Beverage professionals are rethinking their career goals and priorities, resulting in a slew of unexpected job changes and new ventures—some of which have even taken them away from markets they’ve called home for years. Many have harnessed the business skills and wine expertise they honed in previous roles to tackle and embrace new challenges.In this edition of “Where Are They Now?”
SevenFifty Daily caught up with Erin Miller and Matthew Conway about how their career trajectories have changed recently, and what challenges and benefits they’ve experienced in their new roles.
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Behind the Move
Miller notes that her wine career has always included “a bit of serendipity”—a factor that certainly played into her shift from winemaking to hospitality. After five years of being the winemaker at Twomey—and over a decade of working with wineries like Evening Land Vineyards and Hartford Family Winery—she took a hiatus when her daughter was born, seeking a role with more daytime flexibility. Miller connected with the Dry Creek Kitchen team through a friend and connected with owner Charlie Palmer and general manager Dan Prentice about their vision to create a Sonoma-centric wine program. She started in July 2021.
One of Miller’s goals with the wine program at Dry Creek Kitchen was to try to create a winery experience for guests by “discussing the vineyards, the vintage, the winemaking process, and even the winemaker through the lens of my winemaking background,” she says. Though it has taken some time to find the sweet spot between enhancing the meal and spending too much time discussing the wines’ particularities, Miller’s priority is to help guests enjoy their experience to the fullest.
Initially, Miller had to work to balance her personal and professional lives with a hospitality schedule (she works the floor five nights each week). But now, she’s working to find balance between restaurant and winemaking work, as she continues to make wine as a passion project. “I love the creativity, art, and science of grape growing and winemaking,” she says. “I want to weave together the things I am learning from Dry Creek Kitchen with my winemaking career to make myself and my wines stronger.”
There have been many upsides to Miller’s new role, many of which stem from the people she has met through her work. “I speak with the most fascinating people on a regular basis,” she says, pointing to the new vineyards, growers, and wines she has been exposed to. “It has expanded my wine understanding and introduced me to people who are interested in pursuing their own winemaking dreams.”
“One goal I have is to bridge the selling of the wine with the making of the wine,” says Miller. “Similar to ‘dining in the vineyard’ experiences, I think bringing more of the winery into the restaurant—creating a ‘wine/vineyard in the restaurant’ [experience], would be simply an amazing opportunity to engage our guests more deeply.” She still dreams of planting a vineyard with her family and hopes to continue working with the artistic and scientific parts of her skillset regularly.
Behind the Move
Like it was for many hospitality professionals, Conway’s initial geographical move was a pandemic-influenced one; he traveled south with his fiancé Carissa Hernandez to visit Conway’s sister in Charleston in March 2020. A weeklong stay turned into a permanent one when Hernandez landed a job at local restaurant Leon’s, and “I fell in love with the wine community,” says Conway. He started thinking about opening a wine bar in April 2021, and The Tippling House opened in October.
“Once you’ve learned and executed service at the highest levels, it translates everywhere,” says Conway. Even though The Tippling House is casual, the team maintains high hospitality standards, which reflects in every guest’s experience.
Though Conway appreciates that he gets a break to go home and walk his dogs between the establishment’s casual burrito lunch offering, dubbed The Press, and dinner service, the slower pace of life has been an adjustment. “There isn’t the grind here that you feel in New York City,” he says. “I haven’t mastered it yet, but I’m trying to get better every day.”
The Tippling House, like most Charleston restaurants, is closed two days each week, giving Conway far more time to spend with family and friends. “If pandemic life taught me anything, it is to appreciate things that matter,” he says, “and we have tried to build that into the ethos at Tippling House so my whole team has time to focus on the good stuff.”
The past two years have taught Conway not to make concrete predictions, so he’s ready to follow whatever path may lie ahead. “I can promise you I will be giving it my all, and hopefully will be surrounded by people who are passionate about real wine,” he says.
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Courtney Schiessl Magrini is the executive editor for SevenFifty Daily and the Beverage Media Group publications. Based in Brooklyn, she has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir, and her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, GuildSomm, Forbes.com, VinePair, EatingWell Magazine, and more. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines. Follow her on Instagram at @takeittocourt.