Cork Dork: The Advancing Sommelier Community in the Seattle Area Grows Like Grapes on a Vine

The high concentration of Advanced Sommeliers in the Seattle area could swell as early as next week.

The Seattle area has one of the largest concentrations of Advanced Sommeliers in the country, a certification administered by The Court of Master Sommeliers, an international certification body based in Napa. By next week, that number could increase as a handful of local sommeliers will be testing for advanced credentials at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Seattle. It will be the first time the test is administered in Seattle.

 “Seattle has one of the strongest Sommelier communities around,” said Hestia Cellars Sales and Marketing Director Cole Sisson, who will be among the sommeliers testing. “A lot of sommeliers around here are willing to help each other, share advice and test each other. I think it is competitive a competitive group but it’s a restrained competitive spirit.”

Currently there are over 10 Advanced Sommeliers in the Seattle area, including Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, Luke Wohlers and Christopher Tanghe at RN74, Nelson Daquip, Philip Dunn and Kevin Weeks at Canlis, Lisa Rongren at , Erik Liedholm at and John Howie Restaurants, Ole Thompson of the Heirloom Wine Group, Noel Doty of Zero One Vintners and Jake Kosseff of Wild Ginger and The Triple Door.

Next week up to another half dozen could the crowd of Advanced Sommeliers in the Seattle area, including Sisson, Chris Lara of John Howie Steak, Erik Segelbaum of Schartz Brothers Restaurants, Rina Bussell of Canlis, Christopher Chan of the Rainier Club, April Pogue of Wild Ginger.

Wine professionals study hundreds of hours every year in pursuit of the highest certification, Master Sommelier by The Court of Master Sommeliers. Advanced is the third of four levels in certification just under Master.

Candidates for Advanced are tested in three categories (service, theory and blind tasting) over the course of a week. Candidates must pass all three sections with a minimum score of 60 percent to earn Advanced credentials. Candidates must also pass this examination before they can sit the Master Sommelier examination.

Wild Ginger’s Kosseff earned the Advanced tag over four years ago. Now he’s training and mentoring Pogue to become the next Advanced Sommelier on his team of six sommeliers.

“To me it is sign that a wine professional is showing a commitment to do this,” Kosseff said. “This is a quick way for me to see that someone is putting the effort behind their dream. It helps me to know that they have a baseline knowledge.”

Hestia’s Sisson also relied on mentors, including Rongren when they worked together at Ray’s Boathouse and Lindsay-Thorsen, his former boss at the now defunct Cascadia Restaurant in Belltown.

“Watching them inspired me,” Sisson recalled. “Anybody at this level, it’s a passion. People at this level love wine.  They made an investment of time and money to do this. It makes you want to do it, too.”

Sisson said achievement Advanced status will give him more credibility to sell and promote his wines locally, nationally and internationally.

“From a sales perspective, it’s a level of knowledge that you attain that is valuable,” Sisson said. “I am better able to reference the wines of the world and bring perspective to (Hestia) wines.”

For Lindsay-Thorsen it’s personal as well as educational.

“I didn’t earn a college degree,” Lindsay-Thorsen said. “For me this was the equivalent of seeking higher education about something I am truly passionate about. It is a tremendously competitive field.

“Passing Advanced creates opportunity. It gives you credibility within the industry. It’s also a personal milestone. Pursuing the Master exam is something personal. It’s a goal that I set for myself.

Wine Pick of the Week: 2009 Brian Carter Cellars Oriana, Yakima Valley

started making wine in Washington State in 1980 when he made wines for Bellevue-based (at the time) Paul Thomas Winery. He has since made wines for Hedges Family Estate, McCrea Cellars, Washington Hills, Bridgeman and Apex Cellars. It wasn't until February of 2006 that he struck out on his own full time. The results are a portfolio of blends and limited production single vineyard-single varietal wines.

The 2009 Brian Carter Cellars Oriana is an aromatic white wine blend of 55 percent Viognier, 29 percent Roussanne and 16 percent Riesling sourced from the Yakima Valley. The seductive bouquet of peach, apricots, green apples and pear echo on the juicy palate. With crisp acidity to boot, this is a food friendly wine. The complexity and acidity of the wine complements a mild creamy cheese such as a cow's milk Brie.


Editor's Note: Previous versions of this story had Rina Bussell of Canlis incorrectly named. The story has been corrected.

Jessica Hamlin October 07, 2011 at 07:21 PM
I love that Woodinville Patch has a wine column! It's amazing to see how much more the wine country culture has grown the past few years. I lived there for a brief period a few years ago and my brother and some friends still live in the Seattle area, while I've returned to California and am the editor of San Marino Patch. But I love checking in on Woodinville Patch to see what's happening in my Northwest home away from home. Keep up the great work!


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