Molly Brooks is an accredited Certified Level 3 Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators, and a Certified Cicerone. She earned a BA in history from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA and a MA in history from San Diego State University before turning her passion for learning towards wine, beer, and hospitality. Molly recently became the National Account Manager at Truly Fine Wine in San Diego, and will be competing in the Chaine des Rotisseurs Young Sommelier regional competition in early 2017.
As a Level 3, Advanced Sommelier with experience in well-regarded restaurants, how have you found the move to retail and sales?
I loved working in restaurants because every night I had the opportunity to introduce guests to an experience: the synthesis of wine (or beer, or cocktails), food, and service. But a Wine Director or Sommelier is not merely responsible for handling wine; we are hospitality professionals that fill in wherever needed on or off the floor. Since a restaurant has many moving parts, most of what I did on a daily basis while managing restaurants had little to do with my wine list. For example, I learned as much about business responsibilities as I did about culinary dynamics while I was at Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant. I am so thankful for that experience; dealing with the administrative side of the business challenged me and made me a better Sommelier.
To be honest, this whole business is sales, regardless of which side of the industry you’re on. The major difference is that in a restaurant, your guests walk in planning on spending money, but in a retail shop they are only planning on spending money if you can show them that your product fits the criteria they walk in looking for. The same goes for selling wine to buyers; it’s my job to show them things that work with the specific operation they’re running.
I sell Italian wine with Lyra Wine Imports as well as wine from Germany and the Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico with Truly Fine Wine, so I’m fortunate to work with wines from many different regions at various price points. The most rewarding part of working in retail and sales so far has been getting back to the “Why?” of wine, only now my job is to escort others down the rabbit hole with me. In a restaurant, food is the foundation connecting the moving parts, but in this sales position, wine holds it all together. I spend much more time nurturing and sharing my passion.
Wine enjoyment is such an objective experience, is much of what we taste in our heads – swayed by ratings, numbers, price point etc. – or actually in the wine?
This is one of the reasons we blind taste. It’s not a parlor trick. Sommeliers blind taste as an exercise in objective assessment of quality and veracity of style. You can certainly find studies showing that when people taste a wine they know to be highly “valued” (by whatever metric), they rate it as more valuable as well, and vice versa. As humans, we are subject to the force of persuasion: “This IS the wine you’re looking for!” But enjoyment is a purely personal sensation. At a certain point, the value someone else has placed on a bottle is less relevant than the answer to the question, “Do I like this?”
The portfolio at Truly Fine Wine showcases small, exclusive German producers. What are some of your current favorite standouts and why?
Everyone thinks that Germany is only Riesling, and that it’s all sweet. I love that the Truly Fine Wine portfolio demonstrates that this is not the case, even if some of my favorites are Riesling and/or sweet. The 2015 vintage is just making its way to our shores, and it’s been hailed as one of the finest Germany has ever seen, for all grapes. We sell a dry Silvaner from Gutzler in the Rheinhessen, made from a single vineyard of 83 year-old vines. The concentration and development in the glass is dynamic and stunning. I generally avoid giving people flavor descriptors before they’ve tried a wine; I don’t like leading the witness and I want them to make their own assessment first. This wine tastes like laser beams of sunshine.
“In a restaurant, food is the foundation connecting the moving parts, but in this sales position, wine holds it all together. I spend much more time nurturing and sharing my passion.”
I also always keep at least one bottle of traditional method sparkling wine in my fridge at home because I enjoy finding reasons to celebrate. Truly Fine Wine carries Sekt (the German Word for sparkling wine) from Barth, one of the premier producers of that style in the country. Their entire production is hand-riddled and sees at least 18 months on the lees, often much more, depending on the cuvée. For the record, that is longer than required for non-vintage Champagne. Their Riesling Brut Sekt blends the traditional components of Riesling with the autolytic (read: yeasty) character of wines made in the style of Champagne. Tasting that wine is like spending Thanksgiving with your best friend’s family – you know the flavors and you know the cast of characters, but in the best way there’s something different about the delivery of it all.
You also carry varietals from some of the most high profile wines from the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico. How does Mexico’s wine industry look set to evolve in 2017?
It’s fun to watch such a young wine region develop. I always say that you have to know the rules before you can bend them, and I think that’s what’s happening right now. The most successful operations are those who look to successful wine regions for knowledge, and then build on it. Bordeaux and the Rhone wrote the book on blending, so putting Cab and Merlot together, or Grenache and Syrah, makes sense. But ultimately, the Valle’s terroir is different from those regions, so producers are experimenting with many grapes to see what fits best. As their tourism industry continues to boom, we see more demand for these wines north of the border (since you can only take one bottle home with you across the border). For wineries that want to increase their sales footprint, the logical next step is a closer relationship with importers.
How is Truly Fine Wines involved in San Diego’s sommelier community?
German wine is a complicated subject with a rich history. The classification system has changed greatly in the past half century, markedly in the past decade, and unlike most other great wine regions, there is a bicameral system, which classifies sweet wines and dry wines differently. It has always been intimidating for many of my colleagues and I. Truly Fine Wine holds staff trainings, hosts industry tastings, provides educational materials, and has conducted several seminars over the years – from SommCon to SDSU’s Business of Wine Certificate – to help sommeliers learn more about the region and become more comfortable tasting and selling these wines to the greater San Diego community.
You’ve personally been involved with SommCon for two years in a row. What are some of your biggest take away experiences from the event?
I am always impressed with the talent on the panels and seminars during that week, and I can see that attendees are looking for well-rounded experiences: wine, beer, spirits, and business development as well, which is one of the things SommCon prides itself on offering as a conference. I’ve been energized by the volunteers that work so hard each year to put SommCon together: from the organizers, who many of us consider mentors within the San Diego wine scene, to the diligent polishers of glassware who may be just breaking in to the industry.
The volunteers I have worked with over the years range in age, profession, and level of experience, but are brought together by a passion for wine and professionalism that impressed many of the attendees from out of state with whom I had a chance to speak. It was exciting to be surrounded by so many people who share a common interest. I hear some people lament the lack of a wine community in San Diego, but SommCon proves that we’re here! Come find us!
Founded by Damon Goldstein and Sabrina Bochen, Truly Fine Wine provides sommelier-curated wines from handpicked wineries around the world. They also represent some of the best German wineries at top restaurants in the United States, including Michelin Star and Five Diamond properties. Trulu Fine Wine is located at 4060 Morena Blvd., Ste K, in San Diego, CA please call (858) 270-9463 or visit trulyfinewine.com for more information.