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Certified Sommelier Dennis Conger has an incredible new wine course that is worth celebrating. Wine Educator Dennis Conger’s D. Lobo Wine Education, a  program designed for wine novices, experts, and aficionados, teaches students the history, culture, and geography of wine while also offering applicable skills to those who work in the hospitality industry. Using his own experience and passion for wine, Dennis’s course boasts a personal touch that aims to strengthen Miami’s wine community and bolster the evolving industry. Unlike other wine programs, D.  Lobo Wine Education adapts to the needs of its diverse clientele as well as guides and mentors its students during and after they have taken the fantastic course. 

How did you get started in the Hospitality Industry?

In Spain, being a part of the hospitality industry is almost like a tradition in the family. You’re just following what your father did, what your uncle did, and what your grandfather did. It’s a career tradition inside of the family. My family and I always loved to go out and have dinner. Wine was the drink of choice for my mother. As far as I can remember, for example, when I went to my grandparent’s house, my grandmother always had a bottle of wine on the table, waiting for my grandfather and uncles. They would have a quick lunch, have three or four glasses of wine, and then go back to work happy, in a good mood. That’s just part of the culture and tradition in Spain.

How is the hospitality industry different in Spain than in the U.S.?

It’s not like in the United States where if you’re a waiter or a sommelier you can make really good money because you’re a tip-based employee. Over there, it’s one of the toughest jobs. Long hours, maybe one day off out of the week, five or six doubles…You don’t get a table gratuity. We don’t have that system. Spain is huge in gastronomy. It is huge in hospitality, the restaurant, and the hotel industry. There are tons of bars and restaurants on one block. Every family has a bar or restaurant that they have been going to for decades, in some cases, centuries. The oldest restaurant in the world is in Madrid. 

What inspired your move from Spain to the U.S.?

I was living back and forth between Thailand and Spain. I moved away from the restaurant business and got into the importation business. I would sell clothes, art, furniture, anything that I could get my hands on and make money from it. My parents thought about moving to Miami and brought the idea to me. Spain was falling into an economic crisis from 2006 to 2010. We all decided to come to Miami and start a new life. I fell in love with the city because it was a city evolving when it comes to gastronomy. A few years after I got here, a lot of celebrity chefs were starting to come here from New York, Washington, and Chicago. Then, Wynwood started developing and making a nice neighborhood with a nice ambiance of art. It was very trendy and modern. There was a fusion of all types of cultures and cuisines. I fell in love with that. I’m here today after 10 years. 

What was your journey as a sommelier?IMG 2418

I have always had a strong wine knowledge because I have always worked at high-end, upscale, fine dining restaurants. In these restaurants, you needed to know a lot about wines because these places had an extensive wine list or the guests required knowledge from the staff when it came to recommendations. In 2012, I joined a Spanish company called 100 Montaditos. It’s like fast food, an upscale concept with tapas and little sandwiches. I was a corporate manager. I got involved with wine at that point and little by little I found myself in the wine world. 

What are some key characteristics of being a sommelier? Discuss your role as a sommelier. 

I’m not just a sommelier. I am also a Wine Educator. I try to inspire upcoming sommeliers or just someone who wants to discover new wines. There are many knowledgeable people who keep their knowledge for themselves. They help themselves but they don’t help the industry. It’s a relationship. I build relationships with my clients and I keep in touch with them. I ask if they have questions and if they’re using what they learned in the class. The perfect or a professional sommelier should know that it is not about selling a specific wine or selling a glass of wine to make money. In my opinion, wine is the most perfect representation of a country, a region, and most importantly, the people who have lived and worked the land for centuries. These people are the ones who create the magic and transform those grapes into an amazing juice that you get to enjoy later with your family. For me, recommending or suggesting a wine to a table of guests is like taking them on a journey. Forget about how their day was and make them travel to the region and talk about not just the wine, but the history and culture of the region. That’s what I try to do. I try to take them on a journey and find the perfect wine that suits them, that will pair perfectly with their dinner, and that might make them say, “This is my favorite wine.” 

Tell us about D. Lobo Wine Education in your own words. 

We focus on providing excellent wine education. Our program is more than just a class or a course. It is full guidance through your career. It is mentorship. Miami was, and still is, a city that is evolving in gastronomy and wine. When you compare it to the wine world in New York, Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco, Miami is behind. These are much older cities that have a lot more culture. Here, I had trouble finding guidance and mentorship. D. Lobo Wine Education is a full mentorship that will guide you through the journey. 

How do you distinguish yourself from the other wine courses? What do you offer that is different? How is your program more personalized?

