We are pleased to highlight Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Member James Parker Huston, a professional with a wealth of experience currently spanning several professional roles, including: Owner & Wine Director of Wine Gallery, Sommelier at Charlie Palmer, Wine Director at The Crow Bar & Kitchen, and private consulting work.
I had the opportunity to spend some time with James in Australia a few years back, and I really admired his passion and knowledge for his work with wine. The diverse range of platforms he works with allows him to bring his wine visions to life in creative and different ways, and I’m excited to see how his wine career evolves in the future.
What was your path into the beverage industry?
It all started back at my first hospitality job. I made my way from a short order cook at the Balboa Bay Club snack bar all the way to a Captain in the Main Cabin in just two years. Upon graduating from University of California at Santa Barbara, I tried a few other careers, including sales and talk radio. I was not feeling it, so I got together with a few friends who had opened up a wine store called Wine Gallery in 1999. I became a partner in June of 2000. We have since grown the Wine Gallery into a wine bar and restaurant. I have also worked as Sommelier/Wine Director for many other local restaurants over the years including Five Crowns, Rothschild’s, The Quiet Woman, The Crow Bar and Kitchen and Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s.
You spread your time amongst several restaurants, in addition to owning and running your own wine shop. How do you manage your multiple professional responsibilities?
It is a challenge, and organization and time management is the key. I have a home office that I work from in the morning to take care of my consulting clients. I usually spend an hour to three hours a day in the morning with consulting work. Owning my own business allows me set up my own schedule, which is imperative to make the consulting gigs successful. In addition, I can taste wine with distributors during the week and have each account in mind while doing so, so I can kill three or four birds with one stone.
Is there anything you haven’t done with wine that you’d like to do at some point?
I would love to make my own wine someday. Hopefully, god willing, I will earn the Master Sommelier Diploma down the line. That will free up some time to start the winemaking career. I would probably keep it small production, and Pinot Noir is my true love, with Grenache closely behind. A dry rose of Pinot Noir sounds tasty too.
Are there any aspects of being a Sommelier that you feel are misunderstood?
We are very approachable and not pretentious. We are not out to sell you the most expensive wine, and we will work with any budget in mind. In fact, I take pride in suggesting value wines that over deliver. Our main goal is to add value to the dining experience.
What is your favorite aspect of your work?
Ensuring my clients walk out with a big smile on their faces.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Making even the most difficult customers happy. Some people just won’t be happy, ever. However, I love it when I can make them do a 180.
What advice would you give college students considering a career as a Sommelier?
Start studying your wine theory early. Read as many books on wine as you can in your free time. The more you know, the more valuable you are to clients and potential employers. Start with a simple book, like “Windows on the World” by Kevin Zraly or Matt Kramer’s “Making Sense of Wine”. Also, start a fun blind wine tasting group with friends or other aspiring Sommeliers.
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