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How 3 Sommeliers Are Getting Us to Drink Different

Gone should be the days of relying on exclusive wine allocations, pretty labels and IG-worthy bottle shots. Extravagant marketing is no substitute for truly connecting with a wine’s story. So, today, savvier somms are redefining how they communicate about the wines they sell and are finding success in appealing to a wide variety of consumers.

June’s / Image Courtesy of Justin Cook

June’s All Day

Austin, Texas

With escalating wine prices and drinkers with less discretionary income, affordability is a growing challenge for sommeliers. But Lucas Bowes, wine director at June’s All Day, sees this as an opportunity. He employs an annotated menu: June’s infamous wine zine, which changes four times a year. Each page is peppered with thematic pop-culture images (peep that Parks & Rec meme), historical facts, trivia about the bottles and what to pair with a “fried chicken sando,” adding context to his list and inspiring confidence in his guests.

Bowes selects bottles from up-and-coming regions to show quality from uncommon places (hello Lebanon!) and invite better pricing to the wine list. He adds, “I highlight winemakers who cut through the noise and push the industry toward better wines and inclusivity.”

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Common Thread
Common Thread / Image Courtesy of John Park

Common Thread

Savannah, Georgia

On November 6, 2022, sommelier Libby Burk and One Love Pet Rescue cofounder Karrie Bulski brought together pets seeking homes and pét-nats seeking fans in the courtyard of Common Thread. Partnering with nonprofits for events like an adoption and wine tasting allows Burke to introduce a new audience to unfamiliar affordable wines and help homeless pets find families all at once—three dogs went home with new families and a new group of imbibers (including off-shift staff) found wines they can respect for their environmentally-conscious growing practices and affordability. Burke finds this synergy excites people about wine and brings an increasing amount of curious drinkers through her door.

Since then, Burke’s hosted similar events, like her Hungarian wine dinner that highlights more obscure grape varieties that provide excellent value on her menu. “Nobody had tried Hungarian wine before. The tasting opened their eyes to the diversity and deliciousness of that region,” she says.

Husk interior
Husk interior / Image Courtesy of Jamie Crotts

Husk Savannah

Savannah, Georgia

The challenge of attracting new wine drinkers is familiar to sommelier Jamie Crotts: “I’ve only been studying wine for seven years. I freshly remember grabbing my first crappy bottles off the grocery store shelf and struggling to intellectually engage with them—it makes accessibility to education valuable to me. People find it refreshing and relieving when they can be included in the conversation without needing to be an expert,” Crotts says.

To relieve that challenge at his restaurant, Husk Savannah, Crotts designed a wine menu that puts even the most uninitiated at ease. Wines are organized in order of richness; descriptors include movie quotes as well as insights from the winemakers; and there’s a whimsical glossary specifically for German wine terms and even an infographic to explain the nuances of orange wine. These tactics, he says, empower guests of Husk to enjoy wine from any region without fear.

Further, he believes transparency—honesty about the product and sharing the winemaker’s story, including highlighting sustainable agriculture practices, equitable labor practices and the environmental impact of a winery—will bring reluctant drinkers to the grape, and includes these anecdotes throughout the menu as well. “It’s important to break down the image of wine as an exclusive, elitist drink,” says Crotts. “People care [about] getting their products from real people rather than the great capitalist machine.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!