When you join these wine worldwide famous organizations, they just prepare you for an exam. You cannot call your teacher at one in the morning and say, “Hey, I have an exam tomorrow” or “I just got out of work and I have this question”. It’s hard to have that guidance and mentorship and this is what D. Lobo Wine Education offers. You can text us or call us at any time. We also work with what works for you. For example, I had a client who just joined a new restaurant and it’s a Steakhouse. My course starts with Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, and Piamonte and then we go on from there. My client said that he didn’t see a lot of those wines on the menu and that he was at an American Steakhouse in North Carolina. I started with California wine instead which wasn’t part of the course. I added it for him and gave him a class on the big wines of Napa Valley and introduced that because that is what was going to work for him. That’s what he needed to know to recuperate the money he invested in his education. I adapt to my client. You don’t see that in any other wine program. 

What else can be expected from these classes?

The classes include basic information about the most important regions and wines that you really need to know. In more advanced classes, we go through the regions of France, Italy, Spain, California. If you’re in Miami, we also go through tasting the wines, which is an additional charge. If it’s a virtual course, I send the client the list and we do virtual tastings. I strongly believe that you can love to read and learn, but when you bring in wines and start tasting as you’re learning, it’s more exciting and you get a better feeling of what the wine is. You’re not just listening, you’re living in the moment and experiencing the wine yourself. It is not just a class or a course about wine. I am teaching you how to sell the wine. I am teaching you what sells. I am strong in selling emotion and feelings. Create desire. I teach you to put all your passion and love into this and that is what will make you money. Sell history. Sell the emotions. My clients constantly receive information so they can keep training. Learning never ends. 

What’s a significant goal of yours?

My number one goal is to be able to educate people so they can earn a living. I want to motivate them and allow them to be financially stable. I want them to set goals and make more money every year to provide for themselves and their families. It’s all about creating a bigger and better industry. 

To contact Dennis Conger or to take his wonderful class:

Follow Dennis on Instagram @D.lobo_wine_education and @DennisCongerSomm.  

Website: Dlobowines.com

*Classes start at $65.00 and the Introductory Course (comprising 4-6 classes) start at $300.00.

Photos Courtesy of Dennis Corgen

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Nails and Wine with Allegra

We met up with Allegra Angelo at The Vanity Project nail salon to chat about her long-time twin obsessions: nails and wine. 

Hi Allegra, thank you for letting us enjoy this afternoon with you! Let’s start with the basics.  Tell us a little bit about your background:

I have been in the hospitality industry my entire life. I grew up in Connecticut and went to a New England prep school. When most kids were off at exotic summer camps, I landed my first summer job at Dunkin’ Donuts. It sounds silly, but since then I was hooked on the service industry.  Later on, when I was 23 and in culinary school, I discovered the pleasures of wine (I never drank in high school or college). I didn’t realize that wine overlapped with so many professions until I worked at Jean-Georges in New York City. It was there, working as a pastry chef, that I got my first peek into the life of a sommelier. I was intrigued.

I planted my seeds as a sommelier in Miami, thankfully interrupted by a four-year stint in San Francisco, a city and community that allowed me to sharpen my skills, not only in wine but also in business and technology. I was able to be the head sommelier and a manager for a restaurant group, work as a sales director and web editor for a national importer, as well as create my own wine and beauty pop-up. When I returned to Miami, I tried to open my own project but failed several times. Then, through a mutual friend, I was fortunate to meet Nick Garcia and Mauricio Garavno – the true enablers and creators of Vinya. It’s as if they had the recipe for the cake, then I came along with the rainbow sprinkles and the ribbons.

How did your fascination with nails start?

It might sound vain but I love anything related to beauty and self-pampering. I don’t know why, but I’m also intrigued by the beauty and wellness industry. It’s fascinating to me. When I was in San Francisco, I went to this salon in my neighborhood called Sugar Coat. I loved it so I’d go every Sunday, which was my day off. When you work in the hospitality industry, your day off is so sacred and precious, I wanted to pamper myself by getting a manicure and pedicure. Also, having my nails done and hands cared for gives me that added confidence to sell a good wine. So I just became obsessed with this place! 

What I learned from going to salons in San Francisco is that they are very gender neutral. Everybody goes.  Females, males, straight males…I even got my father to get a pedicure done! 

It’s not just about getting your nails done, it’s an escape, like going to the movies. It’s an “I feel good, happy, safe” place. The same feeling you get when you go to a hotel and jump in the bed or open that little fridge. 

I started going to more salons in San Francisco and it got me thinking that I wanted to pour wine in a salon. Since I was a frequent client at Sugar Coat and had met the owner, I started inquiring there.  The owner was traveling in Vietnam, but I met with the managers a bunch of times with a 3-page plan explaining my idea for pouring wine and selling tickets. They were confused by it and because the owner was absent it was a dead-end. I started emailing all the top nails salons in San Francisco, like 20 different salons. This was back in December 2015. The only person who emailed me back was the owner of a salon called Za Za.  She told me she had a beer and wine license, so we met up that January and started doing events together. Since I was obsessed with the name Sugar Coat, we called it Bottle Coat and sold tickets for a pedicure with wine.  We did these events for almost 2 years. It’s the same industry as wine. It’s hospitality, service, beauty. So I felt it was a workable connection. 

