In our Rising Stars series, seasoned beverage professionals spotlight five of the most outstanding up-and-comers in their city—and discuss the mark each is making on the drinks scene.
As one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Austin, Texas, has earned a reputation for its progressive restaurant and bar scene. With multiple James Beard–nominated restaurants and three resident Master Sommeliers, along with a groundswell of creative energy from internationally recognized festivals such as SXSW, the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the Austin Food and Wine Festival, the city’s beverage industry continues to make great strides as a burgeoning player in the national sphere. Here are five up-and-comers who are taking Austin to the next level.
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For the past 18 years, Master Sommelier June Rodil has served as a mentor for many of Austin’s young wine professionals. She met Wilson at local wine tastings and educational events and quickly recognized her hospitable personality, understated confidence, and ability to make wine less intimidating for consumers. “Rae is one of those people you know you’re going to like before you even shake hands,” says Rodil. “She’s warm and friendly, but she’s also engaging and easy to talk to. She makes wine extremely approachable for people on a day-to-day basis.”
Originally from St. Louis, Wilson moved to Austin in 2005. She started out working in fine dining, became a Certified Sommelier and earned a WSET Advanced Certificate, and then pursued winemaking internships in Portugal and Napa, California, for a year. In 2010 she launched Wine For the People, a wine education company that serves both consumers and trade professionals looking to learn more about wine. “This path was an organic evolution for me,” says Wilson. “It’s such an honor to be recognized by June. I have immense respect for her, particularly for the way she has made wine so accessible, welcoming people into the wine world.”
Wilson also consults on wine lists and produces Texas wine with Wine For the People under the Dandy label, as well as in collaboration with Andrew Sides of Lost Draw Cellars through The Grower Project. Wine For the People recently launched a consumer wine club, and Wilson plans to open a wine bar in the Austin area in 2019. “Starting [out] right when the Austin food scene was on the rise,” she says, “turned out to be perfect timing for me in terms of creating a business like [Wine For the People]. I’m endlessly grateful for the support I’ve found in the Austin community. It’s truly unlike any other. I would not be able to do what I’m doing if not for the incredible support of the wine professionals here on all sides of the industry.”
Master of Logistics
As one of the primary wine buyers for Whole Foods Market, Master Sommelier Devon Broglie has cultivated relationships with countless distributors—both large and small—over the past two decades and has come to appreciate the value of distributors who represent a smaller portfolio but offer unique selections he might not otherwise find. One such distributor is David Mayfield, who started David Mayfield Selections, a wine import and distribution company, in 2012 and has steadily cemented relationships within Austin and beyond. “David has developed a really strong portfolio, with wines you won’t find everywhere,” says Broglie. “He’s made a great effort to represent producers he really cares about, and has done a great job at growing steadily rather than quickly.”
After graduating from college, Mayfield worked for one of Austin’s more prominent liquor store chains. His early passion for wine inspired him to move on and chart his own path in distribution. “I kept encountering small producers who were making interesting wines but weren’t able to make it into the Austin market, even though there was a clear interest from retailers and consumers,” says Mayfield. “It was hard for them to get in among the larger distributors. I felt that I could make a way for them.”
Mayfield says his biggest challenge has been maintaining the patience to carefully develop relationships with buyers. “You have to do it with great care, which takes time,” he says. “But I had to remind myself that as my own business owner, I wasn’t held to specific monthly sales goals.” Additionally, he says, he soon realized that service and logistics were the key areas to focus on. “Your two most important tools are a truck and a dolly. The wine itself is certainly fun, but providing good customer service is really crucial.” Mayfield’s tactful demeanor and professionalism have helped earn him an enviable reputation among leading buyers in Austin’s wine community. “It’s really rewarding to see how the patience and persistence have paid off,” says Mayfield. “Being recognized by people like Devon and others in his sphere is a real honor.”
The Pizza-Pairing Sommelier
Rising Star: Steven Dilley, Bufalina
Nominated by: Mark Sayre, director of service, MMH
Mark Sayre oversees the education and training for all nine of MMH’s restaurants and bars. The dynamic growth he’s witnessed in Austin’s restaurant and drinks scene over many years has informed his philosophy. “Hospitality,” he says, “has to be shown through a wine list. That [means] knowing your audience, offering a good price, and not going too off the wall by offering wines that are too obscure.” He adds that it’s fun to offer guests a chance to make new discoveries but that the way it’s done also has to work for the restaurant concept. Steven Dilley, he says, does an excellent job of balancing all this at Bufalina. “Steven can get away with offering some crazy natural wines and hyper-allocated geeky wines,” Sayre says, “because at the end of the day, he’s just serving pizza. Guests can afford to take a stab at something a little zany and obscure because they’re only paying $12 for a pizza—and a good one at that.”
