The wine industry in Miami is booming. These eight talented women are at the forefront of the industry’s rapid transformation.
Miami might not be a wine-growing city, but oh is it developing as a growing wine city. Known for its cocktail-driven menus and the infamous bottle service, Miami has finally given into adulthood and realized that nobody likes a nasty hangover, but that many, many people are willing to spend big bucks on collectible wines- more about those people later.
Although the market is still in its infancy compared to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, Miami’s wine scene is helmed by talented sommeliers, restaurateurs, distributors, and educators, many of which are female. Here are eight women shaping Miami’s palate and appreciation for wine and turning The Magic City into an opportunity market for wine producers from all over the world.
Macarena Carrillo and Mariel Dalmau
Macarena Carrillo and Mariel Dalmau are the women behind the wine program at Fooq’s in the heart of downtown Miami. The bistro, which has been praised for its ever-evolving grower Champagne list, is a concept by David Foulquier, who has been an active mentor for Macarena and Mariel during their careers.
Affectionately known as Maca and Mari, this dynamic duo is also behind Grape Crush by Natty Times, a natural Wine Club offering approachable, zero-snobbery events with the goal to open the door for people to learn about different wine-growing regions, grapes, and styles.“Traditional Wine Clubs are associated with brown paper bags and tastings, and what we are doing is still a hub for people who have similar interests, but we take it the modern route,” said Maca. “We want people who aren’t in the industry and people who enjoy drinking wine to join the conversation because knowledge is so important.”
“The Miami clientele relationship with the sommelier is improving, and people are asking questions,” said Bianca Sanon, general manager and sommelier of popular eatery Boia De. Bianca is one of those people trying to make the wine experience approachable and helping guests step out of their comfort zone. After working in the wine industry in New York, Bianca jetted off to Europe, where she lived for three months and visited over ten wineries. This transformative experience helped her gain a deeper appreciation of the true essence of winemaking. French winemaker Dominique Andiran was instrumental in her understanding that wine is farming, and low intervention winemaking practices produce exceptional bottles.
It takes one visit to Boia De to realize that wine is not an afterthought, and Bianca’s alive wine list is built to challenge and delight guests palates. Her service approach? Asking clients what they’re in the mood for. “There’s so much wine that exists in the world; I choose wines that are different but still delicious, not different for difference’s sake,” she said. Emphasizing the importance of the somm/guest interaction, Bianca helps educate her staff. She encourages them to take two bottles a week to be able to explore new styles and learn about each unique story behind the label. Boia De’s 80-bottle wine list changes often, but there are a handful of selections that have stayed in the menu since the restaurant opened its doors five months ago– all within the realm of low intervention, certified organic, biodynamic or natural. Her stance on natural wine? “I’d like to dispel the myth that all natural wine tastes like vinegar.”
Another prominent supporter of the natural wine movement is the owner and wine director of restaurants NIU Kitchen and Arson, Karina Iglesias. Karina has carved her own niche by staying true to her palate and sharing her passion for wine-growers who care about issues like climate change and honest farming.
Karina was born in Buenos Aires, lived in Madrid, and made Miami her home 20 years ago. If answering phones, taking food orders, selling wines, and even expertly deboning fish seem like second nature for her, it is because she’s been in the industry for, as she puts it, “her whole life.” For Karina, the most gratifying aspect of her career in wine is to present a product she believes in, explain it, and ultimately craft a positive experience for her guests, or at the very least, expose them to something new.
What started as a basic wine program has grown into over 100 references and an ever-changing list that gets updated every two to three days. Karina’s wine list is a true representation of her palate and her belief that wines shouldn’t overwhelm, but rather enhance the food. She encourages diners to drink, try, taste, explore, go to tastings and, talk to people.
Ashley Stanzione, co-owner of Stanzione 87 and Ash! Pizza Parlor has created the perfect avenue for wine conversation. Every last Monday of the month, Stanzione 87 hosts a natural wine and pizza party. No reservations? No problem! As Ashley puts it, “everyone is invited, and once you walk through the door, I like everyone to feel like family.” The events feature two or three wine educators and sometimes guest Chefs and allow attendees to learn as much or as little as they feel comfortable in a non-pretentious environment. “Three years ago, Stanzione switched to a natural wine program, and people started to get a little more curious,” she said when asked about the natural wine trend. “I relish in the whole pageantry of the experience, the myriad of emotions a guest might feel, first puzzled,’hmmm none of these names look familiar,’ then delight ‘I’ve just tried something fantastic.”
Although slowly but surely Miami is getting its share of wine professionals and businesses, but the city could not progress in this field without knowledge, a niche that Alessandra Esteves set out to conquer.
