Vignettes of an evolving wine industry: Chatting with Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer

Successful sommelier Fred Dexheimer is enjoying his dream job, and it all began in a video arcade.

“I grew up in the video arcade my mother owned,” explains Dexheimer. “And my grandmother owned a golf course, with pizza and go-carts, which gave me good tools to be a people person and do different things in the entertainment industry.”

Later, working in restaurants, Dexheimer quickly found that knowledge of wine engaged his guests and enticed them to tip well for his expertise. He climbed the industry ladder quickly, working in (and later managing) wine cellars, bars and restaurants from Nantucket to New York, and ravenously reading wine literature to learn the trade.

“The wine community is awesome!” he insists.

Working with such an awesome community inspired Dexheimer to pursue certification as a Master Sommelier, which required dedicated study and completion of a rigorous testing program.

“I took the [first level] exam in 2001,” recalls Dexheimer. “It was very different back then. It is still very difficult [today], but there was a smaller community [in 2001], and no online stuff.”

The greater challenge began with the advanced portion of the program. In 2003, Dexheimer passed the advanced exam after being given 25 minutes to taste six wines blindfolded and accurately identify the grape blends, regions of origin, climate conditions, quality levels, and vintages. This was followed by a service exam testing practical skills like decanting and food pairing, and a theory exam.

“It was pretty darn tough!” Dexheimer declares.

The final hurdle to becoming a Master was even more difficult, but Dexheimer passed the last test in 2007, earning the honor of becoming the 79th Master Sommelier in the United States.

Dexheimer is now involved in numerous professional activities, including his role as Wines of Chile Educator. He delivers frequent seminars and travels to speaking and teaching engagements worldwide as an industry expert and a connoisseur of Chilean wine.

“There are infinite possibilities for [wine in] Chile,” Dexheimer urges, noting Chile’s “vast places to plant, with ongoing discovery of new places, and the fact that some vineyards aren’t even making wine yet.”

Dexheimer’s work as an educator supports Wines of Chile’s goal to promote third-tier wines in the 15-30 dollar range. “Those are the best wines now, varietal and New World styles,” he says. “Those wines are exciting!”

“People are really wowed once they taste Chile’s wines, so it’s important to get people tasting the wines,” continues Dexheimer.”They are blown away by one or two in every tasting.”

To ensure that Chile’s reputation for quality continues to spread with unrelenting momentum, Dexheimer is “hitting almost every part of the industry,” including forging professional relations with prominent wine makers, instructing terroir classes in six different US cities, forming a recent partnership with the Guild of Sommeliers, showcasing Chile’s “serious Pinot Noirs” and other promising varieties, and organizing Wines of Chile’s Blogger Tasting, held online with 50 bloggers and eight wine makers, including an online chat, twitter feed, and recipes for food pairing.

In his remaining time, Dexheimer also owns his own consultancy business, Juiceman Consulting.

Needless to say, he is a busy (but satisfied) Master Sommelier. However, Dexheimer still manages to relax and savor Chilean wine at his home.

“I like sushi with Sauvignon Blancs, tuna or hamachi” he says, “and Pinot Noir with burgers and lighter food. Sometimes I cook an amazing bolognaise with Carmenere, of course pairing it with the Carmenere.”

Dexheimer advises wine and food lovers that steakhouses in United States are “doing a great job of putting Chilean wines on lists; Cabernets, Carmeneres, Syrahs and blends go really well.” He also recommends “seafood with Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays from the coast with ceviches and seafood platters. And Latin food is great with Chilean wines.”

In the midst of such an exciting and mouthwatering career, Dexheimer is especially glad for opportunities to travel and make connections. “[The wine industry] is a great network of people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds and interests,” he says. “Getting into a room with chefs and sommeliers, you never know what books, music, films will be discussed, where they’ve traveled, what they went to school for.”

“This is an infinite learning experience,” he muses. “The more you know, the less you know, and the less you know you know. The journey never stops!”


By Gretchen Stahlman, written for Wines of Chile

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