Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Chicago Somm - Rachel Driver Speckan

What does the Chicago Somm look like? Whats it like to be a Somm in Chicago? We've asked questions both silly and serious of some of our best and brightest. Here's our first installments featuring Rachel Driver Speckan. New mom, educator, and somehow makes it to every tasting.

How did you start in the wine industry? Which restaurant or person?

I began my adventure in wine after graduating from MAPSS at the University of Chicago with a Masters Degree. As a student of Anthropology with extended time living in Italy studying folks, language and culture, I was enthralled and intrigued by food and wine, as well. I thirsted for more knowledge of wine, and the more I learned, the more there was to learn. I loved the dirt and the culture and the people. I was hooked. And, then, I stumbled upon the opening of LUSH Wine and Spirits. Growing a small business from scratch involves love, passion, challenges, and an intense on the job learning curve. It was an opportunity to crash into the industry and build a career. LUSH was not simply a retail bottle shop, it was an incubator for wine professionals, an event space, a restaurant, and a wine classroom. It was raw and real and edgy. Here I learned how to manage and run a business, manage staff, teach, coordinate events and professionally serve as a sommelier with expertise in wine, beer, and spirits.

I am entirely driven to find the perfect wine to pair with the client and the situation. I strive to provide not just a bottle sale, but to quench thirst and provide a memorable experience. Ideally, the client will take home a tangible connection to the wine and the evening. Rather than fit the client with a bottle that I want to move or sell, I love the challenge of suiting their needs and tastes.

What are you doing now (job, jobs, etc.)?

At the moment, I am the Wine Education Director for City Winery, as well as the Beverage Director at the Chicago location.

Are you currently or have you ever been involved in the court of master sommeliers or WSET? How far did you get in your journey?

I am a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, with the intention to sit the Advanced course in 2015. I also passed the WSET Advanced course with distinction.

What’s the best one liner from a sales rep you've heard?

A one liner from a sales rep. Good question. Hmmm, I'll think and come back. Nope. Nothing. Certain there are some gems hidden in my memory, however, I am surprising them.

If you could go back into time who would you want to make wine with?

Back in time to make wine. Super fun. However, I think that I would be absolutely thrilled to make wine currently with Elisabetta Foradori or Matthew Rorick. Okay, fine, to kick it back old school, I would do anything to make wine with Didier Dagueneau.

What unspeakable act would you commit to drink 1967 La Tache?

For 1967 La Tache, I would figure out a way to acquire clandestine seats at a Prince concert at City Winery. Probably something worse, if it came down to it. I am a rule follower, so this question makes me really nervous.

What’s your favorite dirty would to use to describe a bottle of wine?

A dirty word I would use to describe a bottle of wine is schist-y. Now that is sexy.

If you could transport to any restaurant and city in the world. Where would you go?

The restaurant that I am fiending for is Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. Woman chef. Starred. Beautiful.

If you were a grape what would you be?

Chenin Blanc.

What wine programs are exciting you outside Chicago?

I love peeking at wine programs across the country. They are exciting. I am a big fan of the ballsy list at Terroir. I loved drinking at Charlie Bird. Blackberry Farm! Press for all the amazing historical American wine selections. I know some folks within Altamarea and really drool over their programs. I think Pascaline Lepeltier is super amazing and has a baller list. I sipped at Reynard this past winter and very much enjoyed perusing the pages of the wine list.

What about within Chicago?

I love drinking in Chicago! The list that I love the most is Arthur Hon's wine program at Sepia. However, the wine list I drink the most is Vera. I love diving into the badass selections at Rootstock. Matty Colston at Parachute is pushing the edge, daring to showcase wild and distinctive wines. I always keep Alpana Singh on the radar and watch the moves she is making. Her list is always solid and extremely conscious of her clientele. Haven't been to new Webster, but loved the old one and their cellar selections. Nico is killing it right the way that kid Bret thinks about wine.

You've got the space to say anything to wine professionals in Chicago. What would you say?

Chicago has a brilliant and exciting wine culture and community. The sommeliers and beverage professionals are immersed in their craft and committed to furthering education and experience. With a supportive community of folks that live and love wine, there is an amazing opportunity to push Chicago into the wine scene internationally. I hope that we remain driven, passionate, challenge each other to be sharper, smarter and more polished. But, to always keep in mind that learning about wine is fun. Drinking wine is delicious. We should play with our profession and love it, not just go to work. We should research and respect wine history and tradition, but also look to innovation, rule breakers, and wild ones. Be a crazy nerd with a penchant for rocks and maps, wines that taste like dirt, but also keep up with trends and popular culture. Attain balance and cultivate a deep, textured and adventurous beverage culture and community.


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