The Co-Founder and Director of Wine Education for the Florida Wine Academy, located in Downtown Miami, might now be a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and hold respected credentials from The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (DipWSET) and French Wine Scholar (FWS), but about ten years ago she was a Corporate Lawyer who lived in Brazil, Germany, and Guatemala. Alessandra took a liking for wine and started a wine blog and taking courses from The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). She quickly realized that many people from South America had to travel extensively to obtain their certifications and in early 2016, established the Florida Wine Academy as a hub for easy access to wine education. “Miami is a great city with a great climate and people from all over the world. This presented a market opportunity to teach courses to a growing list of students from Guatemala, Argentina, El Salvador, Venezuela, and more,” she said.
Until recently, the Florida Wine Academy was the only provider in the Americas offering Spanish WSET courses. Big deal. Huge! Currently, students can be certified up to level three with courses, being taught in Spanish and English, and Alessandra, who is a native from Brazil, also teaches classes in Portuguese. Alessandra recalls that the 2016 Miami wine scene was lackluster, and this year alone, the city has welcomed prestigious events from Wines of Australia, the Italian Trade Commission, the Raw Wine fair, and James Suckling’s Wines of the Andes. Suckling will also return to Miami in January 2020 with Great Wines of the World.
While Alessandra is deeply focused on education, she’s also a big advocate for wine accessibility. “I had to purchase wine from Jura for one of my courses and couldn’t find anything locally, so I had to order it from out of state,” she said. Frustration, in this case, led to innovation and 305 Wines was born. The online shop highlights small producers and hard to find wines while also providing consumers with competitive pricing. 305 Wines will soon offer Wine and Champagne Clubs. For $99 per month, Miamians will have access to three to four grower Champagnes with tasting notes and a wealth of information included in the package.
Every year, the Florida Wine Academy also celebrates its love for bubbly with Champagne Week. A weeklong celebration with a strong educational backbone that can get even the average Joe talking Dosage. And if that wasn’t already impressive, Alessandra is also hosting Vino Summit for the second time next March 8-9, the first conference dedicated to wine professionals in the South East of the United States.
Remember my earlier mention of the wine collector? It turns out that wealth and status symbols dictate a big part of the Miami wine market and have a significant influence on what gets purchased. Allison Slute, National Sales Director for the Hirsch Collection, is bringing something new to Miami, a classic portfolio with well-made wines that resonate with her on a soul level and come from producers that have a story to tell.
The Hirsch Collection imports fine wine from Europe with a focus on smaller producers. Their current portfolio is made up of 24 wineries, mostly from France and Italy, a few from Germany and one Canadian. Allison knows a thing or two about starting from scratch in a unique market with lots of competition. She moved to Florida five years ago with no connections to the market, no direct sales experience in Miami, and a portfolio of producers that nobody had ever heard of. “Florida is the third-largest state in terms of wine sales, and a good chunk of that is imported wines, so there’s a lot of competition, and we’re just little fish in a really big pond.”
Within a few years, Allison has managed to place her wines in top-quality restaurants, including Alter, Michael’s Genuine, Macchialina, and MC Kitchen, to name a few. What she wishes for? More independent retail wine shops. “Here in Miami, unfortunately, we are starved for high-quality boutique retail, but I think there’s enough of a market to support it,” she said. She’s an advocate for small businesses doing big things like Proper Sausages, Wolfes Wines, Lucio Wine Shop, Sunset Corners and Wine Watch.
Frankie pulls out a map from Greece. Ever heard of Malagousia, a vine saved from extinction and producing aromatic white wines? I had no idea. Moschofilero grown close to Tripoli? No clue. And that’s what Frankie Saunders does; she’s the perfect link between little to unknown varietals and a newly-developed thirst for “the exotic and new,” and yes, she carries a map of Greece everywhere she goes.
As the Southern US Portfolio Manager for Cava Spiliadis, Frankie focuses on wines from Greece, Cyprus, and, most recently, Lebanon with the representation of Sept, a biodynamic winery in Neha. With a deep interest in vineyard management, producers, and styles, Frankie represents wine regions often misrepresented in a market that’s shifting its attitude towards wine. She credits Chefs and the culinary industry and farm-to-plate movement for Miami’s openness to trying wines that are not the same jam and jelly and encourages sommeliers to foster collaboration within the industry and support small producers breaking into the market.
Her love for indigenous grapes and a new wave of winemakers re-discovering forgotten varietals is as contagious as her big laugh. While Miami is still developing as a wine city, Frankie believes that with education and collaboration, it could become the next New York, Chicago, or DC for the wine industry.