In the service industry, wine buyers are considered especially talented. In Houston, those responsible are members of an elite squad. For them, two things are pretty much certain; a career in this field began with one memorable sip, and second, they probably rush home in between lunch and dinner service to feed some sort of pet, or little human. These are their stories.
The worldwide study of wine, while sometimes daunting, provides lighthouse moments to those professionals like Adele Corrigan, general manager of 13 Celsius (and director of operations at Mongoose vs. Cobra), who with the taste of a Valtellina Superiore, couldn’t help but dive head first into Italian wines.
“There is something about the terroir of Italy. They produce funky, earthy wines that I just love—a get the chills down to your toes kind of thing.”
While the majority of people think Barolo or Barbaresco from the Piedmont region when it comes to nebbiolo, few would think to venture further to the east along the mountainous alps of Lombardy. That is where Valtellina Superiore DOCG resides, a unique interpretation of nebbiolo known by it's other name, chiavennasca. Corrigan bubbled over with enthusiasm as she thought back almost ten years ago when she tasted the wine as a new bartender at 13 Celsius.
Back then, a possible career in theater transformed into a communications degree from the University of Houston Downtown, and in the background Corrigan waited tables the entire time, learning snippets here and there about wine. “I want to know more and more,” Corrigan exclaimed, remembering how biology and growing things, as well as a love for maps attracted her to the study of wine. "...And it's just fun!" So much so that while just starting out, she read Kevin Zraly's Windows on The World Complete Wine Course cover to cover twice.
Sitting at a small circular table amidst a stack of papers, she nodded toward the enclosed courtyard behind her. “One night we were drinking in the courtyard, a big group of somms and the “OG Natty Daddy” himself Frank Cornelissen was there too…” she recalls the night they decanted four different bottles from the same vintage while noting the variation in each. The wine: a chardonnay from Meursault by Jean-Marie Berrux, a Burgundian biodynamic winemaker. “We talked about how they are all slightly different, and that wine is alive, and that whole concept— I had never heard it before. The whole experience was this euphoric feeling of mindblown.”
Her curiosity within the vein of natural winemaking actually occurred years before when Antonio Gianola, then managing partner and sommelier at Catalan, presented her and a few others with a bottle of Paolo Bea Santa Chiara aka orange wine. “It was this funky white wine you had to try, no one else could fathom it because no one else had ever tried anything like that before—it was the most unusual thing.” The majority of orange wine, which is made from white grapes that have had skin contact during fermentation resulting in an orange tint as well as heightened tannins, is produced by natural and biodynamic means.
Corrigan, who just returned from the 2019 Vinitaly wine conference in Verona, continues to keep her hand on the pulse of Italian, natural, and biodynamic wines though her thoughtful procurement at 13 Celsius covers all the bases.
Oh, and she and her boyfriend have two cats, one white and one gray, both named Jelly.