2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Sommelier Julie Dalton of Wit & Wisdom

2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Sommelier Julie Dalton of Wit & Wisdom
December 2014

Like many students, Julie Dalton waited tables in college, and the savvy scholar soon realized she could earn more money if she knew a thing or two about wine. But even with that early introduction to the perks of oenology insight, Dalton spent 12 years working in the biotech industry before she decided to listen to her inner monologue and struck out on a new career path paved with grapes. She began working for an importer in 2010, but eventually realized hospitality was her true calling.

For Dalton, the intrigue of wine is its ability to be a unifier, encompassing and connecting subjects as far ranging as weather, religion, taxonomy, and botany. After completing her Advanced Sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, she helped Michael Mina and Raj Parr open Wit & Wisdom, a tavern in the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore City, Maryland. Dalton is also a Certified Wine Educator through the Society of Wine Educators and is presently in the process of completing her Diploma in Wine and Spirits through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.

Dalton represented the Mid-Atlantic region at the National Young Sommelier Competition through the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs in 2010, and the Washington, D.C.-area for the Guild of Sommeliers in Champagne after winning the Ruinart Challenge for the Mid-Atlantic in 2012. Dalton also competed and earned the runner-up spot in both the 2012 and 2013 StarChefs.com Somm Slam at the International Chefs Conference.


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Interview with Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Sommelier Julie Dalton of Wit & Wisdom

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start a career in wine?
Julie Dalton:
Wine chose me. I was waiting tables in college, and I realized I could make money if I knew about wine. It was about making more money as a server. After college, I was working in biotechnology industry and to keep myself busy, I also worked in a wine shop, which is a passion I continued to nurture. Wine is one of those all-encompassing subjects like weather, religion, taxonomy, botany, geography, and history. There’s nothing you can't talk about. Just something that is a common thread. Everyone is interested in it. Everyone can relate to it, and it is a way to connect people. Everyone loves wine and wine makes everyone friends. 

AB: How has the wine consumer changed over the years?
JD:
The food scene has changed more than wine and that makes people focus on wine next. People are embracing other regions than they would’ve before. With wines, you can take your guests on a trip to France without taking a plane. People are more aware of things now with the internet and social media.

AB: Who’s your mentor?
JD:
I have several mentors. First person that comes to my mind is Ron Edwards, who now lives in Michigan and is a distinguished Master Educator for the Court of Master Sommeliers. His delivery of information in the media has been very informative and useful. Seeing him made me want to be like him and embark on a journey to be a master sommelier. I immediately became inspired. On a local scale, I think Kathy Morgan, who was my tasting coach. She always kept me on my toes and encouraged me. The process to become a master sommelier can be insular, and you need someone who would keep cheering for you. That person for me is Kathy. I attended one tasting group with Kathy Morgan and Andy Myers. We exchange theories, and there is this camaraderie between somms that is really nice. You also have got to keep your palate sharp.

AB: What is the biggest challenge you face as a sommelier?
JD:
Life balance! When I get off at work at midnight or one in the morning, I don’t go to bed until 3 or 4. I also would not wake up until noon or 1pm. It is very easy to put in long days and not leave time for yoga or studying. Time is a limiting reactant.

AB: What is your favorite wine pairing?
JD:
There were times in my life where the clock just stopped. One was at The Inn at Little Washington. I had this tuna that wants to be filet mignon. It was served with 4 ounces of foie, yellow squash ribbons, and beef and aurgundy reduction. It was paired with 2004 Vosne-Romanée from France. It was so good that we ordered the same thing for dessert. I wasn’t expecting the red Burgundy to embrace the dish so well. The clock just stopped for that moment. For an everyday pairing, I would say potato chips and Champagne. It is just like a party on the palate, with so many textures. It is crispy, crunchy, salty, and fruity.

AB: What is your pairing philosophy?
JD:
I choose wines to showcase the food, just like how the background music and lighting are used to showcase the picture. Most dishes are usually perfectly balanced. With those composed dishes, you don’t really need contrast in wine. I want there to be texture. Sometimes I will use sparkling wines when it’ not always appropriate. Texture is a big component. I also work with a lot of wines that have residual sugar because we have dishes with sweetness.

AB: What wine region are you most excited about?
JD:
Champagne. I just can’t get enough of it! I’m also super excited about Pfalz region in Germany. I like their Pinot Noir rosé. There is so much deliciousness coming out of there.

AB: What is your five-year plan?
JD:
Hopefully I will pass my master sommelier exam by then. I will still be on the floor. I can’t be in front of a computer. I love to be on the floor. Witnessing food and wine synergy makes me happy.

Tips for the Sommelier from Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Sommelier Julie Dalton of Wit & Wisdom

Tips for the Sommelier

Be courteous and respectful with your sales reps. No buyer is big enough to jerk people around and make unreasonable demands.  

Don’t pontificate on wine theory at the table. Just because you have this really cool, tiny producer on your list and you got the only six bottles that made it to your state, doesn’t mean your guest will appreciate it as much as you do. 

Stop hating. It seems like it’s cool to hate on everything that isn’t a unicorn wine these days. It seems that it’s cool to hate on places like South America and new oak and wines that aren’t Riesling or Champagne. I get it—I love those wines, too, but that doesn’t mean that everything else sucks.