2017 Colorado Rising Star Sommelier Carlin Karr of Frasca Food & Wine

2017 Colorado Rising Star Sommelier Carlin Karr of Frasca Food & Wine
March 2017

Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Carlin Karr traded in the desert for the mountains, studying communications as an undergraduate at University of Colorado Boulder. But something was missing: food, or so she thought. Following her passion, Karr set out for culinary school in San Francisco, and in the course of her studies, discovered that it was wine that truly compelled her. She dropped out to focus on the juice, immersing herself in the history, geography, and the details of vinticulture.

Karr’s studying, sipping, and smelling led to her first job at Nob Hill’s Sons and Daughters. Part of a three-person opening team and with no restaurant experience, Karr relied on her colleagues and YouTube to create a successful wine program. Against all odds, during her one-year tenure, Sons and Daughters earned a Michelin star. Self-taught and self-possessed, Karr returned to Boulder and her took her talents to lauded Frasca Food and Wine, where she works with mentor and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey. 

In 2014, she was named one of Zagat’s “30 Under 30.” Today, in pursuit of her own Master pin, Karr leads and educates a crew of young wine professionals as she maintains the reputation of one of the best wine programs in the country.

Interview with Colorado Rising Star Carlin Karr of Frasca Food & Wine

Sean Kenniff: How did you develop an interest in wine?
Carlin Karr:
Right when we first started learning about wine [in culinary school], I knew I wanted to make a career out of it. It clicked; the confluence of history, geography, and the details of wine itself, as well as the pleasure it brings. I love the way just smelling great wine makes my brain tingle, and still does. I get so excited when I try a great bottle.

My first gig was at Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. I had met the owners through mutual friends and they were opening a restaurant. They were naïve and willing enough to take a chance on me. It was such a tiny restaurant, filled with great people from the industry that were always around to help me learn the basics.

SK: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
I have a lot of mentors, Rajat Parr helped me so much. Master Sommelier Jesse Becker used to blind taste me every Saturday; he earned his Master Sommelier certification while working at Frasca. He had a huge part in connecting me to Bobby Stuckey. The world of sommeliers and hospitality is so small. Christy Dufour and Jordan Mackay helped me immensely as mentors. I still talk to them.

I had no experience when I started, but I was nurtured but such warm people that taught me a lot.
It’s interesting that a lot of masters like Bobby or Brett Zimmerman live in Colorado. Richard Betts also lives heres. Wayne Belding is also an inspiration; he’s old school, but I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet.

There’s a lot less nonsense and trends here; there are no vendors telling you “this person” bought this so you should too. So, we can build what we want without pressure. It’s enlightening.

SK: What's your biggest challenge?
There’s not really a challenge here. I truly love it because is so dynamic and open to change. I want to be a great leader; that’s the most important thing. All eyes are on you; there’s never been a moment in time when more people have been here to learn in depth and get a job. There are only two positions, and they’re taken now. That’s why education is a huge part of the job. If you pass the sommelier exam, [Frasca] reimburses you for everything. There are classes and even blind tastings with Bobby on six wines, which gives students a considerable amount of time with such a great sommelier.

SK: What are your feelings on certifications?
The Court of Master Sommeliers is really important to me. I already passed the Advanced Course and examination, and I took the theory portion of the Masters exam in March [2016] and didn’t pass, so I’ll have to take it again. Learning is such a big part of what we do here. There’s a wine class on right now behind those doors. We have advanced sommeliers on the staff. Matt [Mather] and I run the wine program and we are training a lot of people. We try to encourage participation and do a lot of tastings and teach people about the way we run our program. All of them moved here to learn about wine, so I try to make it a good experience and help them with their exams.

SK:  Where do you see yourself moving forward?
[The Frasca group] is really loved, and my role is to oversee the beverage programs for more than three restaurants and continue to grow. I love the restaurant business here.