One of America's most recognized restaurant sommeliers, Kevin Vogt, is switching careers. The wine director for Emeril Lagasse's Las Vegas restaurants is leaving to open a wine store in Napa Valley.
"I had three goals when I entered the wine business," says Vogt, reflecting on his two-decade career as wine director for Lagasse. "One was to pass the Master Sommelier exam. Second, to build a Grand Award–winning wine list. And the third was to produce my own wine."
Vogt is three for three: He passed the Master Sommelier exam in 1999; earned the Wine Spectator Grand Award for Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas in 2004 (and every year since); and launched Mastery, his own wine label, in 2005. Now, Vogt feels the timing is right for a new venture, this time in wine retail.
The move, Vogt says, has been a slow, natural evolution that began nine years ago, when he started a wine-recommendation e-mail service. Vogt became a broker in 2007 for Don St. John, former owner of the Wine Shop in Healdsburg, Calif., where he also met Daniel Pressey, another broker for the store. In 2013, Pressey acquired Wine Country Connection, a licensed wine warehouse, and brought Vogt on board as a broker. Pressey soon launched an online store, and has now asked Vogt to partner with him full-time in bringing Wine Country Connection to a brick-and-mortar location.
"I am 54, and I started thinking that I don't want to work the [restaurant] floor until I am 60," says Vogt. "So it's time to find a venture that I'll be able to enjoy and still be in wine, but not be in the hectic pace of the restaurant every night. And when this opportunity came up with Daniel and Wine Country Connection, I couldn't wait to do it."
Vogt and Pressey have secured a lease on a retail space in Yountville that was once home to Groezinger, the oldest wine store in Napa. "The store will have a little bit of everything," says Vogt, "But it will be mostly local Napa and Sonoma wines. We are certainly not limited."
The decision to move on from his time with Lagasse was not easy. “All of us at Emeril’s Homebase and Delmonico Steakhouse feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the last 20 years working alongside Kevin Vogt," said Eric Linquest, president and COO of the company. "Kevin is a consummate professional who is not only a great coworker but also family."
During his tenure, Vogt has witnessed a world of change in the wine service industry. He was the only American to pass the Master Sommelier exam in 1999. "The Master Sommelier was kind of an unknown thing to guests at that time," Vogt recalls. "Obviously, with recent movies and TV shows, people now understand what the challenges are to pass it. There is now a greater appreciation of good wine service, certainly much more than I was getting 20 years ago."
In Las Vegas, Vogt has observed the evolution of the restaurant scene and its adaptation to challenging economic times, such as the 2008 recession. "There has been a decrease in the number of true fine-dining restaurants and an increase in more mid-level restaurants," he says. "We have been very lucky at Delmonico to maintain such a really strong level of business for the 17 years we have been open. I feel lucky to have been a part of something that is still thriving."
Vogt is leaving behind big shoes. There is no word yet on who will be filling them. Vogt himself will finish in Las Vegas on April 28.