Interviews

From the Judge's Table: Insights from Jeff Van Ham, Sommelier at Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants

Photo for: From the Judge's Table: Insights from Jeff Van Ham, Sommelier at Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants

09/04/2024 Dive into the inspiring journey of Jeff Van Ham, a sommelier at Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, whose initial indifference to wine transformed into a profound passion for the vine.

In the vibrant and ever-evolving world of wine, stories of passion and transformation often stand out, providing both inspiration and insight into the complexities of this beloved industry. One such story belongs to Jeff Van Ham, a sommelier at Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, whose initial indifference towards wine transformed into a deep-seated love and respect for the craft behind each bottle.

His journey from skepticism to becoming a key player in the wine world offers a unique perspective on not just the art of wine tasting and selection but also on the influential role sommeliers play in shaping industry trends and consumer preferences.

Van is participating as a judge in the 6th edition of the Sommeliers Choice Awards. SCA is now open for entries, wine brands looking to elevate their presence in the on-premise sector are invited to participate before the April 24 deadline. 

SCA 2024 Judging Panel

Van Ham's entry into the world of wine was pragmatic – a means to enhance his resume in a competitive job market. However, what began as a strategy to address a perceived weakness soon unfolded into a journey of discovery.

The more he learned and tasted, the more the world of wine drew him in, captivating him with the stories of passion and hard work embedded in each bottle. This journey of discovery was not just about wine itself but also about connecting with others, sharing experiences, and broadening horizons.

As the Sommeliers Choice Awards open their doors for the 6th edition, inviting brands to showcase their wines, Van Ham highlights the unique perspective sommeliers bring to the judging table. With their hands-on experience dealing with distributors, learning directly from winemakers, and understanding consumer desires, sommeliers like Van Ham are uniquely positioned to recognize wines that resonate with both the trade and consumers. The awards, he notes, leverage this frontline expertise to identify wines that excel not just in taste but in meeting the nuanced demands of the market.

Image source: Van Ham, Judge at SCA 2024

Van Ham points out an emerging trend towards wines with minimal intervention, reflecting a growing consumer preference for authenticity, terroir, and the essence of the grape itself. This shift towards natural, organic, and biodynamic wines underscores a broader movement towards sustainability and transparency in the wine industry, aspects that are increasingly influencing consumer choices and industry practices.

For emerging and small wineries, a medal from the Sommeliers Choice Awards can be a significant milestone, offering much-needed visibility and credibility in a crowded marketplace. Van Ham emphasizes the transformative impact such recognition can have, providing an invaluable platform for brands to introduce their stories and philosophies to a wider audience.

The feedback provided by judges is a cornerstone of the Sommeliers Choice Awards, offering entrants detailed insights into how their wines are perceived by industry professionals. Van Ham approaches this task with consideration for each entrant's business strategy, aiming to offer advice that aligns with market demands and personal observations. This feedback, he believes, is crucial for entrants, guiding them toward success and inclusion on coveted wine lists.

With the deadline for entries approaching on April 24, the Sommeliers Choice Awards present a unique opportunity for wine brands to gain recognition and valuable feedback from some of America's top sommeliers and wine buyers.

Through a rigorous blind-tasting process that evaluates food pairability, typicity, quality, value, and packaging, the awards aim to provide on-premise buyers and sommeliers with a reliable benchmark for selecting wines that will delight and intrigue customers.

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The 2024 Sommeliers Choice Awards results are out! View the results here.