Rising Star Sommelier Jennifer Knowles of The Inn at Little Washington - Biography

Washington, VA

November 2011

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 oenophile and took her under his wing, giving Knowles 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 Knowles was asked for her input with wine and food pairings for the French bistro’s fine dining Tuscan counterpart.

At 22, Knowles decided to head west with her best friends with the intention of attending UC Davis and studying oenology. 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 turned to them to fill in any 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. Potts felt Knowles 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 Kilgore left Lapis in 2001, she took over as Wine Director.

In 2002, she 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. She attended weekly staff wine tastings and absorbed as much information as possible. By the end of the year, Stone noticed her drive and enthusiasm and she became one of his assistants. She founded Calyptra Wine Consulting in 2005 using her restaurant background to provide personal sommelier services including purchasing and education.

In 2009 she moved to Phoenix to prepare for the Advanced section of the Court of Master Sommeliers, which she passed later that year. She is now the Wine Director at The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, where she works with Sommelier John Toigo.