Jens Strecker – Jens is the owner and the wine buyer at Portalis Wine Shop + Wine Bar in Seattle. He was educated as an anesthesiologist & emergency doctor in his native Germany, but upon moving to Seattle in 1999, he changed careers, following his life-long love of wine and his desire to work in the industry. He founded Portalis Wine Shop + Wine Bar with his wife, Julie, in 2003, creating a great local venue for people to explore the world of wine. Jens is a lover of wines across the board, with the primary condition being that it is a good representative of its region, varietal, etc. He’s an early adopter if he thinks a wine is good for the money, and his customers value his knowledge, his pleasant directness and his knack for pairing them with the right wine. Jens conceived of The Tasting Circle in the fall of 2008 to provide Seattle wine buyers helpful information about wines in their marketplace.
Gina Gregory – Aside from her central role in starting up & managing Portalis with Julie and Jens, Gina has a deep love of wine and a curious nature that has taken her on an exciting professional path through the world of wine. In 2007, Gina earned her Sommelier Certificate, and in addition to running the bar at Portalis, she is the wine buyer at Scott Carsberg’s esteemed Lampreia in Belltown. An avid traveler & wine tourist herself, look for Gina in her next life, where she is planning to start wine tours to Italy. Gina is a founding member of the Tasting Circle, helping flesh out the the ideas and organize the execution of this professional wine tasting series.
Ken O’Hara – Ken had his first real wine epiphany in South Africa while earning his Bachelor’s in Anthropology at the University of Washington. While breaking from his studies, Ken explored the vineyards of Stellenbosch, inspiring a lifelong interest in South African wines and other off-the-beaten-path regions. Ken’s interest in culinary arts evolved through his diverse experience as confectioner, baker, and ethnic cuisine explorer, working his way up to Executive Chef at the well-loved Mandalay Café. The culmination of these experiences is what led Ken to A&B Imports, where he is currently the Sales Manager. With the most extensive South African wine portfolio in the nation, Ken immediately recognized that A&B was the place for him to focus his talent and knowledge for wine and wine pairing. His love of undiscovered wines and uncharted regions translates into an opportunity to educate and excite wine lovers both professional and personal. On The Tasting Circle Panel since November 2008.
Catherine Reynolds – After six years of tasting more Tempranillo than should be legally allowed in the state of Washington as Wine Manager at Seattle’s Spanish Table, Catherine Reynolds (named one of Seattle’s “Top Five Up & Coming Sommeliers” by Wine & Spirits Magazine) has officially launched her own company, Queso y Vino, in November 2008. Queso y Vino is a virtual specialty wine store featuring passionately chosen wines from Spain, Portugal, & South America, as well as amazing wine finds for under $20. Queso y Vino offers personal wine clubs catering to each palate, wine classes & consulting, private in-home events, an educational newsletter, & an exciting wine dinner series featuring exceptional local chefs. On The Tasting Circle Panel since November 2008.
Theresa Slechta – After graduating from the University of Carolina with degrees in Media/Film and Speech Communication, Theresa traveled through Europe for three months, visiting 16 countries. It was in Germany that she got her first exposure to vineyards, but her love of wine actually started with her love of food. She remembers her grandfather having a huge cellar, allowing her early exposure to wine collecting and wine appreciation. After returning from Europe, she was a GM at a restaurant in North Carolina, moved to Florida, and ultimately ended up in Seattle for a change in climate & geography. In Seattle, she worked for the Restaurant Unlimited Company for 5 years as well as Wild Ginger for 12, where she was a Wine Steward from 2000-2007. She started with Vinum Wine Importing & Distributing four years ago in sales and now holds the title of Domestic Portfolio Manager. She has a personal wine interest in Oregon Pinots and Portugese table wines. Her hobbies/passions are dining out, collecting ceramics by local artists as well as collecting local fine art. On The Tasting Circle Panel since November 2008.
Ari Manzin – Owner, Bianco Rosso, importer of wines from Italy. Ari has accomplished a lot in his 28 years. He received a degree from UW in Environmental Studies & Italian. He lived in Italy two different times, the first in Rome (2000) and later in Alba (Piedmont, 2004) to learn about winemaking and help with harvest. He joined Bianco-Rosso Imports in 2005, a Seattle-based company specializing in Italian wines that his dad, Giancarlo founded in 1978. Ari travels back to Italy every year to meet with the growers and winemakers in his portfolio and visit their facilities. In his free time, Ari likes to play the piano, garden, hike and play soccer. As well, Ari’s a big Art-house movie buff. On The Tasting Circle Panel since November 2008.
