A weekly interview series about the work and dedication of sommeliers from all around the globe. This week we interview Fred Dex MS. Master Sommelier Fred Dex is an entertaining wine tasting expert and educator. He’s developed over 30 Restaurant & Hotel wine/beverage programs. He has trained 1000’s of wine professionals and aficionados the skills, secrets, and systems to tasting wine like a master. He’s also a skilled speaker and collaborator to many of the world’s top
What inspired you to become a Master Sommelier?
I fell into the wine industry by accident, like many of us out there. When I first got into wine, I was 20 years old (underage in the US) and only had one book Alexis Bespaloff's "Complete Guide to Wine." I had no idea that a career as a Sommelier existed until I met Ken Fredrickson, MS, who was at the time training for the MS exam. Watching him taste, study, and draw maps lit me up! He was intense and I wanted to do exaclty what he was doing. From there on, the game was afoot. My plan was hatched to set out on the journey to becoming a Master Sommelier, even though I had no clue how to enroll and get started.
You've got this Rock ‘n Roll attitude. No prestigious labels but fun and dedication? Can you relate to this (and why/not)?
Aren't all Master Sommelier's Rock Stars? Haha! I've always been into all sorts of music, and I am an amateur drummer. I love wearing my favorite band's T-shirts and one day decided that I would just be myself and rock out in my own way. I started wearing band tees to tastings and then started wearing them to paid gigs with a sportcoat. The reaction is always awesome because most people love music and can relate to a guy in a cool rock shirt with no pretension, just fun and dropping wine value bombs! I even get stopped on the street all the time with random people saying they love that band and giving me the Heavy Metal horns-up \m/!!! In the past few months, I've developed the Drinking with the Juiceman "One Minute Wine Review" wine reviews that rock and working on Rock Your Wine World, where I interview and drink wine and educate musicians from all sorts of genres! It's gonna be pretty rad!
The path to becoming a Master Sommelier is tough. What were your biggest lessons during these years of hard work?
You know it's funny because I always felt that I had the wind at my back when I was studying and working through the COMS program. Yes, it's challenging to pass the MS exam or any of the programmings for that matter, but I always knew that I would do it. I just always had that mindset and was fortunate to have a ton of support from my employer at the time.
I would say the biggest lessons were to ask for help, find mentors and study partners, be humble, be kind, and create your own world of organization. You’re going to fail at certain points on the journey, so don’t get discouraged. Learn what you don’t know and find a system of study that works for you. Also, don’t burn yourself out, pace your studying so you don’t get completely mentally fatigued. To me, the hard work really started after I passed the exam because the paradigm shifts from studying, training, tasting, and practicing service to teaching, mentoring, and being a beacon for the industry.
You teach people how to (subtle) taste wine. One of the hardest skills to obtain. What is your secret?
Ha! Tasting is arguably the most challenging part of the exam. It took me three attempts to get that one! I still have no idea what transpired in those 26 minutes to this day!
The magic moment occurred when I was teaching the Intensive Sommelier Course at the ICC here in NYC. It's a 10-week course where students from all walks of life and worldwide to train for the COMS Certification. During a string of these classes where I saw students struggling with tasting wines' basic concepts. I really wanted them to break through their barriers and realized that I needed to teach tasting in a whole new way. I came back after some reflection with an entirely new approach and decided that I wanted to become the best "Tasting Coach" I could be with some new tricks for them to fast track their tasting skills. Over the past few years, I've really made an effort to make tasting the focal point of my business. This led me to the development of Taste Like a Master, an online tasting and coaching program I will be launching in the next few months! The first program is designed for Level 1 and 2 accreditations, then I will launch a more consumer-friendly version.
The world is changing rapidly. On a climate level, large parts of the world are having a hard time right now (for instance, California). What is your view on this matter? Do you think these problems affect your work?
My heart goes out to all the farmers, winemakers, and wineries that face these global challenges in these trying times. I always do my best to stay on top of what's going on in the wine world. So, I would say it doesn't affect my work per se so much as my friends and colleagues who make the wines.
What are the biggest changes the wine world is facing right now? Good nor bad.
Well, to be timely, this pandemic is wiping out restaurants, bars, and hotels. The career of Sommeliers/Wine Director's and the whole distribution channel is at a crossroads until a vaccine is developed. I've partnered up in a Bespoke Beverage Marketing company Master & Shaker, during this pandemic. Our goal is to help support wineries, importers, distributors, and buyers navigate through these times. A sizable amount of our work is geared to helping our clients in the ECommerce space focusing on video content. Once the on-premise world opens up a bit more, our plan is to help both suppliers and the trade find their footing and reconnect in a meaningful way in the "Next Normal". In addition to this, the wine world is going through changes in diversity and equality. There are huge strides to be accomplished to make this industry more united and equal for all.
Why is wine not just a product?
To be honest, many wines are products! And that's ok because there are many types of wine drinkers. I'm not one to wax poetic about the soil, the perfect vintage, and the bouquet, but I do encourage people to find wines with pedigree, a story, and healthy winemaking practices.
For what wine can we wake you up?
Oh man, WAY too many to name! I am an open book when it comes to getting excited about wine! My winelists are always very diverse and offer something for everyone with all styles and price points. I can get just as pumped over a tasty $10 by the glass quaffer as I do a fabulous $100+ Burgundy or Bordeaux! But that said, a perfect day is a Belgian beer for lunch, a pre-dinner glass or two of Champagne, the perfect bottle wine for whatever I am cooking, and a nip of Amaro at the end of the night!
Which wine house deserves more credits?
There are so many underrated wineries to name here. Many of which I have gone to bat for and have been my clients over the years. There are many great wineries in places like Chile, Sudouest France, Portugal, Campania, and Eastern Europe to name a few that definitely should receive more credit.I'd say keep an open mind, ask questions, and find those little gems hidden in plain sight, even in big regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa etc…
Which Master Sommelier should I interview next, and why?
Like I've mentioned before ; Ken Frederickson, MS! He is a trailblazer in the wholesale world. He's an entrepreneur who has started multiple successful businesses and now owns Tenzing in Chicago and High Road Spirits. He also just published a wine book, "Wine A Beginner's Guide." You need to interview him...he's a badass!
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