Natchez native turns wine fascination into career

Published 1:32 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Submitted PHOTO Natchez native Dan Myers works as the assistant food and beverage director at Tournament Players Club River’s Bend near Cincinnati, Ohio.

NATCHEZ — If wine is bottled poetry, as author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, then Natchez native Dan Myers is its dedicated publisher.

Myers earned sommelier certification in March by the Court of Master Sommeliers — founded in the United Kingdom in 1977, with the intention to encourage the improved standards of beverage service and knowledge within restaurants and hotels.

In 2004, Myers was studying abroad in France the first time he realized that wine fascinated him — everything from the vine to the glass.

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“We were there just visiting a small, boutique winery in the South of France,” Myers said. “The winemaker expressed his love and admiration of wine-making, and we were able to taste the fruits of his labor. It’s so much more personal than buying from a store.”

Myers said what started as a hobby fermented into a career.

“I kept drinking wine for personal reasons, and thinking about why I preferred certain wines and why they paired better with food,” Myers said.

Myers said he is lucky enough that his career is a full-bodied blend of science and art.

“I think you have to understand the science of wine as grapes, but also the art form of it,” Myers said. “Most wine tasting and characteristics are subjective to the person drinking wine — and that makes it like a work of art.”

Working toward sommelier certification takes self-motivation. Myers said students sign up to take exams, and preparation is up to the student. For Myers, his texts were encyclopedias, atlases and flash cards.

“After studying thousands of note cards for two years, and grape varietals that I’ve learned to pronounce, I’ve gained a growing appreciation for wine that would never fit in just one bottle,” Myers said.

Myers also participated in weekly wine tastings — smelling and blind tasting — with two ladies who were preparing for their master sommelier exams.   Myers said only 168 individuals worldwide have reached the status of master sommelier.

Myers, son of Mike and Janice Myers of Natchez, graduated from Adams County Christian School in 2001, and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2005. He moved to Jacksonville, Fla., to continue a food and beverage career for the PGA Tour at Tournament Players Club Sawgrass for three years. He is currently assistant food and beverage director at TPC River’s Bend in Maineville, Ohio, outside of Cincinnati.

Myers said he wants to break the negative wine stereotype — complicated, expensive and highbrow.

“After studying wine, I wanted to get rid of the stereotype and perceived notion that you must be in a snooty restaurant to enjoy a glass of wine,” Myers said. “I think it’s more about your own personal enjoyment level of wine. So I try to be approachable with it and encourage people to enjoy wine.”

Myers said a good bottle doesn’t have to be expensive — a philosophy he follows himself.

“My rule of personal consumption is to spend no more than $12 to $15,” Myers said. “It’s easy to find good wine under that price point. You don’t have to impress anyone with a bottle of wine.”

Myers said he can understand why folks might be intimidated to select wine, but he has basic advice.

“(Understanding wine) can be complex — but you can take it as far as you want,” Myers said. “A lot of people are intimidated by thousands of labels. I always ask people to start with wine that they like and then branch out to discover, for themselves, the reasons why.”

For those who don’t even know where to start, Myers said to pick a merlot and taste it. When tasting the wine, identify what flavor profiles you most enjoy. Myers said then the taster could try, say, a merlot from France. And then perhaps move on to blends.

Myers said he is especially interested in food pairings.

“The saying ‘red wine with meat and white wine with fish’ doesn’t always work,” Myers said. “There are better pairing alternatives, if you’re willing to experiment.”

Myers said pinot noir, for example, also pairs beautifully with some fish.

“Sweet white wines help balance spicy foods, like riesling with stir fry,” Myers said. “Sauvignon Blanc with salads can be served with vinaigrette dressings — the acidity in both complement each other. Big red wines with tannins, such as cabernet or syrah, help cut through fatty foods, like steak. Barbecue, burgers, pizzas and grilled sausages are all great to pair with a zinfandel because of expressive fruit, less acidity and more alcohol.”

While achieving master sommelier status on Myers’ radar, he is currently focused on the next step — third level sommelier. Myers also writes wine reviews for the club, as well as blogs, and has written many food pairings as well.

But the journey to sommelier status has had its share of hiccups. Myers said he once embarrassed himself with a table full of people and a very special bottle of wine.

“I had to open a bottle tableside at a nice wine dinner,” Myers said. “It was an ’82 or ’84 Bordeaux. The cork broke inside the bottle, because of improper storage, and most of it fell into the wine. They were celebrating with this bottle, and I was sweating, trying to get the cork out. I ended up having to excuse myself.”

Myers said he used a coffee filter to strain out cork bits floating in the wine.

“It happens,” Myers said.

For Miss-Lou residents, Myers said there is plenty of access to great wine, whether being served on a white tablecloth, or selecting a bottle for a more modest occasion at home. Myers said he was thrilled to see The Castle at Dunleith listed as having one of the top wine lists in America.

“I was very proud to see that, coming from Natchez.”