BY ANNIE SLIMAN
A Napa Valley Native Finds Her True Calling
Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in Napa, I love to visit the Napa General Store. It offers terrific food, unusual gifts and lovely home and personal accessories. Owners Jill and Jim Brandt take pride in offering the very best of the Napa Valley and are easy going, fun and I enjoy chatting with them. Their hard-working staff is expert at customer service and I’m always especially impressed with the store’s wine educator, Tammy Wisnoskie. Her family settled in Napa in the 1930s, making Wisnoskie a third-generation Napa native. She loves everything about the valley and is a talented artist herself, as well as a devoted mom to her teenage daughter. Her professional passion, however, has definitely turned out to be fine wines.
That’s why she is so well-suited to her position at the Napa General Store. Its tasting bar is famous for serving one-of-a-kind artesian wines from Napa’s small vintners. Such vintners typically produce only five hundred to a thousand cases a year and usually don’t have a winery or tasting room. For many, winemaking is a second career or retirement avocation. Their wines aren’t available at other retail locations, although they’re sometimes found on restaurant wine lists. Understanding and appreciating these boutique wines is part of Wisnoskie’s job and she loves to share her knowledge with customers.
“We are so pleased to be able to taste and sell these unique hand-crafted wines,” she said. “Learning about them and the vintners who make them has been such a vital part of my education in fine wines.” In fact, Wisnoskie is becoming a certified wine sommelier. She is taking classes at Napa Valley College and has already passed her second exam. Once she is finished with her training, she will be fully qualified to continue her career in the exciting and ever-changing field she’s discovered she loves.
Still, Wisnoskie brings a wealth of specialized experience to her job. She began her career with one of the first online wine sale sites and helped develop its policies and procedures, while she had the opportunity to taste and evaluate a wide variety of wines. From there, she worked for the Napa Valley Vintners Association, managing its databases. She also learned how important it is to protect the integrity of place names in the industry. During her tenure, the association sued a winemaker whose wines were labeled as Napa but whose grapes actually came from other places. Now, for a wine to say Napa on the label, at least 85 percent of its grapes must come from the Napa Valley.
These experiences led to more opportunities for Wisnoskie. She worked for a vineyard management company and learned about the technical aspects of winemaking, including spray, nutrient and pest management. The more she learned, the more excited she became about the complex factors that go into creating fine wines. She enrolled in her first viticulture class and soon decided she needed a job that would enable her to attend daytime classes. She found the perfect match with Sunshine Foods, purveyors for many of the fine restaurants and chefs in the Napa area. She also had experience representing the industry to airline and cruise lines, tasting and recommending wines for major clients including Delta Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. Wisnoskie can truly claim to have worked in all the areas that are significant to her chosen profession.
Right now, her favorite place to be is the Napa General Store. “I get to pour amazing wines from wonderful producers and share my enthusiasm with people from all over the world. The Brandts are terrific supporters, for both the industry and their employees. And what place could be more beautiful than Napa?”