As a child Fahara Zamorano spent every summer with her father in Chile’s wine country, drinking in the spectacular countryside and getting a sense of the country’s relationship with food and drink. She professes to having fallen in love with the “idea” of wine long before she ever took her first sip.
Since arriving in the States in 2000, the Level 3–certified sommelier has blazed an impressive trail through the restaurant industry, managing the wine program at Chicago’s legendary Alinea, as well as for Los Angeles’s Bombet Hospitality Group. These days you can find her setting the list at Curtis Stone’s latest gift to L.A. foodies, Gwen, the 80-seat, tasting-menu-only eatery that’s received nothing but raves since opening in 2016. We sat down recently to discuss her theory that all wines are really stories, and why she loves “ballerinas that ride Harleys.”
What do you enjoy most about wine?
The stories. Every wine is a story, a time capsule, a living thing that keeps changing daily. There’s the personal story of the people that make it, the story of the vintage, the vineyard, and the grape varietals, not to mention the story of the person who’s presenting it to you, and wherever and whomever you enjoyed it with. Wine is all about storytelling… and who doesn’t love a good story?
More women are occupying high-level positions in the traditionally male-dominated wine industry, but there’s still a long way to go. Do you carry a sense of responsibility to help elevate other talented women?
Wine is a male-dominated industry in many forms, but I am proud to be part of the Los Angeles and California wine community, which has been at the forefront of not only including but also promoting women. There is a sense of responsibility that comes from wanting to be a good example to the young women coming up in the industry. I’ve had the privilege to be called a mentor, and it’s a wonderful feeling to empower young talent regardless of gender.
Who are some of the women in wine that inspire you?
Some of the most iconic wines from California are produced by women—Cathy Corison, Ann Colgin, Heidi Barrett, and Naoko Dalla Valle, to name a few. The list is always growing, and it is made up of strong, talented, and kind women that inspire the rest of us to keep pushing hard toward our goals. Besides a strong work ethic, what else makes you such a fine sommelier?
Something I’ve focused on in both my personal and work life is finding people’s strengths and playing those up. In doing so, I’ve discovered that my biggest strength is the ability to connect and form relationships. I treat wine that way, connecting people and wine… forming relationships.
What makes “orange” wine—which are particularly popular now—a good companion to meat dishes?
The entire range of skin-contact with white wines has always fascinated me because of their versatility. To lump the whole category together would be silly, as each wine is an individual with its own characteristics. But overall, the wines are both delicate and powerful at the same time. I describe them as “ballerinas that ride Harleys.” They have the fineness of a white wine, but the backbone of a red, and that makes many of them the perfect pairing for dry-aged and cured meats.
With so much wine out there to be experienced, do you ever feel overwhelmed?
There are times when tasting can be exhausting. Judging competitions, massive trade tastings, finding pairings for a menu on a deadline, etc. Sure, it can be overwhelming every once in a while, but name one job that isn’t. The fact that there’s so much wine out there isn’t overwhelming, it’s exciting. Wine is a passion of mine, and I’m very lucky that I get to keep learning and trying new things—literally—every single day.
The list at Gwen is expansive and includes great wines from all over the world, among them numerous wines from Santa Barbara. What is it about that region that attracts you?
California is a great wine-producing state, with beautiful wines coming from north and south. Most people are very familiar with Northern California wine country, yet the Central Coast, specifically Santa Barbara County, isn’t as well known. I love the region because I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time there and learn all about its diversity, as well as build relationships in the wine community. Many of the wines we feature from SBC are driven down to LA by the winemakers themselves. All are small production with a great story to tell.
Are you competitive with fellow sommeliers?
By nature, I’ve never been competitive with others. Not to say this industry isn’t competitive, but I find that the Los Angeles wine community is very supportive of each other. As for actual wine and sommelier competitions, they’re very fun and great bonding experiences. I want to go drink and support any place with a fabulous list.