Sommelier Rachel DelRocco Goes from Teahouse to Texsom Champ (Parts 1 & 2)
This post includes Part 1 that was recently published on Edible Houston’s blog (click here) written by Russ Kane, VintageTexas.com, wine writer, author and naturalist. Part 2 at the bottom of this blog provides more on Sommelier Rachel DelRocco’s career leading to her championship win in the 2016 Texsom Sommelier Competition.
Part 1 -From Teahouse to Texsom Champ
Houston Sommelier Rachel DelRocco from Camerata at Paulie’s returned from Dallas after attending the Texas Sommeliers Conference – Texsom. This was her fourth trip to attend, test or volunteer at Texsom. But this year she returned as the winner of the 2016 Texsom Sommelier Competition where she bested 23 other competitors from Texas and surrounding states. For DelRocco this illustrates the long leap from her early days as a New York teahouse manager to Texsom Champ today.
For many that attend Texsom, the closed-door sommelier competition is a bit mysterious. Competitors go inside a room, the door closes and only a precious few come out to a winner’s fanfare.
Clearing the mystery, Rachel said, “The Texsom competition is attractive to wine professionals like me because it is a snapshot of what is required and what challenges lay ahead to advance through the Master Sommelier certification process. There was a wine theory exam, a blind tasting exercise and a service exam where I had to serve wine to a table of Master Sommeliers. Total time is only about an hour, but it’s broken up into three parts given over a full day, which is a bit nerve racking.”
In her Texsom win, DelRocco acknowledged the role of her Houston study group who are all going through the advanced sommelier certification process. They spend late-night hours testing each other on the finer points of wine knowledge and service. The group includes co-worker Adam Toon, Matt Crawford (State of Grace Restaurant) and Cat Nguyen (Republic Distributing). They were all present at Texsom and were DelRocco’s cheering section between exams and at the award presentation.
Study group member Adam Toon said, “This was really Rachel’s win. But, it was also a win for Camerata where Rachel and I work and are tutored by Master Sommelier David Keck. We feel that this is also a big win for our study group.”
DelRocco said, “I left the competition not really having a good feeling about my service exam. But later, I was lifted because the judges said that despite a few miscues they appreciated my comfortableness and the sense of hospitality that I conveyed under the stress of competition. I was buoyed because this is the stuff that as a sommelier I feel is our ultimate mission. It’s what t I strive to do everyday, and it was highly regarded in the competition.”
Part 2 – DelRocco’s Knows There are High Expectations for Her
When reflecting on her career path that brought her to the recent Texsom Championship, DelRocco said, “It was definitely not something that I planned in great detail. After I graduated from school, I was manager of a Teahouse in New York City. I looked at other fields, but the restaurant industry seemed to work all parts of my brain and kept pulling at me.”
In 2012, DelRocco was looking for a change and moved to Austin. This is where she found herself interested in the local beverage scene: drinks, spirits and Austin’s whole mixology movement.
DelRocco said, “There were many people that helped guide me in my career; some great people that took me under their wings. Austin’s June Rodil, the seventh certified Master Sommelier from Texas, was a draw that attracted me to work with her at Qui on Austin’s 6th Street. At Qui, I was part of the opening staff as bartender. As I recall, this is about when wine being something that I wanted to know more about. And, I was excited for the opportunity to learn about wine firsthand from a sommelier like June.”
The association with Rodil in Austin and DelRocco’s experience at Texsom led to meeting Camerata General Manager and newly awarded Master Sommelier David Keck. When her fiancé got a job in Houston, she would come to town and they would hang out at Camerata.
DelRocco said, “This is when I got to know David better. Eventually, it made more sense for me move here. So, I reached out to David. One day we got together for coffee and he called me a couple months later when he had an opening and asked me to join his staff.”
She continued, “At Camerata, from day one, the amount that I have learned here has been phenomenal. My educational channels include tasting and learning the wines on David’s incredible lists. It also involve the educational opportunities that he provides to his staff and graciously provides to other wine professionals in the Houston area. His expectations for me are high. This pushes me to learn and do more.”
The Texsom competition was more than the trophy and notoriety for DelRocco. It was a great personal experience. She also walked away from it knowing how far she progressed professionally and how much wine knowledges she had assimilated since her early teahouse days. It also gave her an appreciation of how much more is required for her future advancement through the levels of certification from The Court of Master Sommeliers.