The Culinary Institute of America hosted the inaugural CIA Sommelier Summit with more than 130 sommeliers converging on the college's Greystone campus in St. Helena, California, in late April.
The Summit featured dozens of presenters speaking about relevant topics for today's wine, beverage, and hospitality professional. The roster of presenters included an impressive 15 master sommeliers, along with professional wine educators, wine and beverage directors, and other experts in the beverage and hospitality fields, many of whom are CIA alumni. Areas covered during three days of sessions involved wine list development, sommelier skill testing, aromatics and wine, regional wine studies, food and wine pairings, the importance of great hospitality, and winemaker and sommelier relationships.
CIA graduate Rajat Parr ('96), winner of the 2015 James Beard Foundation Award as Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beverage Professional, led a Burgundy lecture and tasting. He also participated in a roundtable discussion with fellow alumni Jason Smith ('98), Carlton McCoy ('06), and Amy Racine ('10). Both Smith and McCoy are master sommeliers.
Another highlight was a "Generations" seminar with four sommeliers and four vintners, whose careers span several decades, speaking about the integral relationship between winemaker and sommelier. The Summit gave young wine professionals the insight that a great sommelier with superior hospitality skills can create an excellent wine and beverage program for any establishment, and that these skills take years of practice and dedication.
"We have seen a cult following of vintners, chefs, and winemakers. Now we shall see the cult following of great sommeliers," says vintner and entrepreneur Agustin Huneeus, a 50-year wine industry veteran whose numerous successful properties stretch from Chile to Sonoma and Napa.
While the CIA has long been known for its unparalleled culinary arts education, the college has also built a stellar reputation for its wine and beverage curriculum. The Greystone campus is home to the highly regarded Accelerated Wine and Beverage Certificate Program and it offers a Certified Wine Professional credential. In addition, many students from the CIA's New York campus spend a semester of their senior year in the Napa Valley, pursuing an academic concentration in Advanced Wine, Beverage, and Hospitality.
The second annual Sommelier Summit is scheduled for April 24–26, 2016 at the CIA at Greystone.