This New Orleans native began his career in the hospitality business at age seventeen. While working as a restaurant manager, Barry Wiss entered the newly-formed Hotel Restaurant Program at the University of New Orleans. Game on! He started working for the Sheraton New Orleans before being transferred to one of their new properties in Southern California. Barry and his wife, Kim, discovered the Napa Valley during a vacation and decided to make the big move to wine country.
Barry became an evening maitre ď at the world-renowned Tra Vigne Restaurant in St. Helena, which enabled him to learn more about his newfound passion for wine, and he studied viticulture and enology at Napa Valley College. A big step came when he became the Hospitality Director at Schramsberg Vineyards, where he worked closely with the late Jack and Jamie Davies and was responsible for designing the vineyard’s extensive hospitality program. In 1995, Barry joined Sutter Home Vineyards as their Director of Hospitality and Education; now he oversees the hospitality and culinary program for the Trinchero Family Estates.
Barry established Vine to Dine®, one of the industry’s most creative culinary and wine education programs. Vine to Dine has received international accolades and has been described as one of the most innovative approaches to wine education. Barry also developed the World Wine Challenge®, an educational “game” of wine knowledge with different levels of expertise. The WWC has many adaptations, from fun to learning, and can be enjoyed by all levels of wine lovers. Barry is a Certified Wine Educator, Certified Sommelier, he holds the Advanced Level Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and he serves on the Board of Directors and Examiners for the Society of Wine Educators. Barry is also presently pursuing a Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
itm: Barry, thanks for taking the time to mix it up a little with us. When we were chatting with you before this interview, you seemed to have the enthusiasm of a kid with a new job. But really you’ve been with Trinchero Family Estates seventeen years now. Could you give us an idea of your day-to-day responsibilities?
Barry: Sure. There are two key areas which mostly define my role. The first would be overseeing the day-to-day operations of our on-site hospitality and wine/culinary education departments. With the help of an incredible team composed of Directors of Hospitality, Culinary and Customer Relations, and a full in-house service staff, we entertain and educate nearly 10,000 wine industry professionals annually. The second would be traveling to key markets on behalf of Trinchero Family Estates. Nowadays, most of my travels involve wine education. Due to the increased interest in wine-related careers, people in these occupations are now expected to have some level of accreditation. Nearly two-thirds of my time is spent traveling to key markets to conduct Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE) programs. I am also very active with the Society of Wine Educators, serving on the Board of Directors and Examiners.
itm: You have created an exceptional hospitality program for TFE. Could you give us a feel for what happens in the Vine to Dine program?
Barry: We have been very fortunate to receive so much enthusiasm from the trade regarding our Vine to Dine education programs. By the way, we call our programs “Vine to Dine” because I realized early in my food and beverage career that it does not stop at the “wine,” it stops at the “dine,” when our customers are enjoying that bottle of wine with their total hospitality experience. That’s where the magic happens. Our Vine to Dine program encompasses the entire spectrum of wine education. Participants experience the very basics of wine, food/wine pairing and service, even all the way to the CSW and CWE certifications. However, the hallmark of Vine to Dine is interactive learning. I also recognized very early that wine can be an intimidating obstacle for anyone in hospitality. I still remember those glazed looks from my service staff years ago and it is still that way for most. After nearly fifteen years, the most popular Vine to Dine presentations include Mastering Wine Aromas and the ”Aroma Wheel of Fortune,” Mastering Taste Balance and the “Tongue Fu” Challenge, and “What’s my Wine.”
itm: Could you expound upon the CSW and CWE certification programs offered at the estate?
Barry: Trinchero has a long-term relationship with the Society of Wine Educators. As I mentioned earlier, for several years now I have served on the Board of Directors and Examiners. When I started in the hospitality business in New Orleans, wine was never a big thing (beer and spirits were). We offered a very basic wine list, mostly for the tourists. But times have changed! Now, if you consider yourself a wine professional, you are expected to have some level of accreditation.
We are seeing the younger generation getting more excited and regarding wine as a viable career, and what an incredible career it is. In addition, as wine consumers are becoming more knowledgeable, successful hospitality professionals must continue to exceed customer expectations. Lack of wine training in fine dining, and in some cases casual dining, is becoming less acceptable.
And let’s face it–wine can be very profitable if training and sales are properly executed. The CSW and CWE are two of the most sought-after professional wine accreditations. We offer both programs several times annually here at Trinchero and have seen an increase in participation every year. The CSW certification has become the go-to accreditation as a strong foundation for higher certifications. It is one of best programs for mastering the fundamentals of wine and has proven to be a great springboard into any of the many other wine programs offered, including the CWE. Another great benefit of earning the CSW is receiving a post-nominal, which has professional value and significance when used as a resume builder. The CSW program includes a comprehensive study guide and review seminar. The exam has 100 multiple choice questions; candidates scoring a minimum of 75% receive their certification. One of the attractive features of this test is that all the questions come from the study guide; so there is no need to buy a crazy number of books.
itm: The World Wine Challenge—what a great game and learning tool! ITM ran a segment for a year or more where we picked certain questions from each level. It was a favorite of our readers and we might want to revisit that. Did you say you were working on Version 3?
Barry: Thank you; it was certainly a labor of love. As you well know, I am an extreme wine nerd. Over the years I have written several thousand wine questions, which has really helped me stay on top of my learning. No matter how much a person knows, we are all students of wine. In the spirit of our Vine to Dine Programs, we wanted to create something fun and challenging to prepare hospitality professionals for passing certification exams. As you know, our World Wine Challenge Version 2 has over 500 questions with levels of difficulty ranging from “Wine Drinker” to “Wine Master.” The questions are randomized and pulled from question banks so no two games will ever be the same. The game is also designed to accommodate two teams; we have so much fun with teams of visiting sommeliers challenging each other. And yes! We are working on a bigger and better World Wine Challenge Version 3, with better graphics and close to 1,000 new questions, in addition to our website, worldwinechallenge.com.
itm: Bob Trinchero was recently inducted into The Vintners Hall of Fame. What a great honor this must be for him and the whole Trinchero family. Can you tell us about that?
Barry: Be careful what you ask for–when I start talking about the Trinchero family, it is difficult to stop. We are very blessed to work with such an incredible family. Bob Trinchero is one of the most successful people in the history of wine, but he has never forgotten his family’s long and difficult path. Just about 30 years ago, they were forced to take used bottles from other Napa Valley wineries to bottle their wines. When we think of the Trinchero family, two adages come to mind: “Good things happen to good people” and “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” Just last year, Bob and his wife Evelyn donated over 3,000 acres to Napa County, under the condition that the land would not be developed. By all rights, Bob certainly is deserving of his recent induction to the Vintners Hall of Fame, but seeing his modesty and sincerity when accepting this tribute was very humbling for us all. It is one of Bob’s most cherished honors.
itm: In closing, I’m sure there will be a lot of F&Bs curious about how to get involved in the Vine to Dine program. How do they initiate it and what are the costs?
Barry: All of our Vine to Dine programs are offered here in Napa Valley, and it would be great to welcome any and all hospitality professionals. Our courses are offered exclusively for the food and beverage trade so are not open to the general public. Due to the size of our distribution, all requests must come through our regional sales managers. However, for simplicity, please ask any of your readers to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Regarding the cost of our Vine to Dine programs, there is no cost (excluding the CSW and CWE programs). Think of it as wine tour with a whole lot more!