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

by Sean Kenniff
April 2017

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.