RUBICON | San Francisco
With no knowledge of wine other than the box of California Chablis in her parents’ fridge, Jenn Knowles walked into her first wine tasting at age 17 and was overwhelmed by her experience. The idea that a white wine could smell like fresh cut grass and a red wine could be reminiscent of both blueberries and cigarettes was so intriguing that the chance to drink on the job turned into a pursuit of knowledge.
After 3 years as a chemistry major at Syracuse University where she supported herself as a bartender and special events coordinator, Jenn decided the labs were not her style and returned home to Cohasset, Ma where she fell back into waiting tables. Her manager was an aspiring enophile and took her under his wing, giving Jenn the chance to help with the by-the-glass program as well as training the staff with her basic knowledge. She borrowed the chefs’ CIA wine text book and studied it with a passion she had never felt. Within 6 months, wine sales had increased over 50%, and Jenn was asked for her input with wine and food pairings for the French bistro’s “sister” fine dining Tuscan counterpart.
At 22, Jenn decided to head west with her best friends with the intention of attending UC Davis and studying enology. But her fist job in the city, bartending at MC2 Restaurant in 1998, took her on another path, and it was the first time she found out about the sommelier culture. She made fast friends with a couple wine reps, and, fearful of coming across as uneducated by the wine director, she turned to these two buddies to fill in the broad gaps in her knowledge. She began to impress the sommelier and management with her brimming excitement and endless curiosity for food and wine, and in 2000, she was asked to move to another start up venture by her manager, Laura Potts. Laura felt Jenn could fulfill her desire to work as a sommelier assistant and brought her to Lapis Restaurant to work with Karla Kilgore. Jenn fell naturally into the position and when Karla left Lapis in 2001, she took over as Wine Director. Jenn kept with Karla’s model and wrote a personal description for every wine on the list which was placed under each selection to help the customers feel a little less intimidated when asking questions. With Chef Thomas Ricci’s Mediterranean influenced cuisine and a 200 bottle list at her fingertips, the floodgates were opened.
In August of 2002, Jenn took the Certificate exam and realized that to continue on the path she had chosen, one that was beginning to focus on the Court of Master Sommeliers, she would have to take her knowledge to the next level. On a lark she dropped a resume at Rubicon with its world renowned wine program overseen by Master Sommelier Larry Stone. She received a call a few weeks later offering her a server position and she jumped at the chance. After being at Rubicon only a short while, she realized that she had never been in such an unabashedly wine focused environment with a sommelier who personified the epitome of service and grace. She attended weekly staff wine tastings and absorbed as much information as possible, both first hand and by eavesdropping while Larry was with guests. By the end of the year, Larry noticed her drive and enthusiasm and, Jenn earned her greatest accomplishment to date, she became one of Larry’s assistants.
Jenn is continually challenged by Chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinki’s dynamic and extraordinary menus and could not have been a Rising Star Sommelier had it not been for their incomparable talents and passion. She founded Calyptra Wine Consulting in 2005 using her restaurant background to provide personal sommelier services including purchasing and education. Jenn is constantly intrigued and enraptured by the wonders of wine and is taking the Advanced portion of the Court of MS in October.