Sommelier Roundtable: Reasons to Be Optimistic in 2021

As we long for a better year than last, seven somms from Restaurant Award winners share what they’re hopeful for, from dining out’s revival to social change

Sommelier Roundtable: Reasons to Be Optimistic in 2021
Even in an industry that was hit hard last year, restaurant pros are finding reasons to feel good about 2021. (Getty Images/MesquitaFMS)
Jan 13, 2021

At the start of a new year, there’s a natural desire to feel hopeful. It’s understandable to be more wary this time around, after 2020’s seemingly never-ending series of unexpected downturns. But even sommeliers, whose industry has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis, see reasons to feel encouraged about the coming months.

Seven wine pros from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners across the U.S. told us what they’re wishfully looking forward to in 2021, from overdue industry changes resulting from growing social movements to better wine drinking and the eventual comeback of restaurants.

Wine Spectator: What are you actually optimistic about for 2021?

Rafa García Febles, beverage manager at Le Crocodile in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Here’s to a 2021 filled with considered drinking. 2020 saw many wine drinkers consume with abandon; with the world outside our windows on fire, how could we not? But with relief tentatively on the horizon, and the possibility of sharing a bottle with friends and strangers once again on the table, I hope the year sees us slowing down and focusing on what’s in the glass, and on who and what made it possible.

One of the few bright spots of 2020 was that labor justice finally became part of the wider wine conversation; I’m optimistic that consumers, wine buyers and importers will increasingly ask the right questions about who makes our wine, and under what conditions.

Shelley Lindgren, co-owner and wine director at A16 in San Francisco and A16 Rockridge in Oakland, Calif.

The silver lining is that keeping food, wine and service simple yet high-quality seems to be achievable. It's as though we've brought our whole concept to bare bones and we are now rebuilding it with what is needed and essential.

Ryan McLoughlin, head sommelier at Georgian Room in Sea Island, Ga.

Hopefully, restaurants in these hotter-spot areas coming back online, and everything coming a little bit back to normal. I’m lucky, I’m in a market right now that we’re open, and we’re actually seeing wine sales bigger today than we’ve ever seen … our customer base had a three- to four-month period this year that they didn’t spend any money, and because of that, they’re now feeling like their checkbooks have never been so big—at the luxury level. Obviously people are hurting in this.

We had the best October [for wine sales] we’ve ever had as a month down here in Georgia. So I think I’m optimistic about things getting a little bit back to normal, and people continuing to purchase wine like they are.

Julie Dalton, sommelier at Mastro's Steakhouse at the Post Oak Hotel in Houston

I'm hopeful that the new administration will reverse the tariffs on European goods that we've seen. This past year showed us so much loss. I'm optimistic that 2021 will bring a sense of gratitude to those who were able to endure and weather the pain of 2020. The decision to be truly grateful carries with it such positive radial impacts. Sometimes we see them right away, sometimes we don't. But it feels so much better to be grateful and positive than to doomscroll for hours on end.

Mandy Sparacino, wine director at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House in Los Angeles

This pandemic brought forth many new projects and creative platforms for our industry. I’m actually in the early stages of something myself! I think the next few years are going to be extremely exciting for us. The industry is being rebuilt into something very fresh. BIPOC and women’s voices have an audience in this new structure. We are being heard.

Juan Carlos Santana, beverage director at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Le Jardinier in Miami

I am optimistic that the restaurant industry will have a strong rebound. After what has been the most challenging year imaginable, I am confident that this industry of resilient professionals will find even more new ways to feed our communities and provide an escape from the everyday.

June Rodil, partner at Goodnight Hospitality, including Rosie Cannonball in Houston, and partner at June's All Day in Austin

Taking all the things we learned in 2020 and applying them to a year that's filled with hope rather than fear. I'm optimistic to see what sticks—whether or not we will be able to continue to-go and deliveries in places there were not [these services], virtual wine tastings and happy hours, cooking demos, lobbying nationally as an industry—all while starting to open our doors again to more and more people. And hopefully, one day, run our restaurants at the capacity they once were.

We've stretched ourselves further than we thought we could—now we will soon have the ability to bounce back to what we once knew. I think there's room to expand both ways and still continue to adapt and evolve.

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