Valerie Evans,, a certified sommelier, owns the Grapevine, a wine and cheese shop in Willow Glen. She first worked at the store as an intern one night a week. The internship eventually led to an account executive position with a local wine distributor. To feed her growing interest in wine, she completed the Professional Culinary Institute’s sommelier course, but she did not stop there. With the knowledge and skills she received from master sommelier David Glancy, she sat for the Court of Masters Sommelier Certification exam. She offers that knowledge to her customers at the Grapevine.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in wine?
I have a mortgage background, and I have been doing loans for 20 years. With the economy slowing down, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know anything other than finance. I wanted something to help me when the mortgage company picked up.
What’s good for networking is wine, so I looked at wine programs. I looked at New York, I looked at Greystone [the Culinary Institute of America campus in the Napa Valley] and I looked here in Campbell, and it was just amazing for us to have something so close. With all my studies, Campbell was the only one that would do the teaching onsite. So, that’s what happened with my career.
A little bit funny, prior to doing this I used to box. I was Golden Gloves champion in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, I lost in the semifinals. At that point, I thought I wasn’t done yet, so I decided to turn pro. I was supposed to have my first fight in 2007, but my doctor wouldn’t clear me, because I had a deviated septum. I got my nose fixed, and after that I realized, “I can actually smell!” For years, I could breathe only out of one side of my nose. That’s really how the wine thing happened: I turned pro, I wasn’t cleared and I realized I could smell. Then I fell in love with wine.
What makes your wine selection special?
I try to do small production, small producers. I try to look for 1,000 cases or less. I like obscure varietals—things that people have never heard of that I want to introduce to the shop. Our menu rotates weekly, because if we have these obscure wines on the shelves, customers are not going to know what they buy unless they talk to us. What better way than feature it on our menu so everyone can try everything on the shelves at one point in time. That helps my staff, and that helps our customers who are starting to trust our palates. Now they come in and they’re asking, “What’s new? What’s exciting?”
What wines are you passionate about right now?
At the very moment, I would say with the warm weather coming around, one of my favorites—I featured it in the wine club, and I can’t get past it—It’s called Terre Degli Svevi, 2008. It’s a blend of Gewürztraminer and Muller-Thurgau. It’s a blend from Basilicata, Italy, by Re Manfredi. You know how Italy is shaped like a boot? This is grown kind of where the arch is. It’s a dry wine, but it does have some honey notes in it. What’s fun is that the region where it’s from primarily specializes in red wines. So not only is it a blend of unique groups, but it’s grown in a region that isn’t particularly known for whites. It’s great with brunches; it’s easy drinking. I love Italian wines, and this is just one that I really enjoy right now.
What are some of the best wine values now?
We have some good wines from Chile and a lot of wines from the Iberian peninsula. Chile, Argentina, even Spanish wines are doing really well. Kathryn Kennedy and Martin Ranch are also local favorites.
What is your go-to wine for everyday, casual drinking?
The one that everybody recognizes that we enjoy is Kathryn Kennedy Lateral. It’s everyday drinking; most of the people enjoy it. It’s bordeaux style, so there’s a blend of merlot, cabernet, cabernet franc and petit bordeaux.
1389 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.293.7574.
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