The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2018

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june 2018  /  the tasting panel  /  61 Kathy Morgan: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. What led you from Minnesota to working directly for a Master Sommelier in one of the hottest wine bars in Manhattan? Ryan Totman: I moved to New York around 2007 and met Laura Maniec when I was working for the BR Guest Hospitality restaurant group as a server at Ruby Foos [now closed], where she was the Corporate Beverage Director. I loved all of her beverage training classes: She had a way of helping everyone understand, not just talking to hear herself speak. I remember thinking, "Holy cow, I have a lot to learn!" When I approached Laura shortly after she opened Corkbuzz, she suggested I intern here. I spent a lot of time with her and Morgan Harris, who was the Wine Director at the time [Harris is currently opening seafood restaurant Angler in San Francisco]. After a few internships, they offered me a position as a runner. Right after I passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam, I was offered a position as a sommelier in another restaurant, but I considered the people and learning opportunities you're surrounded with here on a daily basis. I have no regrets. So, Laura was clearly an important mentor. Who else shaped your career? My mentors were definitely Chris Raftery [currently the Wine Director at Gramercy Tavern in New York City's Flatiron District], who started working here just after I started, and Morgan Harris, too. When I was studying for my Certified Exam, Morgan talked to me on the phone for 45 minutes just offering me advice. Alex LaPratt, MS [the owner of restaurants Atrium Dumbo and Beasts & Bottles], understands service. He's the first person to push in a chair and take a dirty napkin off the table. People give you respect because you learn a lot about wine, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't keep a water glass full. What's the most important thing you learned from Chris? Practicality. Chris was highly tuned in and hyper-aware: always about knowing where every open bottle was, making sure everything was accounted for, really paying attention to cost percentages. He ran a tight program, and that's helped me because it builds so much context for why you choose one wine instead of another. I was so thankful to have that strong benchmark. How would you describe the sommelier community in New York? Everybody has always been super supportive. We want to lend the time to help each other out, although we are really busy. We're surrounded by so much; there are people push- ing themselves really hard and it's all being shared. I feel very thankful to be a part of this community in New York. What are you surrounded by? Give me an example. It's amazing to see the industry people who walk through this door and the people you get to meet at events. Today we had the Guild of Sommeliers Rhône Valley Masterclass, and less than a week ago we were drinking 1975 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet with an MW. In between those things there are a few things I've had to say "no" to—I won't be able to function if I say "yes" to everything. That's not a complaint, though! Are you doing any mentoring of your own? Yes! Corkbuzz has a "blind-tasting happy hour" every weekday from 4 to 7: a flight of white or red for $15. Laura wants us to always be leading with education. It's interac- tive and engaging. We get a lot of sommelier students from the International Culinary Center and, if I have time, I can help them work through the wines. I enjoy sharing things I've learned, and maybe it's something they can put in their pocket to help them later. Corkbuzz also has wine classes. Do you enjoy teaching? The classes are my favorite thing about working here. It's fun to get people together and see them enjoy wine. The in-depth classes force you to learn a lot—if you're not able to explain something, it just brings your own lack of under- standing to the surface. I get excited about the Wine 101 classes a lot, too, just because I think the tools you get help people talk about wine while letting them know you don't have to get wrapped up in precious descriptions. Master Sommelier Kathy Morgan. "I feel very thankful to be part of this community in New York."

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