by Eric Ginsburg
The elevator-pitch version of how Julia Hunt became a wine expert glosses over a telling story that helps illuminate how she would later become the Triad’s only advanced sommelier.
As a student at the College of Charleston, Hunt stumbled into a gig at one of the city’s premier restaurants. The owners allowed her to sit in on any wine tastings or trainings with the career servers. After work, on a pretty regular basis, Hunt and her coworkers would split an expensive bottle of wine that the owners sold them at wholesale price. Those casual wine nights with well-versed friends and fine wines laid the groundwork for her eventual career.
Alone the formal tastings and informal conversations after hours don’t explain how Hunt would wind up as the Triad’s foremost wine connoisseur. After school, while working as a bartender, she considered herself a wine enthusiast. But as a future employer would tell her: “Normal people don’t memorize the 1855 classification of Bordeaux for fun.”
Hunt would eventually land a gig as the wine director for Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels in Greensboro, where she would help build the wine list at Green Valley Grill to about 500 — the largest in the Triad — among an assortment of other responsibilities and accomplishments.
Becoming an advanced sommelier wasn’t a career requirement, but rather something Hunt aspired to. Since passing the test in 2006, she kept pushing herself, sitting for the master sommelier exam a few times but only passing a portion of the test. In 2009, she joined locally based American Premium Beverage — owned by distributor RH Barringer — after a decade with Quaintance-Weaver. She’s still there as the fine wine specialist, assisting on the company’s Top 50 accounts in a territory stretching from Winston-Salem to Burlington.
Her job, she said, is “ultimately about being a detective,” and allows her to turn people on to something they like but might not have discovered otherwise. Right now, she’s hunting for premium Hungarian wines. She also takes care of the “orphans,” she said — the wines that are misunderstood and usually expensive.
“I’m the one that gets called with the weird questions,” Hunt said.
Hunt frequently facilitates wine pairing and dinner events, helps to build new wine menus and arranges trips for winemakers and restaurateurs.
“I’m kind of a part-time travel agent,” she joked.
Headhunters often call for Hunt, but she is happy where she is, though a part of her would like to try her hand at winemaking some day.
When Julia Hunt is off the clock, she regularly opts for Austrian wines because of their acidity, minerality and a wide range of possible food pairings.