Los Angeles is poised to become one of America’s top wine cities. Leading that charge, alongside bottle shops like Silverlake Wine, are a legion of young sommeliers that work floors from the shores of Venice to the hills of the Eastside. Here are five to know.
Bar Covell, Los Feliz
Augustine Wine Bar, Sherman Oaks
Good Measure, Atwater Village
Raised in the foothills of Santa Barbara, Matthew Kaner recalls family drives through the Santa Ynez Valley with fondness. He was mesmerized as the vineyards rolled by his car window. “That’s a calming thing for me,” says Kaner. “I love seeing that, even today.”
While at UC-Santa Barbara, a friend’s father introduced Kaner to wine. He shared everything from Mosel Riesling and grower Champagne to 19th-century Madeira and an eye-opening bottle of 1913 Seppeltsfield Port from Australia.
After cutting college short to chase his dreams of a music career, he worked at Santa Barbara’s Wine Cask bottle shop and cruised to Los Angeles to see concerts at night. He moved there in 2006, but his music plans fell through. So instead, he got a job at Silverlake Wine.
“I went from trying to fit into skinny jeans and be cool in the music world to the wine world, where people just accepted you if you cared about wine,” he says. “Your job is to make people happy and listen to what they’re looking for. You’re having an interaction, and it’s a communal thing. It’s an exchange that can change your life.”
In 2010, he joined forces with friend Dustin Lancaster to open Bar Covell in Los Feliz, arguably Los Angeles’s first proper wine bar. It offers 150 wines daily, but there’s no printed wine list. It mandates that critical conversation occur between server and guest.
“It’s listen, present, react, and if they like it, they buy a glass,” says Kaner. Success was immediate. “It was like lightning in a bottle.”
The duo teamed up with career musician David Gibbs in 2015 to open Augustine in Sherman Oaks. Among other offerings, it serves older vintage wines, listed daily on the chalkboard.
“The goal is to get people to try wines of the past and taste history,” says Kaner.
Two years later came the opening of Good Measure in Atwater Village, his first true restaurant, albeit with a wine focus. “I didn’t know if I wanted to, but I knew I had to open a restaurant,” Kaner says.
It serves wine country cuisine, he says, “inspired by all of the places we’ve traveled.” Running a restaurant has been a steeper hill to climb. “Any possible problem that can happen does.”
But he’s forges ahead, compelled to help those around him. “You end up wanting everyone to do well, and you always end up with new ideas,” says Kaner, who plans to launch a wine club called Solovin.com later this year. “There’s a social responsibility to bring up the people around you.”
In 2001, after he attended music and cooking schools, David Osenbach moved from his native New Jersey to Los Angeles, where he began to work front-of-house jobs.
In 2015, he became wine director at Providence, where Chef Michael Cimarusti prepares fish-forward, multi-course menus nightly.
“We are all tasting menu,” says Osenbach. “That makes it a little more challenging.” He’ll often pair up to a dozen wines for the full menu, which can be as many as 18 courses.
He must keep a balance of familiar, blue chip wines like Napa Cabernet or big-time Burgundy with more fringe varieties, like white Falanghina from Italy and Rossese, a light red that works with seafood.
“I feel like we need to have a little bit of everything,” says Osenbach. “It’s still my neverending quest to find the perfect red wine for fish.”
n/naka, Culver City
Raised in a restaurant/catering family in Bali, Indonesia, Jeffry Undiarto followed his sister to Los Angeles at 19. Immediately drawn to Japanese restaurants, he learned about wine and saké on the job.
In 2013, he started work at n/naka, where Chef Niki Nakayama serves a multi-course Japanese kaiseki, which can last up to three hours.
“One of the challenges is to make sure the pairings don’t overwhelm the palate or the person,” says Undiarto. “We don’t want to knock people over the head with a wine and saké pairing that will exhaust them.”
Interest continues to grow in its full saké pairing, which features numerous styles. Undiarto aims for affordability across the wine list, with a focus on whites from the Languedoc-Roussillon and Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
It was a challenge to come from a culture where alcohol is not popular, but Undiarto recognized that it also presented advantages.
“I went in with no preconceived notions, no preset pressure to be one way or another,” he says. “A totally blank slate, so to speak, and I think that’s enabled me to really be driven by my palate more than being influenced by other aspects.”
Scopa and Old Lightning, Venice Beach
Dama, Fashion District (opening soon)
A Los Angeles native, Taylor Grant started work at a small winery in 2010 as well as a wine shop before she embarked upon a fateful family trip to Europe. That’s where her “aha moment” came, while she overlooked the Côte-Rôtie.
Upon her return home, she became a sommelier at Osteria Mozza, and then took over the Italian-focused wine program at Scopa in 2014. There, she opened the back-of-restaurant Champagne and a cocktail speakeasy named Old Lightning in 2016.
Currently, she’s putting the finishing touches on Dama, a Latin-inspired restaurant in downtown Los Angeles’s Fashion District. While part of a growing legion of female sommeliers at prominent Los Angeles restaurants, Grant still gets quizzed by the occasional table surprised that a woman shows up to explain the list.
“My goal is to show them that I do know what I’m talking about,” says Grant. “Let me enhance your experience so you remember what a great time it was and come back. And hopefully, in the future, you won’t be surprised when a female somm comes to the table.”
Carbon Beach Club, Malibu
Though his stepmother managed a prominent restaurant group in his native Philadelphia, Veit didn’t learn about fine wines, spirits and cigars until he worked at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Denver during college.
In 2016, he became wine director at Norah in Hollywood, where he tended to a biodynamic list with a focus on sustainability. In December, he started at the Carbon Beach Club in the Malibu Beach Inn, where he serves a mix of celebrities, locals and tourists who drive down Pacific Coast Highway.
“The people [who work] here are very supportive, always thriving for knowledge and always wanting to get better at service every shift,” says Veit. “In our business, it’s about building relationships. I don’t want the person who comes in to spend $1,000 on back-vintage Hundred Acre. I want the person who comes in and says, ‘What are you drinking right now?’ ”