Jessica Brown, Wine Director at The John Dory and Breslin, Drinks Champagne with Everything
Originally from a farm upstate near Ithaca, Jessica Brown grew up with Finger Lakes vineyards practically in her backyard. But her devotion to the vine began in Italy, where she adored Nebbiolo in particular, the fabled grape of Barolo from Piedmont. As the current sommelier and wine director at The John Dory Oyster Bar (1196 Broadway, 212-792-9000) and The Breslin (16 West 29th Street, 212-679-1939), her list now dabbles in a little bit of both of those regions, plus plenty of French, Spanish, Austrian, and Californian wines.
Brown's New York City career began as an opening manager at Parm, but wine wasn't the restaurant's focus, so she left to work a summer at Nick and Toni's as a sommelier while she figured out her next move. She was pleased, given her love of Italian wine, to then land a role at Scarpetta as the assistant general manager and beverage director. But her career would transition fortuitously into a happier place at her current position, when Carla Rzeszewski unexpectedly decided to leave last fall, and rang up Brown for the job.
How has the transition been at The John Dory and The Breslin, given you are filling some very big shoes after Carla?
The transition into my current role has been incredible and challenging. I was feeling a bit lost before I took this job. I wasn't sure which road to take for my next step. I thought about maybe getting off the floor completely. Then Carla contacted me about the position, and things just clicked. Everything seemed to fall into place, and I couldn't be happier.
Carla's energy and presence is larger than life. She is an incredible person. I am not trying to fill her shoes; I think we just have different shoes, different styles. She set up a great foundation and program, and I am excited to build on that. I am diving in headfirst. I have been here since October, and we are already working on some really exciting additions and changes to the program.
How did you first get started in the wine and restaurant industry?
Like most people, I had to pay the bills while going to school. I started out as a host my freshman year in college and have been doing it ever since. I started managing restaurants after I graduated college and was doing photography on the side. Eventually this business just kind of consumes you. My now-fiancé worked in the industry as well, and all we would do when we were off from work was obsess over food magazines and restaurant reviews in NYC.
Why have you decided to dedicate your life to wine?
For me, it's partly about the industry as a whole. We live and breathe it. Going out to eat and drinking wine is what we do for pleasure on our days off as well as for our job, and because my fiancé is in the industry as well (he is the wine director at The NoMad), it makes it even more so.
For me, wine is a chance to go a step further and be able to connect with this other world outside the restaurant. To be able to meet the winemakers, visit the vineyards, learn their stories...it opens up a whole other world, and being able to connect the two and share those experiences and stories with the guest is an amazing thing. Luckily, it's also a delicious thing.