Food & Drink

DECANTED

by Van Roy

We had such a wonderful reaction to this story, we thought we’d revisit it during this joyful season. Know you will enjoy it as much as we do! Cheers!

How Alexandria’s Wallace Levy McKeel Uncorked a Fascinating Career in Wine

For harvest season, especially in the bustling wine producing regions of California and Oregon, wineries seek out the most educated and ambitious candidates to participate in the whole harvesting process. It’s not uncommon for whiz kids from universities with distinguished wine and agriculture programs, such as UC Davis and CalPoly, to descend on these wineries for approximately eight weeks of rigorous work, learning every aspect of the wine making process – from actually “putting your hands on the fruit” and learning the daunting multitudes of grapes to “barreling down” – where the fresh wine is laid to rest in barrels. So how did an Alexandria native of 32, with no “formal” wine education, score a spot on the harvesting team last year at Oregon’s Willamette Valley’s J. Christopher Wines (Voted one of Wine & Spectator’s 100 Top Wineries in the World)?

“I wrote a letter expressing how much I love what I do and that I was interested in wine enough to put myself at the feet of people who know more than me.” Not long after, she was invited to join the harvesting team and, with the blessing of her employer, drove cross country to Oregon to live and work at J. Christopher. As this feature goes live, McKeel has been invited to return this year. She smiles, almost in disbelief of the good news. “It’s extremely flattering given the amount of talent out there.”

The Tale of the Grape

Bright eyed, with a diploma from LSU under her cap, Wallace headed to New Orleans where she immersed herself in all the things Louisiana and the Crescent City are known for the world over; hospitality and a deep love for good food, wine, spirits and music. Out the gate, she was hired as the bar director for the Superdome. It was her introduction to the hospitality scene of New Orleans and a tremendous learning experience, but it was significant stints at Emeril’s Delmonico (where she served as assistant sommelier), and Martin Wine Cellar on Magazine Street (when the city was rebuilding after Katrina), where McKeel’s curiosity led to a love and appreciation for wine and the business of it. She became a dedicated student, reading about, talking about, and, most importantly, tasting, a lot of wine. “I find wine fascinating and so interesting. All the excitement and mysteries of art, science, history, even law and travel, are part of enjoying a really great bottle of wine.” She loves a fine Champagne and, though hesitant to commit to any one or more varieties, finds dry Reislings and dark, full bodied Syrahs “really wonderful.”

Until she leaves for Willamette Valley, McKeel is enjoying her tenure being Central and North Louisiana’s sole representative for Mystic Vine, one of only two Louisiana wine and spirit companies permitted to sell both wholesale and retail (the iconic Hokus Pokus network of specialty stores is under their umbrella). She’s clearly in her element. The Mystic Vine portfolio that she represents is a beautifully curated list of small, independent and family owned wineries and spirit companies. “These are gems that might otherwise go unnoticed,” she says. In other words, the wines McKeel pours and sells won’t be found at big box stores or on the shelves of your neighborhood pharmacy, but you will find them at quality wine shops and on the lists of the finest restaurants in the state. Indeed, McKeel travels many miles weekly and enjoys cultivating one on one relationships with her clients. From consulting chefs and restauranteurs to conducting tastings at stores and events, McKeel is known for her superior customer service and love for what she does. “I love to pour wine for people. That moment when a great food pairing sparks them to discover how their mouth works is one of my favorite joys.”

Wallace lives in Alexandria’s Garden District with her husband. Though not held to a specific timeline, McKeel would like to achieve the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Diploma, a merit of distinction awarded by the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust). She has completed two of the four levels required.

 

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