Giuseppe Carraturo - Giuseppe began his career in the wine business as a waiter for Princess Cruises. After leaving Princess Cruises, he moved to France for a short while and then finally settled in the Pacific Northwest. Giuseppe worked as a sales representative for Vinifera Imports in Portland, OR. He was eventually promoted to Regional Manager and was sent to Denver to run the company’s distribution in that state. In 2001, Giuseppe was hired to be the Italian Wine Specialist for Southern Wine & Spirits in Denver. He had the pleasure of managing several large importers’ Italian portfolios. In 2005, Giuseppe decided to return to his homeland to work for the esteemed Amarone and Valpolicella producer Cav. G. B Bertani. In 2007, Giuseppe decided to pursue his dream and open his own distribution company. In April of 2008, V I Wines Distributing was born. The company started out running and is continuing to grow and thrive, selling a large selection of wines from Italy, Argentinia, California and more. On The Tasting Circle Panel since December 2008.
Matt Gubitosa – ANIMALE Winemaker Matt Gubitosa has been making wine since 1991, and has been tasting wine since well before that. With two degrees in Geology, Matt has both the earth science background needed for understanding vineyard dynamics, as well as the requisite grasp of chemistry so critical to fermentation management. But Matt’s ardent passion for wine began before school, at home, part of the rich culinary tradition of his Italian-American family. As Matt tells it, “Wine was on the dinner table…every night, along with lots of great food. My parents loved wine with their meals and us kids were always allowed to taste. We grew up hearing great stories about how, for years during Prohibition, grandpa made wine at home, supplying family and many friends.” With ANIMALE, Matt now proudly continues the family winemaking tradition. On The Tasting Circle Panel since January 2009.
Fernando Martinez - Chef, Purple Café & Wine Bar. Fernando, originally from Chile, began his cooking career in the kitchen of the Casablanca Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1991. Only a few years later at the famous Cambridge culinary forerunner, the Harvest Restaurant, Fernando recognized his potential and decided to dedicate himself to his new career and go to cooking school. He spent the next 10 years gaining experience learning French, Italian, German, Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian cuisines, stating that his style developed while living in South Africa working with Dario de Angelis of Yum Restaurant, the top rated restaurant in Johannesburg, where he was given the green light in the upstairs dining room to create his own dishes. “My style of cooking is essentially preparing clean, fresh food with a beautiful presentation. I want you to be able to taste each ingredient. I want all of your senses to be delighted.” Besides cooking, Fernando has a passion for wines: “I am as in love with wines as I am with food. For me a meal must be accompanied with wine.” On The Tasting Circle Panel since April 2009.
Chris Nishiwaki – Chris is a freelance writer with over 17 years of experience in journalism. He has written for The Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, NW Palate Magazine, The Kansas City Star, Citysearch, the Journal American, the Lewiston Morning Tribune, Seattle Magazine, Colors NW Magazine, Northwest Asian Weekly, Northwest Nikkei, The Northshore Citizen, the Mercer Island Reporter and several other publications. He has also appeared in Bon Appetit and Seattle Homes & Lifestyles. Chris has also served on the committees for the PONCHO Wine Auction, the Auction of Washington Wines, the Art of Dining, Chef’s Night Out, FareStart’s Night on the Town Auction, the Artist Trust Auction, INTIMAN Theatre Gala and the Seattle Opera Gala. On The Tasting Circle Panel since April 2009.
Arnaud Guerin – Born and raised in France in Fontainebleau (30 minutes South of Paris), Arnaud came to the States about 12 years ago where he re-discovered food, working as the assistant to the Cordon-Bleu trained Chef Bertand de Boutray (from Bertrand Chez Vous) and later on found a job in the oldest wine shop in Seattle: Champion Wine Cellars. This is where he got his start before going on the wholesale aspect of the wine industry, which is where he now works for Elliot Bay Distributing.
Jerred D Wolff – Jerred has a graduate degree in History and has lived in Italy, Germany and Africa. He has been working for Palm Bay International as the “fine wine manager” in the Pacific Northwest for the last four years. Jerred ran a wine shop and conducted weekly public trainings before he worked on the wholesales side. While working on the wholesale side Jerred conducted numerous educational classes at Whole Foods and other venues as an independent educator.
Russell Gladhart – Owner of Winter’s Hill Vineyard. The winery is based in Willamette Valley, specifically the Dundee Hills. The vineyard was planted in 1961 by his parents. Russell’s wife, Delphine Gladhart who is French, is the winemaker. They produce Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Muscat. Tasting Circle Panel Guest Taster March 2009: WA vs. CA Cabernet Sauvignon.
Michael Friesen – After 20 years in the restaurant business, I have now settled down at Bastille in Ballard to wait tables and bide my time until I receive my engineering degree from UW. I worked in Aspen, Colorado as a server/manager/wine buyer for 10 years before moving here in 2007. Since arriving in Seattle, I have worked at Wild Ginger and Seastar, until finding my happy home at Bastille. At Bastille, I am a server and bartender, and can be found having a blast with the guests Wed, Thur, and Fri, every week. I firmly believe that wine is an important part of the everyday diet, along with food and happiness!