2017 Colorado Rising Star Sommelier Chris Dunaway of The Little Nell

2017 Colorado Rising Star Sommelier Chris Dunaway of The Little Nell
March 2017

Chris Dunaway grew up in a small farming town in Kentucky, where he has fond memories of summer nights strolling among his grandfather’s grapevines—an inkling of things to come. Dunaway attended Transylvania University in Lexington, studying biology and psychology with the intention of going into medicine, like many in his family before him. He was working in a hospital by day and a wine bar by night (his friends joked that his life was all drugs and alcohol) when Dunaway decide to pick one. He moved to New York City, crashed with his brother, and landed a gig in Montclair, New Jersey, at a retail wine shop. Within a year he was in Manhattan working for Master Sommelier Laura Maniec at Corkbuzz. 

Two years later, Dunaway made the move to Dinex Group, working under the tutelage of Sommelier Michael Madrigale. In 2015, after more than a year on the floor of Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud, Dunaway decided to move west. As head sommelier of Aspen’s The Little Nell, he’s leading his own team and upholding the reputation of a program that has produced 10 Master Sommeliers, including Wine Director Carlton McCoy, a Rising Stars alum. Dunaway passed the Advanced Sommelier exam on his first try in 2016. When he’s not on the floor or in the Nell’s 24,000-bottle cellar, Dunaway is likely on wine-related travels to Napa, Chile, France, and elsewhere around the world.


Interview with Colorado Rising Star Chris Dunaway of The Little Nell

Sean Kenniff:  How did you get your start?
Chris Dunway
: I grew up in Kentucky, where I lived for 22 years before moving to New York. I went to college at a small school in Kentucky named Transylvania University, where I majored in biology and psychology. After I graduated, I got into medicine, like the rest of my family, and I worked at a pharmacy in a hospital and a bar at night. I got into wine when I did a tasting and loved it. It sparked my desire to move to New York.

Once I was in the City, I worked for a year in Amanti Vino in New Jersey where I leaned from the owner Sharon Sevrens. After that, I went to work at Corkbuzz Wine Studio, where I remained for two years. From there, I moved on to my dream job, which was working at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud. This gave me the chance to learn from Michael Madrigale, who was head sommelier at the time.  

SK: When did you arrive at The Little Nell?
I got to The Little Nell in December 2015—which was a crazy time to start!

SK: How many people on staff?
Carlton McCoy is wine director and we have around 40 people on staff with some sort of certification. They would ask me questions all the time, and I was happy to answer them. I liked  the idea of contributing to their learning journey.

SK:What are your certifications?
I just passed level three of the Advanced Sommelier exam in July and will probably sit for the Masters in 2018. We have some tasting and study groups around town, and we get to enjoy Jay Fletcher and Carlton McCoy’s company a couple times a week.

Carlton is the wine director and we have around 40 people on staff with some sort of certification. They ask me questions all the time, and I’m happy to answer them. I liked the idea of contributing to their learning journey.  

SK: What challenges have you encountered?
I would say the biggest one is how seasonal the scene is here, so we have to educate new staff every year. On the positive side, it forces me to hone my abilities constantly so I can teach and help others thrive. Another challenge comes from the size of the selection we carry. Our cellar has 24,000 bottles and 2,200 labels at any given time.

SK: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
Michael Madrigale, for teaching me about Mediterranean wines. Also, I learned from Laura [Maniec] from Corkbuzz, the business know-how and how to stay humble and focused to get to the next level. Carlton McCoy is as energetic as it gets, he made me a smart and savvy wine buyer.

SK: What's your five year plan?
: Hopefully, I’ll still be here because I really love the people, the property, and I enjoy having guests from all around the world. I would usually be looking for the next challenge, but this is so dynamic that I don’t feel the need to do so. We have so many menus and interesting projects for both dining and wine. Personally, I want to get to the point where Carlton is­—a Master Sommelier. I would combine that with traveling and maybe opening something similar to what Laura has, or maybe a restaurant. I’m not quite sure yet.