DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Grape expectations: DU alumna one of four female wine masters in U.S.

A few years after graduating from DU with a degree in international business, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan had a business lunch that changed her life.

She was working for Citibank in London, and on the lunch menu was herb-crusted salmon and Sancerre — a white wine from the Loire valley in France.

“They served this together, and I was so enthralled with it,” Simonetti-Bryan says. “Salmon is a very fatty fish, and it coats your tongue in an oil. When you sip the Sancerre, which is extremely high in acid, it creates this cleansing sensation on your tongue.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is really cool.’ It wasn’t that the wine itself was so amazing, it was just that I had never experienced anything like that before.”

Simonetti-Bryan (BS ’95) took a wine class in London shortly thereafter, and she was bitten hard by the wine bug. She studied and trained for years, and in the fall of 2008 she became one of only four American women to earn the title Master of Wine, the highest standard of professional knowledge in the wine industry.

“It’s such an enormous endeavor,” she says. “It’s kind of like a cross between the bar exam and the Olympics. It’s a four-day exam, and it is kind of physical. One of the things you have to do is you have to identify 36 wines blind. They’ll say, ‘OK, what’s the grape variety and tell us why.’ It’s not enough to be able to guess and get it right.”

The exam also tests applicants’ knowledge of viticulture — the growing of grapes — and the business side of wine. Unlike sommeliers, who mostly work in restaurants, a Master of Wine has a global understanding of the industry.

Simonetti-Bryan, 35, currently works for New York-based wine and spirits importer and distributor Remy Cointreau, where she educates distributors and makes wine-related public and television appearances. She also is one of 10 American women to hold the highest credentials of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and Society of Wine Educators.

But her first wine job was a little less glamorous. She left the banking industry and a six-figure income to work for less than $25,000 a year at the Burgundy Wine Company, a retailer in Greenwich Village.

“My family thought I had lost my mind,” she says. “But if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. I figured the money will come eventually if I concentrate on what I love and what I want to do.”

What Simonetti-Bryan loves most is educating people about wine — even her own family.

“I’ve been trying to get them into wine,” she says. “When I first started at the Burgundy Wine Company I bought this Grand Cru Burgundy, a $250 bottle, and I brought it home for Easter. I left the room for a second — and they added 7-Up to it.”

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