SAI recently caught up with SAI/ Apicius International School of Hospitality alumna Devin Parr. Devin was recently named one of the Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers by Wine Enthusiast and is currently the Wine Country Marketing Director for Visit Temecula Valley.
What have you done since studying abroad (career-wise)?
It would probably be easier to ask me what I haven’t done (in wine) since studying abroad! Since I left a successful career in PR to move to Florence to attend Apicius, I was eager to build my career in wine quickly as possible when I returned to the United States. So, I basically put myself through wine industry boot camp upon my return. In the space of the ten or so years since I completed the wine program at Apicius, I have schlepped a wine bag through the streets of Manhattan as a wine sales rep for an Italian importer and distributer, run several wine stores in New York City working as a wine director and general manager, launched a wine events and consulting business called “Champagne & Hotdogs,” served as a program director for a media company in the beverage space called Bottlenotes, become marketing director for Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, moved at least four times, had two babies and launched a blog called “Tasty Juice, Please,” documenting my misadventures in wine and parenting.
How has studying abroad in Florence affected you?
There are few things that open the mind and build confidence, self-awareness and thick skin more than travel. I can honestly say that I owe most of the passion, adaptability and grit that I apply not only to my job but to my daily life to my experience living and studying in Italy.
It also gave me a really deep knowledge of Italian wine regions and grape varieties, which has informed my work here in Temecula. Not only do Italian grape varieties thrive out here, Temecula Valley has also been playfully likened to Tuscany by consumers and media, including USA Today and the LA Times.
What are some of the most important lessons you learned abroad?
I learned the real meaning of hospitality – Italians do this better than anyone on the planet. A tiny, complimentary glass of Prosecco goes a LONG way when you’re forced to wait for a table at a restaurant even though you made a reservation. I also learned to trust my instincts when it comes to wine, and not be afraid to share them. I learned if you want to learn Italian, speak it, even if you don’t know how. Italians will make it very hard for you to learn the language, because they all speak English, and do so willingly. It’s easy to get lazy. Lastly, and most importantly, I learned the meaning of the phrase non rompere i coglione. I’ll leave the translating up to the reader but let’s just say it’s one of my favorites.
What was your first memory of wine?
I was 14 years old and angry. Not at any one specific thing, but in that general way that teens just are. So, it should come as no surprise that the whole business of wine tasting seemed like a bit of a sham to me at the time. When my stepfather joined my family the year before – the cause of much of my teen angst – he brought with him a deep love of and respect for wine. He could very well have been Italian, not just for his appreciation of the stuff, but also in that he felt it was important to allow us to enjoy it with meals at a young age.
Sitting one night at a restaurant with my mother and stepfather, we went through the usual wine ritual – selection, presentation, uncorking, pouring, swirling, sniffing, solemn nodding in approval, observation about nuances of black currant, it needing to open up, etc. Like all 14 year-olds, I knew everything, so I felt quite righteous in sharing my hard-earned opinion of the whole production: that it was bogus.
My stepfather had spent many a night trying his hardest to impart the knowledge he’d gleaned from a lifetime of international travel and here I’d dismissed it all with one heartless adolescent veto.
24 years later, I think back to this dinner and smile to myself, recognizing it for its importance in my life. As I count down the days to this year’s SommCon and my stepfather and I regularly exchange Wine Enthusiast articles like two kindred wine geek spirits, I am thankful for that moment from the past, because, without it, I would never know how far I have come.
What was one of your favorite memories while studying abroad in Florence?
The access to wineries and unique tastings was unparalleled – even to this day and how far I am in my career. I attended Vinitaly, Anteprima Chianti Classico and Benvenuto Brunello, all within my first year in Florence. Most wine professionals dream of being able to go to those events.
One memory stands out above all others. I recall a tasting at Castello di Fonterutoli of barrel samples of Sangiovese from 5 different plots within the same vineyard. Sipping each one, it was like we were tasting completely different wines from entirely different regions altogether. This experience blew my mind and completely opened my eyes to the power of the earth and unique meso- and microclimates to shape the flavor and character of a wine.
I also cherish the memory of (Apicius wine instructor) Massimo Coppetti telling me that Osso Buco and Amarone was a terrible idea for a food and wine pairing… and proving him wrong.
What advice would you give to young people who are trying to get into the wine business? Educate yourself – there’s a lot to know about wine, and it’s an ever-receding finish line… which makes it an incredibly exciting industry! But to have a foundation of wine knowledge – the basics on how it’s made, how to taste, key wine regions and terminology – will help build confidence in an often intimidating business. Taste and smell everything. Network, network, network. Be willing to help others. And never, EVER forget that wine is meant to be a product of pleasure. It should be fun, not to mention inspire great conversation and an exchange of ideas and excitement. So often we make it this stuffy, scary product. We need to do more to remind ourselves that the enjoyment of wine, while based in history, science, art and tradition, is also highly subjective, which is part of its allure.
What’s a typical day for you?
6:30 AM: Get rudely awoken by a child or a dog. Change diapers, make breakfasts, pack lunches, break up toddler wrestling matches, hair & makeup.
8:15 AM: Head in to work, coffee & snacks in hand.
8:30 AM: Arrive at office. Get sassed by coworkers.
8:35 AM: Check emails; respond to all pressing inquiries. Sip coffee. Scan news.
10:00 AM: Meet with team. Discuss upcoming deliverables & milestones. Brainstorm cool ideas for marketing & PR campaigns.
11:30 AM: Meet with President & CEO of Visit Temecula Valley. Review upcoming projects & key marketing initiatives.
12:30 PM: Crank on work projects – media relations, branding initiatives, social media, advertising campaigns, events & offsite tastings, budgets, board reports, winery communications, etc. Squeeze in lunch at desk. On lucky days, enjoy lunch among the vines at one of the many restaurants within Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country.
2:00 PM: Get out in the field – meet with wineries, conduct media visits, taste new releases, network.
3:30 PM: Afternoon tea & snack. Team check-in. Play quick round of office Catch Phrase.
4:30 PM: Review emails & ensure all deadlines are under control. Review remaining tasks for the week. Read Wine Industry Advisor.
5:15 PM: Head to the gym to blow off steam & stay sane.
6:15 PM: Unless I’m attending an evening work function, crack a bottle of wine (or take the glass of wine my very intuitive husband has pre-poured for me). Referee two belligerent siblings. Make and enjoy dinner and the evening with family.
10:00 PM: Bring what’s left of my wine to bed, finish any pressing work tasks, read, write in my blog, scroll through social media, decompress.
11:30 PM: Guided meditation…ZZZZ
Thank you for sharing your story, Devin. We are so proud of you!
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