This is part of a series introducing you to interesting people in the wine industry. For many, the journey into wine is not only intriguing but often quite an adventure. These talented individuals are what make the wine industry what it is today so follow this series to meet this group of passionate people who have dedicated their lives to wine.
Why Wine? An interview with Shawn Burgert of Wandering Wino wine blog
Michele Francisco: Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion? What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?
Shawn Burgert: I had worked in restaurants since 1992, and all sold wine so some basic knowledge was needed. There was a 4.5 star restaurant I worked at in Dallas that sold wines that cost more than my college car parked out front. I was going to school at the time and mainly drinking good beer, but did get opportunities to taste some good stuff.
The last restaurant I worked at in the LA area had a very kind and generous owner. He would sit down to dinner around 9:30 or 10 PM with a table full of food always served family style. He would often invite people and (a very few) employees to join him.
A typical dinner table would have a big bowl of rack of lamb, grilled fish, a spicy shrimp and calamari dish, steamed clams, maybe even some sliced New York steaks and always a couple of bottles of very nice wine.
One evening I was invited to join him and another couple and the restaurant general manager to dinner. There was a magnum of ’69 Louis Martini Cabernet on the table that night. There were many nights like this, including an evening when I was offered two glasses of 1908 Madeira from a customer. There were customers that would occasionally offer a taste/glass of their wine. I couldn’t tell you the wine or the moment, but this was the period of time I got hit with the wine bug.
Need I say, it didn’t suck to work there.
MF: How has being in the wine industry changed you?
SB: I was “that guy” before. You know the one that drinks what Wine Spectator told me to. My palate has changed a few times, so I am drinking different wines and have a greater exposure to the behind the scenes. I often look for unpopular varietals and I am not afraid to say that I had a fantastic $10 bottle of wine.
Maybe the biggest thing is my wine knowledge had a sharp increase in the first few years, and continues.
Having worked in the restaurant business, I had a peek into the three tier system, but now I have a much greater understanding. Doing a wine segment on radio pushes me to share about wine from a high level and keeps me from getting to geeky. I think now I can simply communicate much better on the subject.
MF: What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?
SB: The people in general are pretty spectacular; kind, generous, fun, and they all like to eat and drink like kings. I am often honored with invitations to various dinners, events, places, and wines to taste.
I will never forget being included in a small industry dinner in Santa Barbara County at the famed Bien Nacido Vineyards. The rock star legend Jim Clendenen from Santa Maria Valley’s “ABC” was being honored. Those in attendance were other Santa Barbara County industry icons.
I felt like I got to be one of the lucky people in the stands watching an iconic sports moment. Sitting ring side to Ali vs. Frazier or like getting to see Lou Gehrig give his “I am the luckiest man alive” speech.
Jim Clendenen is one of the greatest industry people out there on many levels and that was a very special evening. He approached me and said “hey Shawn, good to see you.” I was in shock he remembered me with so many people he meets around the world. I shook his hand and congratulated him. I then told my wife I was going to have a shirt made that says, “Jim Clendenen knows my name.”
MF: Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?
SB: Maybe it was a hobby gone wild!
When you are working your way through school with ’61 Bordeaux’s and vintage Champagnes on the wine list at the restaurant you work, making $2.13 an hour, I guess I just fell into it.