The Traveling Somm: Pebble Beach Food & Wine

Pebble Beach Food & Wine

I’ve spent the last seven years training, tasting, traveling, studying, and working late nights as a sommelier, which in New York City is utterly fascinating, and usually exhausting! I’m enamored with the vast, constantly changing wine world, and love sharing it with whomever wants to listen. I often feel like I started yesterday, and yet, there are fleeting moments when I’ve felt like the expert in the room… depending on the room 😉

Pebble Beach Sabra Lewis
Outside at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic

Let me share one of my adventures in the wine world. Late April I was asked to be one of the many sommeliers to work the 10th Anniversary of the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic.  It’s a great honor to be summoned for this event as it is the destination for celebrity chefs, wineries, and ultra-luxe consumers. This long weekend is full of seminars, tastings, demos, lunches, and high-end dinners with ocean backdrops fit for the gods. Oh, and the after-parties!

In-between polishing literally thousands of glasses, and hauling cases of wine, there were some major highlights.  I’ll elaborate on two. The first was the opportunity to be on the sommelier team for one of the Bocuse d’Or dinners with the winning ‘Team USA’.  They made history as the first American team to nab the gold in this prestigious competition in Lyon earlier this year.  The dinner was to raise money for Ment’or.  Wines from Champagne Ruinart, Château Carbonnieux, Château Cos d’Estournel, Château Guiraud, Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, and Maison Albert Bichot were all served by a team of six first-rate sommeliers.  Gary “O” Obligacion, of the game-changer Alinea in Chicago, coordinated the overall service.  Yet the superstars of the show were Chef Daniel Boulud and Chef Thomas Keller, flanked by chefs Paul Bartolotta, Gavin Kaysen, Mathew Peters, Rabii Saber, and Philip Tessier.  It was an intense room of experts giving way to a lot of name-dropping!

Pebble Beach Chef Boulud Chef Keller
Chef Boulud and Chef Keller explaining their courses in the “Line Up”

While American value in time-honored experts declines, instead favoring the “Internet Expert,” it’s nice to be in a room full of actual experts. Their quiet and confident command of their respective positions are deeply ingrained. And by in a room, I mean line-up. “Line-up” is restaurant lingo for a pre-service meeting with the entire team.  It is here where kinks are ironed out and detailed choreography ensues. The calm-ish before the storm.  

Pebble Beach Bocuse d'Or
Bocuse d’Or dinner table overlooking the ocean in Pebble Beach

Not all line-ups are equal, and in my time of countless line-ups, this one certainly stands out. Remember, we are in Pebble Beach, in a remote mansion overlooking the ocean, in a room where Chef Boulud and Chef Keller are personally explaining their courses. Oh, and there are not one, but two Bocuse d’Or statues casually sitting on the counter adding to the already ridiculous backdrop. This is some sort of Culinary Olympics post-gold tour! Part of me is pinching myself as I listen to their words, as the other part is zeroing in on the task at hand.  The dinner moves along with all of the usual angst and anxiety by our perfectionist prosing, concluding in a momentous fundraising effort fueled by the elated dinner guests. But that line-up though! I’ll always treasure that moment in the room, listening to the giants, and grateful that I polished 10,000 glasses to get there.

The other moment I want to share, was the very last seminar of the last day of the event. I was to be on a three-person somm team for 15 choice guests, moderated by Jordan Mackay on the dear-to-my-heart topic of Champagne Jacques Selosse. For me, this is like hitting the somm lottery. Anselme Selosse (Jacques’ son) cuts straight to the heart of veteran sommeliers, fueling endless discussions on next-wave farming and wine-making techniques, with wines that are only tasted regularly by the fortunate few.  

Pebble Beach Selosse
Champagne Jacques Selosse tasting seminar

The somm lottery turns mega millions when my particular skill set is called upon that afternoon. Some of you may know that Champagne is my thing. I’ve spent the last couple of years aggressively traveling to the region, soaking up as much knowledge as possible, and draining my bank account on countless bottles.  My approach of education ‘in the Champagne trenches’ pays off this day. Jordan, our expert wine writer and panelist, needs a partner and the stars align for me to moderate the tasting with him. I am brimming with joy for having the chance to relay my intense Selosse devotion to the eager participants. In that intimate conference room, for a moment, I share the stage as an expert. I watch their eyes light up as they taste those other-worldly wines in succession with anecdotal context. My drained bank account is of zero consequence now, as I deplete every blissful drop.

Pebble Beach has a way of highlighting my personal belief that diving honestly with discipline into one’s passion forms the beginnings of an expert, and can create meaning in the unlikeliest of places. Sometimes it’s on a long plane ride, sometimes it’s the polishing of countless glasses, and sometimes it’s at the beach—Pebble Beach.


I’m a sommelier and wine consultant living in New York City. I have a background in performing as a dancer on Broadway, and I retired to drink wine for a living! Working as a sommelier in Michelin-starred restaurants, penning my own beverage programs, and traveling the world, have given me the voice that I have today. I write with a sommelier lens and insider view on all things beverage, food, travel & hospitality. Travel is my continuing education and I’m proud to share my adventures with you! 

-Sabra

Images courtesy of Sabra Lewis