Creator of Vino50 Wines, Larger-Than-Life Sommelier, and “40 Under 40” Tastemaker
I met Andrew Stover when we were preparing to open DCanter A Wine Boutique back in 2013. My business partner and I were in search of unique, off-the-beaten path wines. Andrew definitely had plenty to show us when we came by his company’s Virginia warehouse for a tasting. We tasted what seemed like 100 wines — a number of which were from unbelievable places like New Mexico, Idaho, Arizona, Hawaii. What? At the time, it was crazy to think that these places could produce wines that actually met DCanter’s quality standards. But we found some gems that we continue to showcase at the shop.
Andrew has an incredible personality, always discovering what’s fun and new in American wine and beyond. He is the creator of Vino50 Wines, a highly curated portfolio of American wines, particularly from newly emerging wine regions in the United States. He is also a trained sommelier, working the restaurant scene and was named a “40 Under 40 Tastemaker” by Wine Enthusiast in 2015. Let’s get to know him a little more, shall we?
So, Andrew, tell us:
Me: How’d you get into the biz? What was your first job?
AS: First job was in media sales for WhereTraveler, a local city mag found in hotels/concierge desks. I worked with loads of restaurants on marketing programs to get hotel visitor business through their doors, so I was always exposed to new openings, chefs, and so on. Some of my work was with the Loudoun County Convention and Tourism Association, and with that brought winery visits. It was where I met Paul Breaux of Breaux Vineyards and ended up taking a part-time job in their tasting room a few weekends a month so I could learn more about wine. This is circa 2000/2001.
The interest in wine grew due to my interest in travel. Wine is all about places and people. I enrolled in various wine courses, which culminated with the International Sommelier Guild Sommelier Diploma Program over 2004–2006. I passed the 12-hour exam in 2006 and began offering marketing and wine consulting services to restaurants, especially those I knew from working in media sales while I was at Where. OYA Restaurant was one of my first consulting clients. I also helped build the programs for Extra Virgin in Arlington (now shuttered), Panache Tysons Corner (now shuttered), plus Smith Commons, SEI Restaurant and Sax Restaurant & Lounge, to name a few.
Me: What’s the hardest part about working in the wine world?
AS: It depends on which aspect of the business. If we just focus on sales and marketing, the hardest thing is the amount of competition. There is just so much wine out there and so many people trying to sell wine. It is often difficult to distinguish one’s self from the crowd, which is true for any winery or wine-focused company. What makes them different? What makes them special? I find that focusing in on the unusual regions and grape varieties is one means to stand out. Who wants to hawk yet another California red wine when you can hawk a standout red wine from Maryland?
Me: About a winemaker/winery you feel more people should know about?
AS: [That’s a] tough call. There are so many things I could insert here. How about we select a winery and then a wine region?
For winery, I think more people need to know about Caduceus Cellars and Maynard Keenan. Sure he’s a well-known recording artist/musician known in some circles but his wines don’t always get discussed as much as I feel they should. I really love his extreme passion for making wines in the high desert of Arizona and New Mexico, and his style is very natural and elegant. There is very little that he does to manipulate the fruit or the outcome of the wine. The wines just happen. Follow him on Instagram for lots of winemaking folly. (@puscifer on Instagram)
A wine region that’s very exciting to me right now is the south of England. The soil is almost a carbon copy of that found in Champagne, France, with similar climatic conditions. Heck, some vineyard sites in England are approximately 90 miles from the Champagne region. The quality of many of the traditional-method sparkling wines from England easily rival that of the best of Champagne and often with more racy acidity and finesse. England should be on everyone’s watch list.
Me: English wine? Noted! Okay, so when you’re not drinking wine, what’s in your glass?
AS: Beer of course! There is a saying many winemakers have: “it takes a lot of good beer to make a lot of good wine.” I enjoy a wide variety of styles, but tend toward more savory beers with a hoppy edge. I love the Atlas Rowdy rye from DC and Ninkasi Total Domination IPA from Oregon.
Me: What’s on your playlist these days?
AS: A mix of very random things, that’s for sure. If it’s not the Nike running mix curated by Spotify, it’s often music I’ve heard on various trips. Brooke Fraser brings me back to New Zealand. The Babasonicos brings me back to Argentina. El Sueno de Morfeo brings me back to Spain. Of Monsters and Men brings me back to Iceland.
Me: What’s your guilty pleasure?
AS: Chocolate and peanut butter. The peanut butter spooned right from the jar onto a basic everyday milk chocolate bar. Always Jif, it’s the best.
Me: What inspired your signature “duck face” look?
AS: [The] one [we] have renamed #winepimping face? God only knows where it first started but I always get accused of “aerating” other beverages besides wine. I’ve been caught aerating water in fact. It’s just a subconscious act. The real thrust of this “look” got going back with my good winery friend, Cara Early, general manager for Girardet Winery in the Umqua Valley of Oregon. Cara was visiting the area on a sales [and] marketing trip, and while in my car we decided to take a selfie. But not just any selfie, it was the duck face which we then dubbed the #winepimping face because that’s what we do — we pimp [out] wine! It’s been all downhill since, and now I am stuck being known as “that guy” with the duck face.
“We’re Crushing On” is a monthly series on Vyne, where we share the stories of tastemakers and people in the wine biz. Know of someone we should be crushing on? Let us know at email@example.com.
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