Monday, June 8, 2009


I’ve been cramming for this Certified Specialist of Wine exam for a couple weeks now (it’s basically Level 1 of the Certified Wine Educator course) and I found myself stopping for a few minutes to reflect on this long, strange trip I’ve been on the last two decades. What started as a part-time job as a busser and dishwasher at a restaurant in Evendale, Ohio called the New Orleans House, meandered into the plan to get my various wine certifications and be a wine know-it-all for hire. I drifted in-and-out of restaurant jobs, even entertaining the idea of owning my own restaurant (which I had envisioned to be called “Vermilion”), which I quickly abandoned after returning home to Ohio to go back to college.

It honestly wasn’t until my last full-time restaurant job, as bar manager for a little place called Café Boulevard back in 2000 that I entertained the idea of biting the proverbial bullet and pursuing a career in wine. Leaving that restaurant behind, I found myself at a small wine shop in Vandalia called The Little Store, where blues guitarist/fellow wino/good friend Eric Jerardi showed me the promised land – that being the great wines of Italy and France.

Thanks to another good friend/mentor Mark Maher, owner of Cutting Edge Selections in Fairfax, OH, for helping me get into what many in the biz have called “Wine University” in these parts, Chateau Pomije, in O’Bryonville. I have to thank Tim Shumrick for giving me the opportunity to learn the retail buying side of things, and exposing me to many of the great wines I have come to love today.

I ended up here at Liquor Direct Wine & Spirits, across the river in Covington, in September 2002, and it has been a non-stop whirlwind ever since. The winemakers, importers, brokers and sales reps that I have met over the years have had a profound impact on my ever-burgeoning love of wine, and I can honestly say, without a doubt, that despite all the headaches and frustration that comes around in this business, I truly have one of the coolest jobs on earth.
Many thanks to the cast and crew of the now defunct restaurant/night club Night Moods in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the amazing folks whom I helped to open Dick’s Last Resort in North Myrtle Beach as well, the good people of Twin Lakes Seafood Restaurant in Sunset Beach, North Carolina (not sure if they are still open) and Marina Raw Bar, in Little River, South Carolina for exposing me to the Food & Beverage business in a big, dramatic way! Special thanks to Joey Sacco, Mike LaPlante, Jeannie Reid, Daniel Clopton, Ralph Hunn and everyone at Night Moods who helped save me from myself.

Big thanks to everyone at Damon’s, Country Club of the North, Sycamore Creek Country Club, and most importantly, the Bayou Café, all of Dayton, Ohio, for being as supportive as possible to a daydreaming oaf like myself. Especially to the folks of the late Bayou Café, who were the closest thing I could have ever had to extended family – I miss you all.

To all those involved with Café Boulevard in Dayton, Ohio – I stayed there longer than any other restaurant I worked at, and most importantly, to Chefs Chris Velden and Justin White, for being two of the most impressive, creative people I had ever worked with up to that point.

I was privileged to have worked, though briefly, for Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel, when I served part-time at the old Pho Paris in Oakley. Jeff Hickenlooper, Mary Le, Jared Whalen and all the folks I was able to work with, inspired me to be the best I could be, even though I was moonlighting there while still running the wine department here at LD.

I’ve got to meet a lot of great people in this business, from David Schildknect (the world’s foremost authority on German and Austrian wines) and Sara Floyd (Jorge Ordonez’s superstar sommelier) to winemakers Michael Honig, Laely Heron and Luis Reginato (of Luca and Tikal). I am truly blessed to be a part of this business and hope to inevitably make the kind of contribution to this industry that so many of my peers have done. The list is truly massive, but here are just some of the folks that helped me along the way (who I haven’t mentioned above):

Sean McKown, John Drake, Hootie, Frank Braddock, Mike Frazier, Paul Shaw, Scott Davis, Mike Bowman, Jim Sheets, Wendy, Patty Click, Eva Christian, Audra Huelsman, Shanna Ramsey, Sara Staloch, Craig Cooper, Heidelberg Distributing of Dayton, Ohio, Ohio Valley Distributing, Bob Bowditch, Rick Dearworth, Julie Szabo, Maureen Hunley, Brian Scott, L.R. Hunley, Steve Dinnerstein, Marty Piazza, Rich Collins, Lisa Sweeney, Kevin Chaney, Todd Williams, Cory Nordhof, Jamie Dickerhoof, Matt Baugher, Ed Chalupa, Audrey Wood, David McDade, Christine Ahern, Ed Travis, Jeff Bundschu, Lou Morelli, Eugenia Keegan, Liz Rutherford, Jim Teegarden, David Kantor, Todd Brill, Patrick and Connie Allen, Brian Talley, Shirley Brooks, Pat Kerrigan, Stephane Brocard, Amelia Ceja, Catherine Timmins, Pat Hanna, Gordon Hullar, Todd Nikolai (RIP), Jeff Bodnar, Larry Gurner, Chris Webb, Tom Cartlidge, Bruce Robson, Christophe de la Fontaine, Linda Taylor, John Erickson, Matt McCormack, Richard Tiedemann, Harrison Jones, Jill Leslie, Laura Ginn, Wayne Dutschke, Michele Jordan, Pat Henderson, Colleen Glennon, Antonio Morescalchi, Pam Starr, Drew Neiman, George Hendry, Trent Moffett, Walter Schug, Nicole Roth, Michael J. Phillips, Richard Bruno, Isabel Fernandes, James Hutton, Susie Selby, Liz Hugo, George Geris, Dave Schumann, Artie Bonanno, Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, Morgan Hartman, Adam LaZarre, Michael DeLoach, Bruce Neyers, Greg Graziano, Roy Cloud, Jose Pastore, John Given (RIP), Josefa Concannon, Theda Doane, Eric Danninger, Kristin Freund, Joy Merrilees, Giampaolo Cherubin, Thomas Halby, Megan Cushman, Jody Bogle VanDePol, Kent Savitt, Matt Citriglia, Jeff Lefevre, Joe Roberts, Thea Dwell, Lisa De Bruin, Michelle Lentz, Mike Rosenberg, Tim Lemke, Jonathan Seeds, and the list goes on and on.

Of course, I have to thank the Depenbrock clan and everyone at LD for continuing to give me the motivation I need to keep striving toward getting better. And my wife - that goes without saying - the reason I get up every morning and the big factor in why I want to continue in this business (besides the passion for it of course).

It feels good sometimes to just stop and thank those that have helped you along the journey to wherever it is you may be going.


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