Posted on 15-03-2017
Author: Ronald Plunkett
This is my story and I'm sticking to it. I have a very different background than most of my contemporaries in the wine industry. Spending more than 20 years in law enforcement with The Solano County Sheriff's Department. An injury in the line of duty forced me into early retirement, so I had to look for another line of work.
Having a passion for wine throughout my adult life and knowing some people in the industry, I decided to take advantage of it and pick their brains. Two people in particular that I contacted were John Lancaster Wine Director of Boulevard Restaurant, and Master Sommelier Emily Wines, who at that time happened to be the Wine Director for The Fifth Floor Restaurant in San Francisco. I actually signed up that day for a program called “Sommelier for the Day” at the Fifth Floor Restaurant. I got to spend the entire day with Emily, and met several wine reps along with tasting their wines. I also stocked the wine cellar, selected wines for the tasting menu, and helped Emily work the floor. At that moment I was hooked and knew I wanted to become a Sommelier. Emily and I discussed it, and I asked her how a guy like me with almost no restaurant experience could become a Sommelier. She stated that she had a friend, who was a Master Sommelier was named David Glancy. David ran a wine studies program at The Professional Culinary Institute now known as The International Culinary Center. I also spoke with John Lancaster about my aspirations, and he also told me about the program.
A few months passed and I enrolled in their wine studies class. I was really excited to get started as we were going to be taught by some of the best instructors out there including Master Sommeliers Alan Murray, Catherine Fallis and head instructor Master Sommelier David Glancy. The class prepared us to take the first two exams, Intro and Certified, offered by The Court of Master Sommeliers. I was very nervous on the exam days, and had to revert back to my law enforcement training just to remain calm. I passed both the Intro and Certified exams and also graduated at the top of my class, winning the Broadbent Award.
With my new sommelier credential, I needed to find full time employment. I was fortunate to meet one of the other great influences in my wine career, Chris Sawyer “Sommelier to the Stars”. Chris was wine director at Carneros Bistro at that time, and asked if I would assist him with wine classes he conducted at the property. Working with Chris was an amazing experience and I learned so much from him! I was hired by Vezer Family Vineyard in Suisun California as their wine educator, and ran their outside sales program. I also had the opportunity to get my hands dirty by helping wine makers Jake Stuessy and Gary Galleron make wine. The owner of the winery Frank Vezer was amazing and he paid to further my education. Near the same time, David Glancy started his own wine school named The San Francisco Wine School. I immediately enrolled in their French Wine Scholar program. When exam day arrived, I will not lie, it was one of the hardest exams I had ever taken. A few weeks later I was overjoyed when I found that I had passed with honors! Next I enrolled and passed the California Wine Appellation Specialist Exam also taught by David Glancy.
I had been working at Vezer Family Vineyard almost two years when our owner Frank Vezer opened up his own restaurant called Mankas Steakhouse in Fairfield. I became the de facto Wine Director. They had a small but interesting wine list. Emily Wines contacted and told me about a new restaurant that was opening up in San Francisco called Hakkasan. They were hiring five Sommeliers and had a very large wine and sake program. Hakkasan serves what I call luxury Chinese food. I was hired as one of the five Sommeliers and thought this would be a great fit for me. We put the cellar together from scratch and trained for weeks before the restaurant opened. Later that year I was promoted to Senior Sommelier. I worked for Hakkasan for almost two years and was hired to be the Wine Director of Wayfare Tavern "Tyler Florence's flagship restaurant" It was a really amazing experience to work for a celebrity Chef. Soon after, I was hired at Ame Restaurant located at the St Regis hotel in San Francisco. Ame serves Japanese fusion food and has a Michelin Star. I was also tasked with “sabering” duties at the hotel. Sabering is opening a Champagne bottle with a sword, and is quite fun, but also dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. Currently, I am the winery Sommelier at Signorello Estate in Napa. My job there is a blend of both Wine Educator and floor Sommelier. Signorello hosts food and wine paired tastings so it is like working the floor of a restaurant. Since there are a limited amount of people, I get to spend a lot of time with guests unlike restaurants, where you may only talk to the guests for a few minutes. I also love the hours, and have an amazing view of the Infinity Pool overlooking the Napa Valley.
"To sum it up I like to tell folks, I went from a paid disabler to a paid enabler. I am literally living the dream!"