, no matter what. They're pivotal. You can't seek these higher lev - els without support and help like that." It's still early in her career, but ultimately, Cousins says, her goal is to become a Master Sommelier. Trying to balance that goal with the job, she also admits, is a challenge, and she's still figuring out how all the pieces of the puzzle are going to fit together. But getting that biology degree taught her the right stuff when it comes to studying for her wine exams: Simple tenacity goes a long way. "It's about consistency," she says. "You're going to have better days than others. You have to stick with it." For Joelle Cousins, education is the key to success.

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