Renowned sommelier comes home to the Valley

Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd pours a glass of wine Wednesday at Las Ramblas at Market Square. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

How can any bottle of wine, even a really big one, possibly be worth $30,000?

Well, time travel is expensive.

Vanessa Treviño Boyd, the new beverage director/resident sommelier for Las Ramblas Hospitality Group and the only advanced sommelier based in the Rio Grande Valley, said tasting a wine worth incredible amounts of money opens the door to another dimension in a sense.

“You close your eyes and it’s as if you’ve traveled to that place and that time, and you’re touching those soils and you’re talking to the wine maker in 1937,” she said. “It’s just transporting. Yes, it’s worth it.”

Treviño Boyd recalls very early in her career being tasked with decanting just such a wine, a rare Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grands Echezeaux, for a table at the New York City restaurant where she was working, and with a senior sommelier looking over her shoulder. She balanced the heavy jeroboam — a large wine vessel that holds the equivalent of four standard bottles — in both hands and held her breath, praying she wouldn’t spill a single, very expensive drop, which she didn’t.

One thing about learning to be a sommelier is that one develops strong arm muscles from pouring massive bottles and carrying 40-pound cases of wine up and down stairs.

“I can actually carry two flat boxes of wine by myself,” Treviño Boyd said.

The fifth-generation Brownsville native moved to Mission as a child, attending junior high and high school there before heading off to Chicago for college. The next stop was New York, where she spent 10 years learning the ropes at high-end restaurants with renowned chefs and the best “somms” in the business.

“That’s where I really had the most amazing wines of my career,” Treviño Boyd said.

A sommelier’s duties include tasting a wine before it’s served to make sure it’s not corked, oxidized or flawed, which means she tasted everything. It was a “grand education” in the fine and rare wines that are poured ceaselessly in that city, she said. Her New York stint included managing the 1,800-wine wine list for the legendary Alaine Decasse at St. Regis, a Michelin-starred French restaurant.

Treviño Boyd, who holds an advanced certificate from the American Sommelier Association, relocated to Houston in 2011 and set about distinguishing herself in the field. In 2012 she was named “Best New Sommelier” by Food & Wine magazine and “Houston’s Best Sommelier” by Houston Press. Her return to the Valley was prompted by Hurricane Harvey, which destroyed Houston’s Lakeside Country Club, where Treviño Boyd was working as beverage director, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost her a subsequent position.

“So I’ve lost two jobs to natural disasters,” she said.

Treviño Boyd said she’s enjoying being back in Brownsville with her mother, and is looking forward to spreading the gospel of wine and has big plans for doing so as part of Las Ramblas, where she’s revamping the wine program. First up in the way of special events was The Art of Wine: A Guided Wine Tasting and Seminar, which took place Dec. 29.

Mainly, Treviño Boyd wants people to drink wine, and maybe learn a little something about what they’re drinking. As a sommelier, she primarily considers herself a “wine educator.”

“Whether I’m working on a restaurant floor as the resident sommelier, whether I’m doing private wine dinners in people’s homes or in a private space like the one we have next door (to Las Ramblas), or whether I’m training staff, that’s when education really becomes apparent,” Treviño Boyd said.

If $30,000 or even $1,000 for a bottle (even a jeroboam) doesn’t quite fit the budget, perfectly drinkable wines can be had for a tiny fraction, she said, admitting that she hails from a Bud Light family, not a wine family, for whom a $50 bottle of wine is considered expensive.

Women do most of the wine-buying in a household, spending about $28 per bottle according to the national average, said Treviño Boyd, who brings home $35 wines and even $12 wines on occasion.

“Not all wine at $12 is good,” she said. “Most of it is simplistic. I won’t say bad, but simplistic. It might all taste the same if you taste down a winemaker’s line. At $40 you can find some okay wines. Once you get into the $60 range you’re probably getting a wine that you’re going to like if not love, based on where it’s from.”

At any rate, it’s a lot of fun working through the different price points and styles with friends or family, Treviño Boyd said, emphasizing that wine must be shared to be enjoyed properly. To maximize the experience, learn a fact or two about the winery, and make it a regular ritual, she said.

“I recommend getting a bottle of wine,” Treviño Boyd said. “It doesn’t matter how much it is. Do one piece of research on it before you open the wine. Before you open it Google something about the winery to give you some context. Open the wine and enjoy it.”