Dilley moved to Austin in 2010 from New York City, where he’d worked in finance. He says that since opening Bufalina in 2013, he’s seen a major change in the kinds of wines that have become available in Austin. “It’s surreal and rewarding to be recognized for our wine list because it didn’t come without a great deal of struggle,” he says. “It was really hard to source the types of wine I wanted within those first couple of years. Even though I knew importers who were trying to break into the Texas market, you just couldn’t get anything [out of the ordinary]. But that has changed significantly in the past three years.” Dilley adds that Bufalina’s clientele has grown with the restaurant—and the wine list. “At first they may not have understood much about what we were trying to do,” he says, “but now we have regulars who come in and ask what’s new and what they should drink without even glancing at the list. When we can influence or guide the experience, that’s fun because it creates a relationship.”
The Authentic Barman
Bill Norris, an award-winning bartender, is considered Austin’s “father of the modern cocktail.” He established the cocktail programs at many of the city’s top bars and restaurants and has not only inspired a local movement toward artisanal and craft cocktails but has mentored many bartenders, including bartender-turned–bar owner Josh Loving of Small Victory. “From the very beginning, when Josh worked with me at Fino years ago,” says Norris, “he took the idea of what is classic and what is balanced [in] cocktails to another level. Small Victory opened just a couple of years ago with a clear vision. They know exactly what they are, and they execute that vision at a very, very high level every day.”
Quality is a priority at Small Victory, and while the drinks are serious, Loving also encourages a certain level of informality at his bar. “We want to give our customers a drink that we’ve taken seriously,” he says. “But at the same time, we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. You won’t find me or my staff in buttoned vests or with curled mustaches. That kind of vibe really doesn’t fit in Austin. It’s not who we are here.”
But Loving contends that Small Victory couldn’t meet the standard he has set without a little help. For that he looks to his top bartenders, Laura Maddox and Candice Dublin. “Laura and Candice really have their finger on the pulse of what’s next for the cocktail culture,” Loving says. “Now that I own a bar, I only have time to be on the floor a few nights a week. I rely on these two to be on the front line. That’s how Bill Norris helped to groom me when I was just getting started, and I feel truly blessed to have been under his mentorship in the midst of Austin’s bar evolution. It’ll only get better if we continue to encourage others to raise that bar.”
King of Kolsch
Having spent much of his career in the wine industry, Master Sommelier Craig Collins had his first chance to sample Austin’s craft brewing offerings when he took on the role of beverage director for ELM Restaurant Group in 2014. Though he left ELM in 2018 to begin distributing and importing with Vintus, Collins continues to follow the careers of Austin’s leading brewers. One of the brewers he believes have contributed the most to elevating Austin’s beer scene is Tim Bullock, the cofounder with Bryan Winslow of St. Elmo Brewing Company. “St. Elmo continues to impress me with the quality of their beers and the focus on their program,” says Collins. “Tim started out at one of my other favorite breweries, Austin Beerworks, which is arguably one of the pioneers of Austin’s beer scene, and [his and Winslow’s] growth in creating St. Elmo has been exciting to watch.”
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Bullock had previously worked at larger-scale breweries, including a few years at New York’s Brooklyn Brewery, and he says that one of the things he always wanted was a smaller shop where customers could have an intimate interaction with the brewery operations. “We really thrive on the support of the Austin beer community,” he says. “There’s a strong sense of camaraderie here, and when people like Craig Collins are cheering you on to do more, it’s such an affirmation.”
The goal at St. Elmo was to make a wide variety of approachable beer styles. Though selections change seasonally, the brewery offers about 15 beers, including saisons, IPAs, stouts, and pale ales. While almost all of the offerings are on tap at the brewery and available for purchase in growlers and special-order kegs, about 10 percent of St. Elmo’s production, the Carl Kolsch, is distributed throughout the city. “To me,” says Bullock, “when you imagine trudging across a hot desert and you’re sweaty and parched, Kolsch is the beer that’s going to do the job to get you back on your feet. It’s refreshing and keeps its flavor. We wanted to be the place that nails that style.”
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Jessica Dupuy is a wine, spirits, and food writer based in Austin, Texas, whose credits include work in Texas Monthly, Imbibe magazine, Wine Enthusiast magazine, Sommelier Journal, and The Tasting Panel magazine and with the Guild of Sommeliers. A Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, and Certified Specialist of Spirits, she holds the Diploma in Wines through the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. Dupuy keeps her palate sharp through travel, reading, and endless tasting.