Martin Reyes, MW, did not set out to become a Master of Wine. Nor did he set out to become a winemaker, wine brand ambassador, importer, or wine educator. Yet he’s currently filling all those professional roles. Reyes is the winemaker and chief wine officer for Peter Paul Wines in Napa Valley, California. He’s an ambassador for Vice Versa in St. Helena. He imports for the Pennsylvania market through Reyes Selections. He holds a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) diploma and continues to teach in the WSET program for the bicoastal Grape Experience, which operates in Boston, San Francisco, and online. In fact, Reyes didn’t set out to work in the wine industry at all. A first-generation American who became the world’s first Master of Wine of Mexican descent on March 2, 2018, according to the Institute of Masters of Wine, he stumbled into the wine business during the economic downturn of the early 2000s.
Reyes was working as a recruiter for high-tech companies after graduating from Stanford in 2000, and then the bottom fell out of the tech economy and, shortly after 9/11, Reyes found himself without a job. To make ends meet, he started bartending. That’s when he discovered there was an advanced certification program focused on the business of wine, winemaking, and viticulture—and he immediately became interested in pursuing it. One of the aspects of the MW program that appealed to him most was that the emphasis would be largely outside the restaurant realm. “When I read the things that you learn as an MW versus the things you learn as a Master Sommelier, it was clear which was for me,” says Reyes. “Because I suck at restaurants.”
Besides, he says, the business side of wine needs more personalities. “In the U.S.,” Reyes says, “the MS is a dominant powerhouse of cultural relevance.” It’s who the magazines turn to when they want to know about wines or trends. “The sommelier side has tons of amazing, talented, wonderful, powerful people who are helping shape the culture of wine around them. They don’t need any more. They’re spoiled with a richness of talent, grace, palates, and awareness of everything. The retail side, the importer side, the distributor side—they have much less [cultural] relevance.”
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Reyes is not yet certain how he’s going to position himself now that he’s an MW. “That’s a bit,” he says, “like asking, ‘What are you going to do when you get to the top of Mount Everest?’ or ‘What are you going to do when you come back down?’” He does, however, expect that certain doors will now open to him, and if Peter Paul or Vice Versa get a boost in business or Reyes Selections gets a few more meetings in Pennsylvania thanks to his newfound expertise, he’ll be happy. Reyes also aspires to become an influencer, and to that end he’s actively working on publishing his MW dissertation, “Crowdsourced Ratings for Wine: Exploring the Rise of the Consumer Critic and Its Impact on Purchasing Behavior in a U.S.A. Retail Environment.”
There are two things Reyes would like to change by means of his MW. The first is that he hopes the credential will ultimately help him “be a better papa” to his three-year-old daughter and give him the added financial stability that will make it possible for her to go to the schools she wants, travel the world, and become a powerful woman who could be an influencer for the next generation.
He also hopes that he can someday help the Mexican wine community—whether by raising the visibility of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who are passionate about wine, promoting the Mexican wine industry and Mexicans winemakers, fostering Mexican wine talent, or some other way. He may be the first Mexican-American MW, but he says that there has to be a second—and hopefully, someday, the first MW who is a Mexican citizen. Reyes would like to be there to help raise them up.
Perhaps this desire comes partly from the fact that Reyes considers himself an outlier. “I’m an orphan when it comes to the cultural aspect of wine,” he says, “because of—well, two strikes, right? You have a Mexican family. Mexicans are not necessarily known to be huge imbibers of wine. And then there was a Mexican dad who was, you know, an alcoholic.” His mother—whom he describes as “a conservative little old Catholic mom” who was raised in the hills and mountains of rural Mexico—was understandably nonplussed about his career choice. Still, she’s the one he hopes will accompany him to London next November for the MW awards ceremony and stand by his side in the Vintners’ Hall when he’s officially inducted into the Institute of the Masters of Wine.
Between now and then, however, there’s the taco truck celebration. Reyes popped open some Champagne when he learned he’d passed the certification exam, but his real plan for celebrating is to rent a taco truck, park it outside his home in Vallejo, California, and invite everyone he knows to a party. Will there be wine?
His wife says no, but Reyes counters: “Maybe.”
When she’s not writing about beverage, travel, or weird science, Julie H. Case can be found deep in America’s forests, foraging for mushrooms.