Rachel Driver Speckan | City Winery

5 Questions with Sommelier Rachel Driver Speckan

Hi I’m Rachel Driver Speckan and I’m the beverage director and wine education director at City Winery in Chicago. We are a functional winery with a full time winemaking staff as well as a restaurant, music venue and event company. All things, all the time.

Q1: What does the word “sommelier” mean to you?

A sommelier first and foremost means that you’re a professional that works with wine and food pairing. In addition to that I feel like it is a comprehensive and full role in the food and beverage industry, so knowing both the front end and back end of the business. Doing fabulous and wonderful things like tasting with winemakers and hosting events but also the back end things of running food when necessary and the back back end of things like running the cellar and making sure that your cost of goods and your budgets and inventory are all in line as well.

Q2: How many sommeliers are on your team and what are their roles?

We have 5 dedicated sommeliers at City Winery, those are all full-time, we also have about 3 part-time and then all 40 of the front of house staff are trained in wine. I also have a wine administrative assistant that is our lead sommelier so she is kind of a leader in our educational things both for the staff and for the public and helps coordinate events, as well as does budgeting with me. We also have somms that are involved in inventory or more of the event coordinating roles as well, but 5 dedicated on the floor somms selling wine every day, all the time.

Q3: What is it like being a somm and a mom? #SommMom

This year I had a son and he is 9 and a half months now, but I have been working full time, I just took 8 weeks off, so it’s been kind of full throttle full time somm full time mom, with travel for my educational role with the company as well. Balancing that is tough, there is not a lot of sleep involved, and the demands are very very different to be on in the somm world and then going home and being on in the mom world has been really interesting. There is a lot of color and vibrancy in all of that, so it means less sleep but there is all sorts of excitement and it kind of augments everything and makes it a little bit more important to excel at work and be good at it and be very efficient so that I’m getting things done and getting home as soon as possible. It means that I’m doing a little less weekend hours here, but those are full of at home times and sometimes I can make the two coordinate. Baby Emerson did come out to Napa Valley with me for a week and did the somm baby thing so he’s totally on board.

That’s a lot to handle – how do you blow off steam?

So it’s been about 15 years now that I’ve been playing a sport called Ultimate Frisbee, which is a really intense physical game. It’s non-contact but there’s a lot of contact with the ground and other people on accident., but it’s a lot of running around. I play women’s ultimate Frisbee. I am the founder and currently helping the Spicy Tuna women’s team, which is a club team here, get off the ground for their 6th year in a row. And then this summer I’m also playing on a masters team, which means your an old lady basically, so I’m going to nationals playing with a team called Hot Flash which is kind of a Midwestern conglomeration of Iowa, Ohio, Chicago and Michigan and that should be a really fun time. And then we also play on the beach and there is a very robust Ultimate community in Chicago that plays with kind of a league, it’s co-ed, and it’s a lot of fun and it’s just a good way to blow off the steam. A lot of people that I work with here I have met in the beverage industry, so there is a lot of beer and wine folks out there so it’s kind of an extension of work so there are a lot of somm ultimate players out there.

Q4: What did you drink last night?

Last night I drank the Milton Chenin Blanc from New Zealand. It is from Gisborne Bay, which is on the North Island kind of between the Bay of Plenty and the Bay of Poverty. I love Chenin Blanc so much and this is a new acquisition for us. It was the 2011 vintage from a really old vine Chenin vineyard in the Gisborne area, and it’s super rare to find old vine Chenin Blanc that’s done in a dry, interesting style, it’s really textured and plump but really really racy and super complex and interesting and I paired that with my foraged morels that I found in the last couple of days, it was delicious. There was a little bit of funkiness in there.

Q5: Food and wine pairing not to be missed?

So this is a little bit off menu, for my favorite part of it, it’s a subset of a dish. We do a flank steak with Shishito Peppers and my favorite part of it is the Shishito Peppers with our current rosé selection. Right now I’m really digging on the Ameztoi which is a Spanish Rosé Txakoli with crazy face ripping acidity it’s really kind of prickly but also full fruit and plump and fleshy, but also super tart and aggressive so that plays really really well with kind of the smoked, cindery Shishito, that’s pretty mild, what, 1 in 10 is spicy, but it really echoes that green pepper note because the Hondarribi Beltza which is the red grape in there is very very vegetal and they really play off each other nicely so it’s kind of like smoky and salty and acidic. It’s all wonderful together.

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