Behind the Scenes | Grape Expectations


Sommelier Craig Collins spends his days sipping luscious wines, inventing clever cocktails, and saboring the occasional bottle of Champagne. in other words, it's always 5 o'clock.

Craig Collins, beverage director for the ELM restaurant group—the geniuses behind Easy Tiger, 24 Diner, and Arro—usually logs 12-hour workdays. But when those days often start with wine tasting and end with training staff to make a new cocktail he’s created, Collins insists, it doesn’t feel like work at all. “I don’t feel like I have a job,” he says. “I’m doing something I truly love.”

True love, for Collins, started with more-fleeting desires: He freely admits that he got into the wine business “to meet women.” When he was still in college, he confessed as much to the owner of a winery in an interview, and the owner, appreciative of his honesty, responded with a job offer. It was while studying abroad in Italy, though, that Collins got serious about wine. Experiencing a mismatch between available funds and the many wines he wanted to try, Collins started a club, collecting lire from his fellow travelers, reading up on wines each week, and presenting them to the group. It was one of those wines, Collins says, that was his aha moment. “It was a 1998 Bran Caia Blue—a Super Tuscan from Italy that is a blend of Sangiovese and merlot,” he says. “It was really one of those things where your heart stops and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve put in my mouth.’ It was the moment when I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”

And he followed through, too. In the midst of a burgeoning career in wine, Collins passed the Master Sommelier exam in 2011, joining the ranks of barely more than 200 people in the world who’ve attained the membership. If it sounds difficult, that’s because it is .Collins took his first Master Sommelier exam in 2001. In one part of the exam, he had 25 minutes to identify the variety, vintage, and region of six different wines—in a blind tasting. Today, Collins’s work is less high-stakes but just as exciting to him. “Through wine I can connect with anyone,” he says. “It’s geology, it’s art, it’s chemistry, it’s history and business. Having a little bit of knowledge about each one of those facets of wine allows me to have conversations with some of the coolest people in the world.”


Photography by Leah Overstreet

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