Sommelier Interview: Julie Dalton

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-18-2013

Julie Dalton

Julie Dalton

Julie Dalton first discovered wine while a student at Texas A&M. While there, she had a job waiting tables — and as her passion for wine blossomed, the sommelier at the restaurant where Julie worked became a mentor.

After graduation, Julie worked in the biotech industry but continued to nurture her interest in wine — becoming a part-time sommelier at Ranazul Tapas and Wine Bistro in Fulton, Maryland, in 2006.

In 2010, after 12 years in biotech, Julie decided to follow her dreams and go into the wine business full time, landing a job with Terry Theise and Michael Skurnik Wines.

After a year, she returned to hospitality as a sommelier at Michael Mina’s Wit & Wisdom. There, at the new Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, you’ll find Julie happily creating pairings with Chef Zachary Mills’ cuisine.

Check out our interview with Julie below the fold.

When and how did you fall in love with wine?

Waiting tables in college in Galveston, Texas. The sommelier there, Mary Kay Gaido, took me under her wing and didn’t laugh at the questions I asked and included me in tasting new wines when I expressed interest. I bought Wine for Dummies and read it over and over again and I still reference it.

How did you end up as a sommelier?

I was working full-time in biotech and was helping out my friend who had just opened a tapas and wine bistro in my neighborhood in Howard County, Maryland. He needed someone on the floor who knew a thing or two about wine so I began moonlighting. Everyone kept calling me the ‘sommelier.’ The academic nerd in me couldn’t accept credit without having a credential. Although I’d already passed the WSET Level 3, I wanted to have something that said ‘sommelier’ so I sat for Intro in Spring of 2008 and now here I am. Wine won.

What type of training or experience prepared you to become a sommelier?

Although my background is in the life sciences, wine was always something about which I was extremely passionate- so it was easy to put forth the effort. I always was reading about wine, traveling to wine country be it California, France, Italy or Germany.  I took wine classes through the French Embassy and I also worked part time in a local wine shop in Baltimore. I attended as many wine tastings as I possibly could. All my time off was centered around food and wine.

How did you end up at your current job?

I was in New York, working on the supplier side of the business. Although I was crazy about the portfolio I represented, I wasn’t crazy about reducing those beautiful wines to an inventory status, to a spreadsheet, etc. Restaurants and dealing with the public is where I belong. I’d spent 12 years in Baltimore / DC before moving to NY. So, naturally, when the opportunity to work for a corporation like the Four Seasons, the Mina Group AND to return ‘home’ presented itself, I couldn’t say no.

If you could only pick one bottle, what would you order off your own list — and why?

2009 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gains because I’d probably be ordering the lobster pot pie or the crab tasting!

What’s the best value on your list?

German Riesling and Grower Champagne is always the best value on any list.  We also have a few Italian gems from cool regions like the Valle d’Aosta and the Veneto that always hits that perfect price point and are delicious too.

Forget about your wine list. What wines are you most excited about right now? And why?

I’m always excited about the French classics – because they tell a story and are delicious. I’m excited about German Rieslings because drinking them puts a smile on my face.  I also think Weissburgunder is definitely an unsung hero from Germany and Austria.  Anytime I see those on wine lists, I gobble them up!

What else do you like to drink?

I’m excited about wines with texture. If it’s crunchy or if it sizzles, then it belongs in a glass in my hand.

Do you enjoy beer? What about hard liquor?

Absolutely! Especially with cheese! If I do liquor, my spirit of choice is gin.  But just enough to make me happy, not scrappy.

What is the most challenging situation you’ve been in or request you’ve received as a sommelier?

Sometimes the challenge is getting to everyone in time. When we’re really busy and we don’t have time to really connect with the guest by following up with them and asking about how they’re enjoying the wine with their meal, I feel like I haven’t given a level of service that makes me proud. It’s important to me to not just be the somm that’s in the corner popping bottles and delivering wine – I want to make sure I’ve reached the guest on a personal level and helped the wine come to life for them.

What is most rewarding about your job?

Never working a day in my life. Doing what I love. Making people happy.

What’s least rewarding about your job?

Needing my friends and family to accept that my normal hours aren’t theirs and essentially needing them to work around my schedule when we see each other.  It’s definitely curbed my social life, but I feel lucky to have quite a few friends from that previous life who understand that I can’t just hop on an airplane and spend the weekend with them like I used to.

If you weren’t a sommelier, and could do anything, what would you be doing?

I’d go back to biotech. I loved it, actually, and it was very rewarding. I just loved wine more.

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