Stefanie Schwartz’s wine journey began on the Johnson & Wales University’s Charlotte, North Carolina campus. During the years spent there, the proverbial light bulb went on while learning the basics of wine production and tasting. As a result, Stefanie tailored her education to have a beverage focus, graduating not only with a BS in Food Service Management, but also with the WSET Advanced Certificate.
In 2010, Stefanie made her way to New York City, and began working in wine retail and casual restaurants. Stefanie honed her service techniques and elevated Italian wine knowledge at Altamarea Group’s Ai Fiori. These skills opened the door for her to work as a sommelier at Aureole, Le Coucou, and Olmsted.
In addition to pursuing her career in wine and getting a MBA in Wine Business, Stefanie is an avid yoga practitioner, and promotes health & wellness in the wine community.
1. How did you get into the wine business?
The proverbial lightbulb went on during an 8:00 AM education wine tasting while at Johnson & Wales University. This is when I was seduced by the textures, aromas, and conviviality of wine, and decided to tailor my education to focus on beverage.
In 2010, I moved to NYC and worked some wine-related jobs for a couple of years (retail, cellar rat, even a short stint in the tasting department of Wine Spectator). My real entrance to the wine business and community was in 2013 with my first sommelier position at Aureole, under Carrie Lyn Strong.
This led to education, strong friendships, and the ability to see the world through a unique lens.
2. What are the most frustrating and rewarding parts of your job?
Guests not understanding that you don’t need a certificate/pin from the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) to obtain the title of Sommelier. A decade ago, I elected to pursue certification/pin from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). The WSET style of education just works better for how I learn. The two bodies have slightly different focuses and styles of testing (eg: CMS is more service-oriented, and WSET exams are all hand-written). Both welcome anyone who wants to learn about wine, so the pins also aren’t exclusive to the wine industry.
For me, the friendships and support that has come from them. This has always been important, but the significance of these friendships has become stronger since the COVID mandated closures. I was asked to contribute to @sommation_live , an Instagram-based collective of sommeliers sharing knowledge, jokes, recipes, and love during the highs and lows of furlough. We’ve laughed and cried together on individual phone calls and FaceTimes, Zoom calls, and don’t hold back with each other. Friendships like these have always kept me grounded and I just can’t express enough gratitude to be a part of this community.
3. What is your most memorable/funniest/craziest wine experience?
I took myself to Jerez last year and it was incredible. I visited some top Sherry Bodegas, and the hospitality received in southern Spain is the best. I spent one night in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and recall the simple pleasure of sitting next to the Guadalquivir sipping Manzanilla, ordering the most delicious langoustines I’ve ever had.
It isn’t glamorous. It’s peaceful and brings me as much joy as any of the larger events or trips.
4. What is an upcoming trend you see in wine?
Virtual tastings and classes. We thrive by learning, teaching, and sharing (both information and wine!). When COVID hit and our main outlets shut down, the industry had to pivot. To keep relationships between wineries and sommeliers and enthusiasts, we all had to switch to virtual. For me, this made attending classes (as a student and teacher) easier. I attended more masterclasses over the summer than in the past, some with multiple winemakers from various parts of the world during the same session. I don’t see this going anywhere. Even as pods expand, we’ve all experienced the magic of being able to include a winemaker or expert in the virtual arena and this will continue to happen.
5. What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?
6. What is one tip you have for someone just getting into wine?
Stay curious. There’s a lot of wine out there. We’re creatures of habit and tend to stick with the familiar. Getting out of our comfort zone little by little is how we learn about new regions, unfamiliar grapes, styles of wine, and the innovations that pop up along the way. Curiosity challenges perceptions and pushes us to keep learning.
Nominate someone for Wine Pro Wednesday: