Best New Sommeliers of 2013

Chad Zeigler, RN74, San Francisco

He stumbled into sommelierdom —on the floor of The French Laundry— when he'd just reached legal drinking age.

Chad Zeigler's father was a pilot in Los Angeles. His uncle was the chief mechanic for Warner Brothers' corporate jets. By the time he was 16, Zeigler had earned his own pilot's license and was planning to enter the Air National Guard in Fresno, where he would learn to fly F16s. At the last minute, though, he started to have reservations. So instead, when he finished high school, he moved back to Pensacola, where he'd grown up before his family moved west.

He ended up tending bar at a place that had a solid wine program, and the manager suggested that he learn more about wine. "I was 21 at the time. I started reading wine books and tasting as much as I could," he recalls. "I did the [Court of Master Sommeliers] intro course, then the Certified, and the hooks were set."

Soon he was moving back across the country to intern at The French Laundry in Napa Valley. When Sur Lucero (a W&S Best New Somm in 2011) left to work under Bobby Stuckey, MS, in Colorado, Zeigler found himself on the floor as a full-fledged sommelier at one of the country's most distinguished restaurants. He was still 21.

After that, he was hired by Jared Heber to run the wine program at the new Gordon Ramsay restaurant in L.A., where he stayed for several years before settling in San Francisco on the team at RN74. Last October, Rajat Parr, who runs the Michael Mina Group's wine division, promoted Zeigler to head sommelier, putting him in charge of a wine program loaded with blue-chip bottlings, particularly from Burgundy and the Northern Rhône. — Luke Sykora

Starting out

I just tasted everything I could get my hands on. I was reading about wines like pinotage, some people talking favorably about it, some trashing it, so I would say: I'm going to find some pinotage. For the first year, I didn't have favorites, because I was always trying something new. I got into Bordeaux for a while. I liked the savory, earthy flavor profiles—although I still wanted something full. And then I started gravitating toward the Southern Rhône, then the Northern Rhône. And then riesling and Champagne—those are some of my favorites now.

The red sheep

I think I baffle most people in my family: Wine, how does that even happen?

Basic Bourgogne

Marsannay is showing some promise, especially producers like Sylvain Pataille. And Savigny-lès-Beaunes—tasting there in February with Patrick Bize of Domaine Simon Bize, some of the Savigny were just incredible. Even basic Bourgogne is becoming quite good. Roulot's Bourgogne Blanc: for the money, it's incredible.

SF Haunts

I go to NOPA because they're open late and their wine list is awesome. We also find ourselves at Zuni a lot for lunch on Sundays. It's been a tradition we've had since I started [at RN74]. We call them Department Meetings. We bring a bunch of wine and drink and taste, for someone's birthday or just because we haven't done it in a while.

Flying Again

I would still like to get back to flying after I finish my studies with the Court of Master Sommeliers. I haven't flown for several years, but I want to for sure.