I first met Ronald a few years back when he was working as the Director of Education and Sales at Vezer Family Vineyard. He had established himself as both an ambassador and evangelist for the Suisun Valley region where Vezer is located, and he’s one of those guys I’d see at ALL of the wine events shaking hands and eager to connect with others in the industry. With his career in wine coming after spending decades in law enforcement, I was so impressed by how quickly Ronald established himself as a presence in the industry and culture. His path has ultimately lead to his current role of Sommelier at Hakkasan, and he is an outstanding example of what you can accomplish in the beverage industry with determination and passion.
How did you get into the beverage industry?
I got started in the beverage industry about three years ago. I was retiring from a career in law enforcement after working for the Solano County Sheriff’s Department for over 20 years. I was disabled in the line of duty and knew I was going to have find a new career path. I have had a passion for fine beverage my entire adult life but had no clue where to start. I was lucky enough to have friends in the industry. I started to ask around and one of them recommended a program run by Master Sommelier Emily Wines at The Fifth Floor Restaurant in San Francisco called “Sommelier for a Day”. The program was basically what it sounded like, and I got to see first-hand what a sommelier actually does from tasting wine from vendors, stocking wine, preparing the floor for service and then recommending wine and pouring wine for patrons. I had a blast. At the end of service, Emily had me taste all kinds of beverages from beer to wine and even spirits, and she told me about a sommelier program run by a friend of hers named David Glancy, who is also a Master Sommelier.
What were the steps you took to prepare yourself for your new career?
I enrolled in David Glancy’s program at the Professional Culinary Institute, now known as the International Culinary Center, in Campbell, California. After three intensive months of lectures in the mornings and blind tasting and service practices in the afternoons, I passed the program at the top of my class and won the Broadbent Award. I then passed my Court Of Master Sommeliers Intro and Certified Exams. Next I started applying for positions at restaurants, wineries and wine bars. I took an unpaid internship at La Toque restaurant in Napa, California, just to get my feet wet. I remember at that time I had almost no fine dining experience. I trained under wine director Scott Tracy and sommelier Roland Micu, who is also a Master Sommelier now and teaches the sommelier program at the International Culinary Center. I would also assist Christopher Sawyer, who is the Wine Director at The Carneros Bistro in Sonoma, California, teach his wine education class every Tuesday night.
When did you take your first full-time job in the wine industry?
After about three weeks into my internship at La Toque, I received a job offer from a small family winery in Suisun California named Vezer Family Vineyard. They wanted me to be their Director of Education and Sales, which I ultimately became. I learned a lot about sales and also got to help make wine, which I think is invaluable. I learned so much from our wine makers Gary Galleron and Jake Stuessy. I had a thirst for knowledge, so I continued my education by completing the French Wine Scholar Program and the California Wine Appellation Specialist Program, both taught by Master Sommelier David Glancy at The San Francisco Wine School. While working for Vezer Family Vineyard, I also got the opportunity to be the Official Sommelier at the 2011 Comic-Con in San Diego, which meant that I got to serve wine to the cast of “Cowboys And Aliens,” as well as cast members from the Twilight movie series. It was a rough job, but someone had to do it. Then, Frank Vezer, the owner of Vezer Family Vineyard, decided to buy a restaurant next door to his winery and renamed it Mankas Tapas Bar & Steakhouse. He offered me the beverage director position at the restaurant which I accepted. I worked for the Vezer’s for over two years had accomplished what I had set out to do.
And where are you currently working?
I have the type of personality that requires me to be challenged at all times, so I felt I needed to move on. Emily Wines told about a restaurant that was going to open in San Francisco called Hakkasan, and they were looking to hire several sommeliers. I thought it would be a fun challenge to pair Chinese food with wine, so I applied and was later offered a Sommelier position. I have been at Hakkasan since it opened, and I must say I am challenged everyday. We have a great beverage program that includes cocktails, beer, sake, tea, coffee and a large wine list, and I continue to learn everyday.
What is your favorite aspect of what you do?
One of the best parts of my job is mentoring others, and in my opinion, that is what is so great about our industry. There is no way I could have done what I did with out the mentorship of others. If I named them all it would fill up this page. I am honored to be part of this industry.