The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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Page 111 of 132

{ } 95 As I continued to study for the Master Sommelier Exam, Jeff watched my life improve dramatically. For years, I worked hard on my wine knowledge—history, geography, terroir, and viticulture—as well as my social and speaking skills. Jeff was impressed with the bonding, friendship, and overall progress in quality of life for all the members of our tasting group. As he witnessed both me and Damon Ornowski transform from mid-level restaurant man - agers to Master Sommeliers, he saw the beauty of the Court and how it's capable of changing people's lives in a positive way. Because old and rare wine is expensive, it's incredibly difficult for aspiring somme - liers to taste or even touch one of these bottles. The great wines of the world have an incomparable purity of fruit and ter - roir, but in Jeff 's opinion, access to them should not solely be given to the wealthy. Jeff and his wife, Kathy, decided to donate a por tion of their world-class wine cellar to be used specifically for educating and enhancing the experience of up-and- coming sommeliers and wine advocates. In 2002, they donated approximately $1 million of wine to SommFoundation for educational purposes. In 2003, myself and fellow Master Som - meliers Fred Dame and Jay James formed the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation in order to use this great gift from the Johnstons to enlighten aspiring sommeliers. We worked to create a great online educational wine compendium while also raising money for scholarships and enrichment trips to help those in need. With Jeff in mind, The Guild of Somme - liers Education Foundation also launched the Rudd Roundtable; co-sponsored by Rudd Wines, the annual event takes place in Napa Valley in January. The top-scoring candidates from each of the three Master Sommelier Advanced Exams held during the prior year are invited to participate, along with a small group of hand-selected top sommeliers preparing for the Master Exam. The candidate with the highest score on the Advanced Exam is presented with the Jeff Johnston Medal, which recog - nizes a level of hard work and dedication that Jeff would be proud of. In 2015, The Guild of Sommeliers Edu - cation Foundation split into two separate nonprofit organizations to better focus on our respective goals. GuildSomm prioritiz - es education, web content, blogs, podcasts, training guides, and member-focused events, while SommFoundation aims to provide scholarships and other resources to sommeliers and other professionals within the wine industry. In addition to fi - nancial support, we allocate our resources to fund enrichment trips and educational seminars to benefit all who wish to fur- ther their wine knowledge. Over the years, we have given away more than $1 million in scholarships and sent hundreds of students to wine regions all over the world—all expenses paid. The old and rare wines in our col - lection, meanwhile, have been tasted and enjoyed by thousands of students and wine consumers. This year, after 15 years of relying on Jeff and Kathy's generous donation, we are actively engaged in acquiring more wine to sustain our mission. We have started the process of reaching out to collectors and fine wine producers to request donations of their most distinguished wines so we can continue to educate students and raise money for their benefit. If you have an interest in donating wines from your collections or winery, we would greatly appreciate it. Your wines will be tasted and talked about with the leading wine professionals, wine students, and wine enthusiasts in the country. Because our or - ganization is a California 501(c)(3) nonprof- it corporation, your wine donation may be tax-deductib le in many cases (consult your CPA). If you would like more information on donating to SommFoundation, please contact us at Thank you, Jay Fletcher, Cellar Master, SommFoundation Jay Fletcher, MS, decants a 1995 Chateau L'Evangile during a SommFoundation dinner. Jeff Johnston and Andrey Ivanov, the 2012 Jeff Johnston Medal winner.

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