Born in the Philippines and bred in Texas, June Rodil is the kind of professional who combines her deep knowledge of wine with her personal passion for the culinary industry. For Rodil, being a successful sommelier is all about finding that place where emotion and intellect collide.
Though her original aim was a career in law, the University of Texas graduate couldn’t ignore the deep-seated naggings of food and drink. So even as she pored over her endless reading and studied the fine art of argumentation, Rodil was pursuing memorable dining experiences—something to quell her pangs. But in the end, they were too strong, and Rodil decided to put down the books in favor of a career in wine.
Rodil began her studies at Austin’s highly acclaimed Driskill Grill, where the apt pupil quickly rose from service to sommelier. Already prepared for years’ of legal study, Rodil happily spent seven years honing her hospitality skills and learning the intricacies of varietals and vintages, finally taking on the role of beverage director at Rising Star Restaurateur Tyson Cole’s Uchi and Uchiko. Her next move was to Congress Austin, where she now has the challenge and professional pleasure of pairing wines with Rising Star Chef David Bull’s elegant cuisine. And even as she rakes in the sommelier-love (Rodil took home top honors as “Texas’s Best Sommelier” from the Texas Sommelier Association and Wine and Food Foundation of Texas and was Wine and Spirits’ “Best New Sommelier 2011”), the passionate pupil and Master Candidate continues preparation for the final arduous exam of the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Interview with Rising Star Sommelier June Rodil of Congress Austin – Austin, TX
Caroline Hatchett: Describe your fondest wine memory.
June Rodil: I was in Burgundy at Becky Wasserman’s house, and we were having dinner. We had been tasting Burgundy after Burgundy after Burgundy, and you don’t want to lose that. So her husband Russell opened a magnum of Egon Müller Scharzhofberger, Riesling, Auslese, 1999. It was so breathtaking. If you love Burgundy and you’re tasting it again and again for an educational palate, you don’t want to lose that love or experience. The Riesling was so off the beaten path it reset my mind. It was so disarming to drink my favorite German producer among all those Burgundies.
CH: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
JR: Drink what you like; eat what you like. It’s so difficult to force someone into a pairing. If you want to take it to that next level, you formulate a heightened experience with the two combined. After eating what you like; drinking what you like, my favorite thing is weight balance. Look at the weight of food and the weight of wine, and make sure they match. After that, I look at sugar levels. If you have something sweet in food, you don’t want to combat it with something astringent or tannic. You want mid-palate lushness with sweetness from fruit or residual sugar to balance it out.
CH: At Congress, is your list more New or Old World?
JR: It’s a mix of everything. My philosophy is to enhance cuisine. Our cuisine is modern American. It’s such a melting pot of food origins, so it’s important to have a bit of everything. In Texas, we can’t buy from auctions and private cellars. It’s more about the breadth because I can’t compete with vintage.
CH: What’s your favorite wine resource?
JR: The Guild at http://www.guildsomm.com/. We’re so lucky in the age of technology to have one place that’s so up to date. They have a full-time staff constantly looks up new laws, trends, what’s happening next. I really applaud the people who went through Court of Master Sommeliers without that resource. My peer group of somms has a go-to resource. [The Guild] is also a social group. You have forums. If a subject hasn’t been brought to the table, you can discuss it with people around the country.
CH: Tell me about a perfect wine and food match that you discovered.
JR: At the end of the day, sometimes all I want is cheese pizza and a glass of Champagne. The cheese is fatty and greasy; Champagne has bubbly texture and scorching acidity. I usually drink a Blanc de Blancs. It’s really a no brainer.
CH: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
JR: Burgundies, vintage Champagne, and some Piedmont. All the usual suspects.
CH: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
JR: Aside from the Court of Master Sommeliers in Texas, Scott Walker. He’s a partner [at ], and really what I’ve learned from him is to just be true to who you are. You can’t please everyone. He’s really given me a great eye for the business end of being a somm. Things like: the glassware should be placed here on the table. Shelving should be one inch lower to accommodate glasses. Things like designing a bar—the sink should be placed on the corner if you have two wells. He taught me the kinds of things you don’t learn until you’re opening restaurants. Creating a beverage program isn’t just about wine. [Scott] was my first boss in this industry. He was my boss at the Driskill, and it came full circle when he became a partner at Congress.
CH: If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?
JR: I would begrudgingly be an attorney. That’s what I was going to school for before I became a sommelier.
CH: Which person in history would you most like to share a bottle of wine? What would you pour?
JR: F. Scott Fitzgerald. It would have to be someone who could drink. That way, I know I would have a long conversation, and there would be serious debauchery. We be drinking Champagne.
CH: What wine trends are you seeing in your city?
JR: In Austin, there’s a huge sustainability component. It’s a town that’s focusing on the environment. People are interested in sustainability and different aspects of it. Viniculture, bottling, packaging. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were wine lists in the future that were 100 percent organic, biodynamic, or sustainable. There are so many high-end, farm-to-table restaurants opening. It only makes sense to enhance that experience with wine.
Also, Austin isn’t about the most expensive bottle or iconic producer. It’s about things that are quirky, new, and fresh. And people are willing to drink rosé throughout the year. That’s fantastic. It goes well with barbecue and Austin cuisine.