Diane McMartin ’11, Wine Consultant
Certificate: Accelerated Wine and Beverage program (AWBP)
Campus: St. Helena, CA
When it comes to talking wine, Chain Bridge Cellars Wine Consultant Diane McMartin ’11 has the floor.
A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America’s Accelerated Wine and Beverage program (AWBP), Diane loves to use what she learned to recommend the perfect wine. “My favorite kind of customer,” says Diane, “is the one saying ‘I’m making this recipe and need to find a complementary wine for under $20’. For me, the most fun is being on the floor helping customers. We specialize in wines from $8 to $20 and the customers know if we put a wine on the shelf, it’s going to be good. They trust us.”
Trust is crucial to the success of Chain Bridge Cellars, an independently owned store nestled in the lush rolling hills of McLean in northern Virginia. It’s what keeps customers coming back and asking Diane to help guide their purchases.
Tasting wines and selecting which wines to add to the inventory is a big part of Diane’s job. “A fellow employee and I are in charge of all the white wines with the exception of white burgundy. On an average week I’ll have 8 to 10 tasting appointments,” she says. Tasting is a key aspect of the AWBP curriculum that provided Diane with a strong foundation for her profession. “I think the real strength of the program is that the professors really teach you how to be a good taster and how to do it properly. They taught us how to taste in a very structured way, and we did it over and over until it became second nature. Now that I’m in the industry, I see how valuable it is to have that training.”
A highlight of that training for Diane was the quality of her teachers. “All of the instructors were great. I worked mostly with Robert Bath and Christie DuFault,” she recalls. “Professor Bath encouraged us to take the Court of Master Sommelier exam right after the exams for our program because he said you’ll never have another opportunity with the information so fresh in your minds. Professor DuFault is a Francophile and I studied French in college so we really connected.”
Diane cites the strong curriculum as another major strength of the program. “The wine classes were all great; they touch on some subjects I knew but expanded on them with great detail,” she says. “Other classes exposed me to things I wouldn’t have been able to dive into on my own like the Spirits class. Now I know what I’m looking at and talking about. I also really liked the Non-Alcoholic Beverage class. I’ve always enjoyed coffee and it was really interesting learning about the history. The field trips were amazing and really informative.”
Diane uses her AWBP experience when planning wine dinners and classes for the store as well. “We partner with local restaurants and our importers to host dinners matching wines to a specific menu. It’s a fun way to connect with our customers,” she explains. “I also teach classes like pairing wines with a variety of cheeses and wine tasting 101 for people who are new to or just beginning to enjoy wines.”
The drive to increase her knowledge and experience keeps Diane busy and has led to some exciting travel opportunities. “I recently returned from a trip to France. The owner of Chain Bridge Cellars goes on a trip to Burgundy once a year with one of our importers and I was able to go. It was the first time I’ve been to that part of the country. We did a lot of tastings—two producers a day and about three hours at each vineyard. We tasted most of what they made for 2011 still in barrels and 2010; some in tanks, some in bottles; and some 2009 vintages. It sounds like a lot of fun but it was hard work.”
While the occasional globetrotting is great, Diane is happy to be back in her home state of Virginia. “It’s nice to be close to family again after living away for nine years. I like to cook and so does my dad so we enjoy spending time together,” she says. But wherever she goes, she’ll always remember her CIA experience.
“I look back fondly on my time at Greystone. The AWBP material is extremely well-done and I still refer to it on a regular basis. I’m grateful for something I learned at the CIA almost every day.”