We recently caught up with Lamar Cheatham, the incredible Sommelier at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. He spoke to us about his beginning in in the industry at Hard Rock Cafes, his favorite brewery in Florida, and his advice for young wine enthusaists working towards becoming a sommelier.
When did you first realize your passion for wine? And how did you get your start in having a career centered around wine?
After moving from Maui to San Francisco and realizing how cold it was. A friend took me to Napa Valley to get warm it was love at first site. Working at the Kenwood restaurant in Sonoma I met several winemakers. Which led to a couple cellar rat jobs around the valley. I think it was from growing up on a farm that made it comfortable for me.
You used to work in Hard Rock Cafés in Maui and in San Francisco…what was that experience like? Have you carried any experiences or lessons from working in that environment into your career as a Somm?
Back in those days Hard Rock was hot busy from open to close. I learned quickly that I was not as great a bartender as I thought I was. What I learned from my Hard Rock days was be stocked and organized.
What are the best local wines or wineries in Naples Beach or near you in Florida?
Wineries in Fl? How about Naples Beach Brewery they are doing some great stuff.
Do you have an all-time favorite wine? If so, what is it, and why?
My all-time favorite wine – easy, Champagne. The quality level from the Champagne region is amazing. When was the last time you had a bad bottle of Champagne? It’s also very versatile. You can serve different styles of Champagne with all kinds of different cuisine.
Are there any wines or regions you feel have been overlooked lately? What are the current secret sleepers of the wine world?
Sparkling wine from the UK, they just keep getting better and better.
Becoming a successful somm takes a lot of dedication and training – what advice or encouragement would you give to any young or aspiring somms going through the process right now?
My advice to young Somms is to go to as many tastings as you can. When you get there leave your cellphone in your pocket. I go to tastings with world famous winemakers and everyone is looking at their phone instead of listing to them speak.