What was the best part of doing these events?

I think it was the refreshing factor.  I’m serving and engaging people with wine outside of the restaurant scene and it was so much fun to do! Here I am at the nail salon, acting like a sommelier, pouring people wine and getting people to buy wine. 

What were peoples’ reactions towards the event?

They loved it! I think it was the surprise of going to a nail salon and being poured a biodynamic Rose from Provence that you cannot get anywhere else or an amazing glass of Chablis or this tiny, little-known producer of Pinot, etc. In an unexpected way, I was connecting with the right clientele. These were people who were willing to pay $35 for a nice manicure, versus $20.  They were the same people who were likely to spend $20 on a bottle of wine, rather than $9.

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Would you say there’s a similar relationship between the nail artist and the client as there is between the bartender and guest in a bar?

It’s very similar in that you want to engage in a conversation, but not too much because you don’t want to interrupt what they are doing, especially at the moment when they are focused on their craft.  Still, you are having a conversation and getting to know each other and it’s a mutual, feel-good experience. 

Which wines are you drinking these days? Any specific region?

I try to drink a little bit of everything to keep my palate flexible and engaged, but lately I’ve been drinking a lot of regional Burgundy wines, like Bourgogne, Coteaux Bourguignons and Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, the whites or reds.  

What do you foresee as the next big trend in wine?

I’m hesitant about supporting trends because they are not necessarily indicative of quality. I am, though, passionate about the renewed interest in “fine wine.” This was a term that producers, importers, and sommeliers worked hard to promote in the 20th century, until trends like spritzes, canned wine, a booming cocktail culture, and even the natural wine movement shuffled “fine wine” to the back of the deck. To me, fine wines from classic regions like Rioja, Chianti Classico, the Wachau, the Mâconnais, Alsace, and Bordeaux (and so many others) are like your jean jacket, high-top Nikes, or black velvet blazer: critical essentials and reliably high-quality!   

Which are your go-to places in Miami for a nice wine-by-the-glass selection? 

That’s a tough one because we need more of them! There is a wide-open lane in Miami for restaurants that stand by fine wine and a professional sommelier who can drive sales and develop a contagious wine culture. To me, the places that truly “get it” are: Macchialina, the Genuine Hospitality Group, Le Jardinier, Fooq’s, Zuma, Fiola, Nave, Proper Sausages, and, mainly for their aggressive pricing model (not selection), the Hillstone’s Group.  

What are your favorite wine tasting events in Miami? 

I tend to lay low (I’m not fond of crowds), so my favorite is my wine-tasting group called “Les Punts.”

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What’s your opinion on the state of wine education and consumption in Miami?

In terms of the consumer, people tend to be addicted to information wrapped in a fun, engaging setting. In terms of the buyer or sommelier, we can’t solely rely on seminars or events to catalog knowledge; it’s up to everyone to push themselves individually, whether that means getting up 30 minutes earlier each day or staying up later each night to do the research and dive into the grit. Overall, the community is much more rich and layered than it was 5 years ago, but the top is an upward moving target; we’ve got a ton of work ahead of us if we want to be respected at an international level.

What are you currently doing? Where can we find you?

I am currently the sommelier of Vinya Wine. Soon you’ll be able to find me on the floor at Vinya Food and Drink, but for now you can find me at allegra@vinyawine.com Email me!

You’ve made strides in hospitality, nail and wine events and now you are starting Vinya.  What’s next on your agenda? 

I’d definitely like to write a book, but not a wine book. I started a draft three years ago and will finish it one of these days! It’s a fictitious, humorous coming-of-age story with elements of wine, food, and drink seamlessly woven into the novel!

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Amanda Fraga - Head Sommelier at the Genuine Group

Miami born-and-raised, Amanda Fraga grew up with a yen to travel and dive deeply into the mysteries of the foreign culture.  “It was not long before I discovered that wine was the one lens through which I could peer extensively into a variety of cultures, given its strong relationship to the soil and local cuisine,” she says.  “So I started developing a keen interest in wine, joined wine clubs and took some wine-tasting courses, all for the sake of enhancing my travel experiences. Eventually, I realized that wine was actually the industry I wanted to be part of.”

She currently oversees the wine programs and manages the sommeliers for all three restaurants from the Genuine Hospitality Group: Michael’s Genuine, Amara and Tigertail & Mary. 

What do you enjoy the most about being a sommelier?

