“Everything we do is customized. Our tastings are private with only one group attending at a time, and each is personalized according to the groups’ likes in terms of varietals and price.”
Kerrin Laz knows wine. The former wine director at Napa Valley’s gourmet purveyor Dean & DeLuca now oversees her own eponymous tasting rooms in Yountville and at CIA at Copia, each offering customized, by-appointment-only, private wine tastings for the most discriminating palates and enthusiastic wine lovers. Considered a California wine authority and courted by every new winery hoping to make an impact in the industry, Laz recently added ‘vintner’ to her resume. Her LAZ wines are served at some of Napa’s most revered restaurants.
Essentialist: When did you first become interested in wine and the wine industry?
Kerrin Laz: When I was in college there was a great James Beard nominated restaurant called Crook’s Corner known for its new southern cuisine, specifically their Shrimp & Grits. I started working there for Sunday brunch, mostly so I could partake in the family meal and get the chance to try everything on their menu. Thus began my love for food and then wine.
E: How did you know it was time to leave Dean & DeLuca to start your own tasting room(s)?
KL: While I was at Dean & DeLuca, owner Leslie Rudd became an incredible mentor, ally, and friend. When he decided to sell, we met for a great dinner at his restaurant Press, and between our laughter and tears, he told me that if ever there was a time to start my own company, it was now. He told me that my wine knowledge had grown beyond Dean & DeLuca and that I no longer needed the brand to help my career. He said that I would be even more successful on my own. I took his advice, and haven’t looked back since - other than to remember mistakes of the past so I don’t repeat them, and to remind myself how fortunate I was to be involved with great brands and visionaries like Leslie.
E: Describe for us your approach to wine tasting. What makes a K. Laz wine tasting experience memorable?
KL: Everything we do is customized. Our tastings are private with only one group attending at a time, and each is personalized according to the groups’ likes in terms of varietals and price. We ask guests on which winery mailing lists they are active, and what wineries they’ll be visiting to give us insight into style preferences. We’ve hosted more than 500 tastings and we haven’t offered the same tasting twice which is incredible. We also have a more macro-level approach on wine. While it’s important to know what you’re tasting, even more important and interesting is the story and people behind the wine and was happening during a particular vintage, how droughts affected the harvests, what trends are taking place in the wine industry and wine country today versus decades past. We talk about the importance of farming and the differences and benefits of estate grown grapes versus those sourced from grower vineyards. We discuss my theory on old guard and new guard ‘cult’ wines. We keep it interesting while also acknowledging that guests are here to have a good time, taste great wine, and enjoy their trip to Napa wine country. But I know that they love leaving our tastings knowing something new and something that they can share with their wine drinking friends.
E: You also curate wine collections for some of the country’s biggest names. How have you gained the trust of these connoisseurs?
KL: If someone tells me a wine or two that they like, it is easy to discern their palate and what they might enjoy. When we build a wine cellar for a client, we know exactly what wines will be in their wheel house. We also value our relationships with our clients the way we do with our winery partners. We don’t talk about pricing or allocations or who does what with us. As I always say, we keep all of that information in the vault.
E: You started a successful Napa Valley fundraiser (Inspire Napa Valley) to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s. What was your motivation?
KL: My mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2014. I’d thought of Alzheimer’s as an elderly person’s disease, but my mom was in her early 60’s. I figured I could be sad and feel helpless, or I could take that sadness and turn it into something positive as a way of dealing with the grief. When diagnosed, my mom was embarrassed and ashamed and I hated that, so I sought to raise awareness. The wine community is very giving, so I took a chance that there was room for one more worthy cause and given the relationships I had forged on the winery/vintner side and the clientele side, that I’d have the support to succeed. And I did. We raised more than $1 million - my goal – and are already planning for the next event.
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