AN EAST COAST SOMMELIER REFLECTS ON A WEST COAST HARVEST
Tell us about your background. Where are you from, and what got you interested in wine initially?
I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. I grew up with a family of very talented chefs, which I think is where my hospitality and love for great food first started. When I moved to the US in 2012, I chose to pursue a career in Restaurant Management, so after graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI in 2017, I decided to move to Miami in search of job opportunities. I was very fortunate to find The Genuine Hospitality Group where I first started as a hostess at one of its restaurants, Amara at Paraiso. Fast-forward five years and I'm now the head sommelier. I took a lot of humble work—I decided to start from the bottom in this industry and when I went up the ladder and found myself working with wine, the passion and interest grew even more. I wanted to learn all about it and taste all the wine that came my way!
What made you decide to come work harvest in the Willamette Valley?
I first thought of doing harvest as a way of complimenting my wine knowledge. I consider myself a hands-on learner, so I thought winemaking knowledge shouldn't be the exception. The timing couldn't be more perfect: my superiors at work and my fiancé were very supportive of me doing this, so I started to search for my first harvest destination. Since one of my favorite red wine grapes is Pinot noir, my first thought was none other than Willamette Valley, plus I had never been to Oregon so it was the perfect opportunity to visit a new place. Finally, during my search, I was very lucky to be introduced to Ben Casteel, co-owner and winemaker at Bethel Heights. From our first interview, I couldn’t imagine a better place or group of people for my first harvest.
I understand you're a Roots Fund recipient. Can you tell us more about the Roots Fund?
I became a scholar for the Roots Fund early this year and it has been an honor to be part of a community of people that love wine and want to pursue careers in all the branches this beautiful industry offers. The Roots Fund is a nonprofit organization that supports BIPOC scholars, offering funds to pursue wine education and wine travel experiences and to assist in the search for job opportunities, building connections among scholars and wine professionals in the industry, and much more.
How familiar were you with Willamette Valley wine before you came here? What are your initial impressions?
I was fairly knowledgeable about this region—great expressions of Pinot noirs, diverse AVAs within Willamette Valley, and great producers. We often carry Willamette Valley Pinot noirs in the by-the-glass program in our restaurants in Miami, so it’s always been great tasting these delicious wines that I personally love. I generally consider myself an Old-World wine drinker but I've grown to be a fan of Willamette Valley Pinot noir's expressions. I just love the complexity of flavors and levels of acidity and tannins, and they are just so good for any food and wine pairing. Willamette Valley Pinot noir always makes me hungry!
How is harvest going at Bethel Heights?
It's been the most amazing and interesting weeks of my life. I've learned so much, more than I could have imagined before coming here. I love my team. They are just the best. I didn't go to school for winemaking or such things—my life is at the restaurant and serving wine for my guests—but Ben and the team have been so welcoming and open to all my questions that I’ve just felt like I’m home here everyday. More than anything, I just respect and love the passion they put into making amazing wines. They are so knowledgeable and so fun to work with that I don’t hate all the cleaning or millions of punchdowns a day!
What has been the most unexpected aspect of the Willamette Valley for you so far?
The people are amazing and so hospitable here. I have explored the Dundee Hills, McMinnville, Salem, and Portland while visiting tasting rooms and checking out restaurants. People are so kind and genuine; everyone supports each other in the wine and restaurant community. These are some of the things that have made it hard for me to miss home, which is why I’ve loved being in the Willamette Valley this past month and it will be bittersweet to leave in a few weeks.
What are your favorite tunes for working in the cellar?
First of all, I love that my coworkers are all music nerds so it’s been fun listening to all kinds of music (literally all kinds.) We all seem to be really into rock or indie music and we definitely love throwbacks—70s, 80s and 90s hot hits. I'm not going to lie though: after a month being here, I miss my Latin and Hispanic tunes, so every other day I play those on my EarPods while dancing during punchdowns! Check out Lisbet's Latin-inspired harvest playlist.
Tell me about a memorable bottle of wine you had recently.
I recently revisited Quintarelli Giuseppe Rosso Ca' del Merlo 2013, a beautiful and full-bodied Amarone, which often reminds me why I love Italian wines in addition to French wines. From the northernmost regions like Alto Adige to the tip of the boot and Sicily, I'm constantly intrigued and fascinated to try all the great wines these regions produce—again, always thinking of wines that open up my appetite!
Any specific plans post-harvest?
I’m so ready to get back to work. Miami's high season for restaurants and hotels starts after Thanksgiving and will go all the way through March 2023, so I'm just excited to rock our busiest months at Amara while tasting great wines with my staff and telling my guests all about my harvest experience. I'm also turning into a full-time wedding planner as I get married next October 2023 after two years of engagement!