A small part of it is the hours.  I habitually work best in the evening and would not at all consider myself a morning person, so the off-kilter schedule works for me. I also love that I get to talk to people about the thing I’m most passionate about.  I enjoy just being in the wine community, which has some amazing people who really bond over this shared interest. 

What would you say defines the role of a head sommelier?

It’s a difficult question as it ultimately depends on the group you’re working with. The way I’ve interpreted it is that it’s important to nurture the sommeliers within their respective restaurants and to constantly offer the support and guidance needed to help them devise a very cool list or to challenge them to be certain they are selecting the very best wines.  For example, if someone tells me they want to add a wine to the list, I might end up saying ‘I want you to spend more time looking into this because I’m not yet convinced that wine is the BEST wine for that particular price point.’ Because, at the end of the day, they are the ones selling wines on the floor and they need to be 100% behind the product they are selling.  In short, we push the program, train the staff to push themselves and increase sales. Primarily, ahead sommelier needs to ensure the program is viable and that the business is profitable.

What’s the focal point of the current wine list for each restaurant?

At Tigertail and Mary, we have an American-focused wine list and this is what I wanted it to be.  I was already working with the group prior to its opening and knew the owners favored Old World wines.  But I felt there were a lot of excellent American wines to be had at a favorable price point and this new restaurant was a great opportunity to bring them to light—also because they happen to pair very well with the menu.  In order to convince them to go this route, I presented them with the selection directly. At Amara, we have the South-American influence so we maintain that theme, which always presents great options.  But at Genuine it works so well not to have a theme.  Some days the menu swings more German and Austrian and other days we might explore lesser-known Hungarian wines.

What’s your personal favorite wine region and why?

It always depends on how you are feeling. Right now I’m really into the northern Rhone valley.  How that happened was because I watched the Somm movie and they mention the hill of Hermitage in the northern Rhone.  There’s this story about a man that lived on the top of the hill who didn’t want to be around people, kind of like a hermit, and that’s why it got the name ‘Hermitage.’ This came up in a conversation with my fiancé about this region and I think the story sparked his interest to go and investigate those wines.  So that’s been my exploration these days. Last year I was more about Austria and Germany. Those are what I consider my home base, but I guess I’m veering into northern Rhone right now.

What’s your take on global warming’s impact on the wine world? 

It’s really tough to see what’s happening and how quickly.  Ironically, some regions are actually doing very well with it—regions that needed a little bit of ripeness are finally getting it, that is.  So it’s interesting to see how normally cooler regions are now able to produce very drinkable wines. At the same time, it’s really scary because it’s happening so fast and might soon pose a real threat to production in southern regions. 

What would you say is your favorite food & wine combination?

I always love pairing expensive wines with something that is very simple, like fried chicken with champagne.  It’s fun to observe that good wine doesn’t necessarily require a luxurious setting and a $500 meal.

What is the best way for people to learn about wine without having to spend a fortune buying bottles?

What I always say to people is to get a journal and write about every wine that they taste and then Google it because there’s a lot of handy information available.  When you buy bottles, try to buy 2 or 3 from the same region so you can gain a more in-depth understanding. Also, Miami is doing an amazing job lately with wine events.  For example, Stazione has events on Mondays and Nave on Thursdays. We are doing some events as well, we started a friendly pairing competition with other sommeliers and they are sold out every time.  There are lots of budget-friendly opportunities to learn. 

What would you recommend for a “wine by the glass’ option here at Tigertail?

I would say the Chenin blanc from California.  Chenin blanc is originally from a region in France called Loire, so it’s really cool to see it coming from California and it’s actually very well made. Another great option would be the Barolo from Italy that I personally love.

Do you ever go for beers and cocktails? 

I love to go to Boxelder to try different types of beers. My fiance and I can easily go there and try 4 different kinds of beer or we often go to Bar Alter and have some cocktails and a soft egg and piece of bread. Those two are my favorites.

If you were a wine, what kind of wine would you be?

I know it will probably sound silly, but I think I’d be champagne just because it’s super-versatile so it pairs perfectly with almost any food.  I like to think I can get along with a lot of different personalities.  

Where do you see your path going in the future?

I love what I do right now and I want to continue to grow so I can take it to the next level.  I’m learning a lot more about the business side, for now, I feel I can put my passion and knowledge about wine together with business and grow that way. 

The Genuine Group is currently doing a fun pairing event through their restaurants called the “Last Somm Standing” styled as a friendly competition between Amanda and a guest sommelier. You will savor 3 courses and wines pairings by Sommeliers where the judges aka guests get to vote for their favorite pairing. All at an affordable price of $85. The next event will be at Amara Paraiso. on March 16th, at 7 pm. For tickets information visit https://amaraatparaiso.com/

You can also follow Amanda at @quepasamanda for daily wine recommendations, upcoming events and tips.

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