The former wine director at Napa Valley’s gourmet purveyor Dean & DeLuca (now Gary’s Wine & Marketplace), Kerrin Laz today oversees her own eponymous tasting room in Yountville where she offers by-appointment-only, customized, private wine tastings for discriminating wine enthusiasts. She also recently partnered with the new Four Seasons Private Residences at 706 Mission in San Francisco to offer a curated wine tasting program for residents.
Considered a California wine authority and courted by every new winery hoping to make an impact in the industry, Laz recently added “vintner” to her resume when she released the inaugural vintage of LAZ Wine, served at some of Napa Valley’s most revered restaurants. But despite her varied wine industry successes, Laz is most proud of her work with the Alzheimer’s Association. In honor of her mother, she founded Inspire Napa Valley, utilizing her vast network to raise more than $2 million to date.
When did you first become interested in the wine industry?
When I was in college there was a great James Beard nominated restaurant called Crook’s Corner known for its new southern cuisine, specifically their Shrimp & Grits. I started working there for Sunday brunch, mostly so I could partake in the family meal and get the chance to try everything on their menu. Thus began my love for food and then wine.
How did you know it was time to leave Dean & DeLuca to start your own tasting room?
I was at Dean & DeLuca starting in 2003, first at the Washington, D.C., location, and owner Leslie Rudd became an incredible mentor, ally, and friend. When he decided to sell D&D, we met for a great dinner at his Napa restaurant, Press, and between our laughter and tears, he told me that if ever there was a time to start my own company, it was now. He told me that my wine knowledge had grown beyond Dean & DeLuca and that I no longer needed the brand to help my career. He said that I would be even more successful on my own. I took his advice, and haven’t looked back.
Describe a K. Laz wine tasting experience.
Everything we do is customized. Our tastings are private and each is personalized according to the groups’ likes in terms of varietals and price. We ask guests on which winery mailing lists they are active, and what wineries they’ll be visiting to give us insight into style preferences. We’ve hosted more than 500 tastings and we haven’t offered the same tasting twice. We also have a more macro-level approach on wine. While it’s important to know what you’re tasting, even more important and interesting is the story and people behind the wine and what was happening during a particular vintage. We talk about the importance of farming and the differences and benefits of estate grown grapes versus those sourced from grower vineyards. We discuss my theory on old guard and new guard “cult” wines. We keep it interesting while also acknowledging that guests are here to have a good time, taste great wine, and enjoy their trip to Napa wine country.
You also curate wine collections for some of the country’s biggest names. How have you gained the trust of these connoisseurs? If someone tells me a wine or two that they like, it is easy to discern their palate and what they might enjoy. When we build a wine cellar for a client, we know exactly what wines will be in their wheelhouse. We also value our relationships with our clients the way we do with our winery partners. We don’t talk about pricing or allocations or who does what with us. As I always say, we keep all of that information in the vault. The wine community is very giving, so I took a chance that there was room for one more worthy cause.
The wine community is very giving, so I took a chance that there was room for one more worthy cause.
You started a successful fundraiser to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s.
We raised more than $1 million—my goal—at our inaugural event. In the first two years, we raised more than $2.3 million. Because our annual event is in May, this year’s third annual Inspire Napa Valley had to be rescheduled for May 2021. Needless to say, all the guests, winery partners, and team are really looking forward to what will be an even bigger success next year.
What was your motivation?
My mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2014. I’d thought of Alzheimer’s as an elderly person’s disease, but my mom was in her early 60’s. I figured I could be sad and feel helpless, or I could take that sadness and turn it into something positive as a way of dealing with the grief. When diagnosed, my mom was embarrassed and ashamed and I hated that, so I sought to raise awareness. The wine community is very giving, so I took a chance that there was room for one more worthy cause.