In the SevenFifty Daily Supertasters video series, we choose the wines, then challenge some of the industry’s best palates to blind tastings in an effort to glean their extraordinary techniques.
Jordan Salcito is the director of wine special projects at David Chang’s blockbuster Momofuku restaurant group, headquartered in New York City, and the founder and CEO of Ramona organic Italian wine spritzes and Bellus Wines, which makes wines in California and Italy (and previously in Burgundy). A native of Denver, Colorado, Salcito moved to New York in 2003 and worked her way up in the city’s restaurant industry, from hostess at the now-closed WD-50, to prep cook at Daniel, to sommelier and manager at Eleven Madison Park, to wine and beverage director at the Momofuku restaurants.
Salcito, a Master Sommelier candidate, has earned numerous accolades for her wine programs along the way. The program at Momofuku has been a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist many times. The foundation also acknowledged her entrepreneurial endeavors with Bellus and Ramona by naming her an Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional semifinalist in both 2018 and 2019. Though she is based in New York City, where she lives with her husband and son, Salcito continues to travel the globe and works harvests in regions such as Sicily, Tuscany, Burgundy, California, and Patagonia.
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After shooting Salcito’s Supertasters video, SevenFifty Daily asked her about the business strategies she uses to manage two operations while simultaneously directing special projects at Momofuku, how she parlayed her sommelier career into her current roles, and what changes she would like to see in the wine industry.
SevenFifty Daily: What was the epiphany that led you to choose wine as your career?
Jordan Salcito: It was probably a collection of many epiphanies (every good bottle of wine is one!) that culminated at La Paulée de Nièges in 2006, when I begged Daniel Boulud to let me cook for free, and by the end of the weekend I’d lined up a harvest stage in Burgundy. The harvest at Domaine de l’Arlot in 2006 was another epiphany that sealed the deal for my wine career. It’s hard to go to Burgundy, work in the vineyards, meet the producers, and get a crash course in everything from blind tasting to vinification without falling in love with wine.
What has been the most rewarding thing about expanding your somm career and founding a canned-spritzer label?
I have always loved wine’s ability to connect people who might not find their way to one another otherwise. Working my first harvest allowed me to connect not only to a place but to a history and series of philosophies that have opened my perspective on wine and on life. The most rewarding thing about Bellus and Ramona is probably an extension of this. Ramona, in a very different way, has created a path to connect with new friends in a variety of industries I previously knew nothing about. Wine, for me, is a conduit to continued curiosity.
What were the gaps you were trying to fill in the market by founding each of these companies?
Both Bellus Wines and Ramona have always been made with organically farmed grapes. I urge anyone who thinks organic farming is a fad or a luxury to listen to Dr. Zach Bush’s podcasts. He does a great job of explaining how much is at risk if we continue to farm with chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers.
Bellus’s goal is to connect small growers to the U.S. market by incentivizing them to continue to farm organically, and then to donate a percentage of its proceeds to causes I believe in and want to support, such as Nomogaia, Earth Justice, and the Tory Burch Foundation.
Ramona’s goal is to offer something that is not only delicious but made with organic ingredients. My goal for Ramona is that it can help democratize drinking organic, while also offering a fun and accessible alternative for moments not reserved for fine wine.
What’s the biggest challenge you deal with in running two different businesses in addition to being the director of special projects at Momofuku?
My role at Momofuku these days is a dream position. Effectively, I am like the big sister of the program—there for support as needed.
The biggest challenge is not having enough hours in the day, but I have been extremely fortunate to have found and built incredible teams. Everything I do is a team effort.
What’s your number one piece of business management advice?
One of my favorite sayings is, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I think it’s important to make sure to be present and focused in everything you do, whether you own your own business now or are looking to in the future. You must constantly be learning and keeping yourself inspired so you have the mental fortitude and focus to build your vision into a reality.
What bottle—or producer—are you particularly excited about right now, and why?
Emilio Rojo Ribeiro Blanco! Rajat Parr brought a bottle to a friend’s birthday in Spain a few months ago, and the bottle stunned me. It’s soulful and delicious, the sole wine made at the tiny Galician estate of Rojo, who is a former engineer. The grapes are grown on old vines and farmed organically. The wine offers notes of fresh green apple, Meyer lemon, chamomile, crushed rocks, ocean air, and a hint of gingerroot. I love everything about it.
If you had to guess, about how many wines would you say you’ve blind-tasted and formally evaluated for professional purposes?
Certainly in the thousands.
If you could change one thing about the wine industry, what would it be?
I would love to see more women business owners in our industry. I would also ban chemical herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides and mandate organic farming—and beyond—and an emphasis on soil health and biodiversity.
What’s next for you?
We have a lot on the horizon! Keep an eye out for some new Ramona releases in the coming months—and we have a few other things up our sleeves as well.