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Our Wine Cellar, its history, and how you can help
Our wine cellar, stored in a temperature-controlled wine vault in Northern California, contains wines of the highest quality from France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the United States. Wines from our collection are served around the country at educational events and fundraising wine dinners. Proceeds from these events fund our scholarship and enrichment programs for the benefit of aspiring beverage professionals.
SommFoundation wines have been featured at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, Aspen Food & Wine Classic, Aspen Art Crush, Boulder Burgundy Festival, Big Sky Resort’s Vine and Dine Festival, Tarbell’s, World of Pinot Noir, SommFilms Premieres, and Rudd Round Table, just to name a few.
The History of our cellar, as told by our Cellar Master, Jay Fletcher:
Many years ago, during my studies for the Master Sommelier exam, I met Jeff Johnston. He became one of my regular clients in restaurants that I managed in Aspen, Colorado, in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Jeff loved food and wine. The owner of an impressive cellar with some of the finest collectible wines in existence, he took a genuine interest in our wine studies and became involved with our tasting group. Jeff regularly hosted us at his home, graciously opening some of the oldest and rarest wines in the world to taste with us. We drank all the greats with him: Wines we opened often included Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche, Château Le Pin, Château Rayas, and Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage Cuvée Cathelin. All of us in the group were astounded by Jeff’s generosity, and he became a great friend and mentor to me.
As I continued to study for the Master Sommelier Exam, Jeff watched my life improve dramatically. For years, I worked hard on my wine knowledge—history, geography, terroir, and viticulture—as well as my social and speaking skills. Jeff was impressed with the bonding, friendship, and overall progress in quality of life for all the members of our tasting group. As he witnessed both me and Damon Ornowski transform from mid-level restaurant managers to Master Sommeliers, he saw the beauty of the Court and how it’s capable of changing people’s lives in a positive way. Because old and rare wine is expensive, it’s incredibly difficult for aspiring sommeliers to taste or even touch one of these bottles. The great wines of the world have an incomparable purity of fruit and terroir, but in Jeff’s opinion, access to them should not solely be given to the wealthy. Jeff and his wife, Kathy, decided to donate a portion of their world-class wine cellar to be used specifically for educating and enhancing the experience of up-and coming sommeliers and wine advocates. In 2002, they donated approximately $1 million of wine to SommFoundation for educational purposes. In 2003, myself and fellow Master Sommeliers, Fred Dame and Jay James, formed the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation in order to use this great gift from the Johnston’s collection to enlighten aspiring sommeliers. We worked to create a great online educational wine compendium while also raising money for scholarships and enrichment trips to help those in need.
With Jeff in mind, The Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation also launched the Rudd Round Table. The candidate with the highest score on the Advanced Exam is presented with the Jeff Johnston Medal, which recognizes the hard work and dedication that Jeff would be proud of. In 2015, The Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation split into two separate nonprofit organizations to better focus on our respective goals. GuildSomm focuses on education, web content, blogs, podcasts, training guides, and member-focused events, while SommFoundation aims to provide scholarships and other resources to sommeliers and other professionals within the wine industry. In addition to financial support, we allocate our resources to fund enrichment trips and educational seminars to benefit all who wish to further their wine knowledge. Over the years, we have given away more than $1 million in scholarships and sent hundreds of students to wine regions all over the world—all expenses paid. The old and rare wines in our collection, meanwhile, have been tasted and enjoyed by thousands of students and wine consumers.
How you can help:
After 15 years of relying on Jeff and Kathy’s generous donation, we are actively engaged in acquiring more wine to sustain our mission. We are reaching out to collectors and fine wine producers to request donations of their most distinguished wines so that we may continue to educate students and raise money for their benefit. If you have an interest in donating wines from your collections or winery, we would greatly appreciate it. Your wines will be tasted and talked about with the leading wine professionals, wine students, and wine enthusiasts in the country.
Because our organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, your wine donation may be tax-deductible (consult your CPA). If you would like more information on donating to SommFoundation, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are grateful to the following individuals, wineries and corporations for their donations to our cellar:
Jeff & Kathy Johnston
Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Donald Patz (Maritana Vineyards & Secret Door Winery)