Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Back in September I wrote a story in this space, grounded in envy, about four young Aspenites who were moving to San Francisco to find their fortunes in the world of food and wine.

You may recall that, and I quote from the story, “Dustin Wilson, a talented young sommelier at The Little Nell and his wife Rachel, the ever-so-smooth manager at Matsuhisa Upstairs, are moving to San Francisco, where Dustin will take a sommelier position at the acclaimed Michael Mina restaurant RN74.” They were joined in their adventure by their friends Brian and Kristin McClintic. Brian had taken a job with the Foster’s Wine Group.

Both Dustin and Brian spent the better part of their nonworking hours over the last few years tasting wines and studying to reach the pinnacle of the sommelier profession, designation as a Master Sommelier. The quest is rigorous and few succeed, but Dustin and Brian persevered while they lived here in Aspen and then when they relocated to the Bay Area.

Well, dreams do come true and this past week at the Four Seasons Las Colinas Hotel in Irving, Texas, Dustin and Brian achieved their goals when they both passed the Masters Exam. By doing so, along with four other candidates at this sitting, they become two of just 112 people in this country to achieve the lofty status.

This success story represents a new beginning for Dustin and Brian as leaders in their field.

I was struck by their accomplishment because of a chance meeting I had with another wine professional who was also embarking on a new beginning.

I met Lisa Lockhart while dining at restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail. She was our server and when we sat down she immediately impressed us with her knowledge of the wine list. One of Colorado’s best wine programs, Kelly Liken offers 65 different French and American wines by the glass, and pours that range in size from a half-glass to a full glass to a half-bottle sized carafe. It is a great way for diners to pair wines with different courses, a practice that Rick Colomitz, who is in charge of the program, encourages. Lisa had familiarity with each of the wines.

As we talked with Lisa she told us that she was in the process of studying for the entry-level exam offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers in the next couple of weeks. It was, she explained, the beginning of a dream.

Lisa’s wine story began a half century ago in Beverly, Mass., where she was raised by an Italian father and a Portuguese mother. In a small backyard, her grandfather, on the Italian side of course, kept a smaller patch of vines and would make wine. “It probably wasn’t very good,” she laughed, “but I used to drink it with ginger ale when I was a kid at Sunday dinners. It was my introduction to wine.”

Lisa has worked in restaurants for her entire life, and moved to Vail 28 years ago. There she raised three daughters while serving dinner, first at the old Chart House, then for a dozen years at Sweet Basil, one of Vail’s top restaurants, and now, for the last four years, at Kelly Liken.

Now an empty-nester, she has jumped into the world of wine with both feet. “Now that the kids are gone I can move along with my life again,” she says. “I have always loved wine so I thought I could work toward a goal of getting certified.”

With the help of Colomitz, who hosts Saturday wine tastings for the staff at Kelly Liken (hence her encyclopedic knowledge of the list) and other wine professionals in the Vail Valley like Master Sommelier Sean Razee and Kevin Furtado, she has embarked upon her quest.

Lisa takes the first level exam this week. She credits Razee, who through Southern Wine and Spirits, the company he works for now, provided a sponsorship for the initial class and exam. Lisa will receive two full days of intensive wine education before taking the 70 question multiple-choice exam.

Like Dustin and Brian before her, Lisa has decided that setting a goal to become a Master Sommelier and doing the hard work to reach that designation is a path she will follow to learn about wine. While Lisa and the boys are both at very different places in their lives, their careers and their wine education, they all share something in common.

All three are at a new beginning.

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