Ryan Robinson’s interest in wine began in his position as the Lounge Manager with Lindblad Expeditions, an outdoor adventure cruise liner focused on ecotourism. This spark led him to work for prominent restaurants throughout the Pacific Northwest, including Beverley’s at The Coeur d’Alene Resort and Masselow’s at the Northern Quest Resort and Casino, both AAA Four Diamond award recipients.
After relocating to New England, Ryan was the Director of Restaurants for the Weekapaug Inn, a Relais and Chateaux property, and Wine Educator with the Ocean House in Rhode Island. Ryan was also the Wine Director for the Craveable Hospitality Group properties; Prime Steakhouse and Caputo Trattoria in the Foxwoods Casino. Ryan currently works as the Wine Director for the Cornerstone Restaurant Group-Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. With the unique opportunities that came with 2020, Ryan also became a Wine Educator with Bottles Nation.
In addition to a wealth of experience in the food and beverage industry, education has always been at the forefront, from being named an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers to currently being a WSET Diploma candidate and completion with Merit of the WSET Sake 3. Ryan recently qualified for Austria’s Best Somm NYC 2020 Top 3 and was awarded ‘Fan Favorite’ in the 2016 Somms Under Fire in Austin, Texas.
1. How did you get into the wine business?
I was originally introduced to the wine industry while working with Lindblad Expeditions, an eco-tourism company based in Seattle, Washington. While the ships were in dry-dock, I was sent to Napa to “study wine.” After working at sea, I found employment at a very wine-savvy restaurant, Beverly’s at the Coeur d’Alene resort while going to college. The Sommelier at Beverly’s, Eric Cook, is one of the most amazing people that I know to this day. He had this way of inspiring you to learn more.
After college, I worked in communications until 2009 when a lot of industry came to a halt. It was during that time that I chose to go back into wine and I haven’t looked back since.
A lot of my colleagues are brilliant people who “fell into” the wine business. For me, I got to wade in the waters for a while then made the choice to dive in headfirst.
2. What are the most frustrating and rewarding parts of your job?
Hands down the most rewarding part of my job in the wine business is the people. It really is a small group…and within that small group, I’ve met some of the most amazing humans who I now get to call friends. Whether it was someone taking a chance on an unknown kid from Idaho to add to the wine team at Pebble Beach or a quick text to a study group looking for insight, the people in this industry are brilliant, generous and just some of the most loyal people I know.
This takes me to the frustrating part of the industry. Not every day is fantastic. We are in the business of people and not everyone is great. There are some pretty crummy people out there. We’ve worked for just terrible unethical GMs, have been berated by obscene guests, treated poorly by our colleagues, and yet we show up because tomorrow is a new day with a whole new set of obstacles but also new opportunities.
3. What is your most memorable wine experience?
If you’ve ever visited wine country, anywhere, you already know it’s made of memories. There is a magical lure that evokes newfound emotion when walking through a vineyard for the first time.
For me, I will never look at Napa quite the same, as it created one of my best memories. Recently, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to propose to my partner at Staglin Vineyard. It all came to fruition with help from someone who I had previously met at a wine competition in Texas which led to a wine trip in Napa which then led to a lobster boil in Rhode Island and resulted in helping me plan that amazing day.
I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences on wine trips, in Somm Houses, and at wine festivals but nothing can top that special day walking through the vineyards at Staglin.
4. What is an upcoming trend you see in wine?
I see a greater pride in wine producers and a growing curiosity from consumers in exploring new grape varieties. The boundaries of the wine world are rapidly expanding, and drinkers today are deliberately trying not to drink what their parents drank.
There is a celebration in promoting indigenous varieties and exploring new methods of wine production. With that backdrop, I think we will see more of the “new” as the wine industry tries to evolve with the wine culture.
5. What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?
This is difficult to answer. I’ve learned a lot from some amazing mentors, just as I’ve learned a lot from some pretty terrible GM’s and restaurant owners.
There are two pieces of advice and I find myself following on a daily basis. First, I was elated after passing the Certified Sommelier exam. I called Eric, the Sommelier at Beverly’s, to tell him and after congratulating me, he told me, “Now is when the real work begins. The studying doesn’t stop.” He’s absolutely correct; in fact, since I began this path, it continues to get more difficult. I say this now as I am in preparation for the Master’s Diploma.
The second morsel of advice given came from one of the most heart-felt amazing GM’s that I’ve had the opportunity to work for while I was with Ruth’s Chris in Idaho …he told me “Once you give up control, you realize you hold all of the control.” He embodied how a good person with a great heart could mold a restaurant into a fun, positive, magical place.
They are both important lessons that have helped shape the person that I’ve become today.
Michael Jordan’s Steak House
6. What is one tip you have for someone just getting into wine?
Be humble. At the end of the day the role of the Sommelier is a role of hospitality. We are here to create new memories for our guests. The industry is riddled with ego, accurate stereotypes, and false confidence. It can be a hard grind. Staying humble while building your confidence is key to honest success. Being humble will help you find like-minded allies and get you farther while staying grounded.
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