2016 San Francisco Rising Star Sommelier David Castleberry of RN74

2016 San Francisco Rising Star Sommelier David Castleberry of RN74
May 2016

At 16, David Castleberry was bussing tables at an Italian restaurant in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Encouraged by his chef-uncle, and his own hospitable nature, Castleberry enrolled at Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He also worked at Hotel Congress, rising to the position of restaurant and banquet manager. After earning his degree, Castleberry moved to Hawaii to work as the restaurant manager for the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows. There, he was asked to take over the wine program and fell deeply in love with the history, production, and enjoyment of wine. Castleberry went on to earn his advanced sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and became a certified wine educator recognized by the Society of Wine Educators.

Castleberry worked the 2009 harvest at Patz & Hall Winery in Sonoma before returning to Hawaii to become the wine and beverage manager for the Mauna Kea Resort in 2010, a year in which he was a national finalist in the Chaine de Rotisseurs Young Sommerlier Competition. He left Hawaii with plans to work the harvest at Patz & Hall once more and settled in the Bay Area. Castleberry joined the Mina Group in fall 2011 at Bourbon Steak. In 2012, he was recruited by wine director and renowned sommelier Rajat Parr to join RN74 and took over the wine program in 2015. His love of wine inspires his pursuit of knowledge beyond the largely Burgundian list and has launched a singular and successful guest sommelier program. 


Interview with San Francisco Rising Star David Castleberry of RN74

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
David Castleberry:
In high school, in Tuscon, I worked as a dishwasher and busser in an Italian restaurant. In 2003 I went to school for hospitality at Northern Arizona University, and when I graduated I was recruited to work for a resort in Hawaii on the big island. Eventually, they asked me to take over the wine program. I read the worst introductory wine text ever, from cover to cover, and would by the wine I was reading about under the guise of education. I was buying and drinking wines and traveling the world through that book. I’m self taught, which let me develop personally and professionally without bias or pretention. After working at two resorts, I applied to work the 2009 harvest in California. Then I went back to Hawaii to run the wine and beverage program. When I wanted to move in 2011, I called and asked if I could come back and work harvest again, and ended up connecting with the Mina Group. I waited tables at Bourbon Steak for about 4 months before I was recruited to join the wine program at RN74.

SK: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
We have a guest series. I have a lot of friends who are somms and wine directors in the area, and we really like the idea of making a fun, interactive experience for our guests, and for the somms who don’t get to play with all of the wines we have. It’s unique and a way for us to give back to the community.

SK: What are the mechanics of the Guest Somm series?
I send each guest somm a list of my inventory, and give them a general budget, typically $800 of wine, at cost. Then we lay out the format of the dinner, a couple passed apps, four savory courses, then dessert. Then they have an idea of how many courses they’re serving, and how much money to spend on the wine. Then they communicate with chef to coordinate a menu.

SK: What are the benefits of the program?
We obviously hope that the guests and guest somms will promote the dinners on social media, and that that will generate more restaurant traffic. And maybe if someone hasn’t experienced the food before, they’ll be really excited about the food they had at that dinner and they’ll understand our cuisine, and they’ll want to come back for the full RN74 experience. Really, we just want to give back. But we hope it drives traffic, that we retain regulars, and that it brings people in who have an interest in food and wine.

Tips for the Sommelier from David Castleberry:

As I study and continue to discover, I have found that the more you learn, the more you realize that you actually don't know. Continue that thirst for knowledge but continue to be humble. Wine is supposed to be shared and fun. Make people of all knowledge levels feel welcome, and inspire their thirst!
Remember you are here to help people find wines they like. It's okay to expose people to things outside of their comfort zone, but be aware of what they are telling you and listen to what they want out of a wine. Don't sell them what you want to sell them. Sell them what you think they will like.
Get out of your wine comfort zone, at home or elsewhere. It's so much fun and inspiring to come across new wines and pairings that aren't in your wheelhouse.
Share your knowledge and foster the things you love about the industry. There will always be a new generation to carry the torch. Embrace those who want to continue perfecting this craft. It is our responsibility to be stewards of the industry, to be positive, and to help push forward the momentum.