Photo Credit: Erin Cooper Photography

Kat Thomas is an industry veteran who describes herself as “a tiny giant” and is as committed to her growth and achievement in the wine industry as she is to promoting the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of herself and of others. We were fortunate to catch up with Thomas recently and speak with her about her beginnings in hospitality and how yoga and meditation practice can influence or enhance one’s abilities as a wine professional.  

How long have you been working in the hospitality and wine industries?

I started my professional approach to service and hospitality when I opened Bellagio as a banquet server, and I feel so fortunate to have those thirteen years on my resume. From there, I opened Aria and that is where I was strongly nudged to try out the world of sommelier. 

Who has been your greatest mentor or motivator within the wine industry and why? 

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Rob Bigelow for thinking I could do this job 9 years ago and strongly encouraging me into a job as a sommelier. Daniele Tavernaro and Jeff Eichelburger were so caring and patient with me when I was given a chance on the floor as a sommelier at Sirio, Aria. From there a constant is Jeffrey Bencus, my group of wine sisters who inspire and challenge me in personal and professional development and my most current badass mentor is one of the founders of TEXSOM, Mr. James Tidwell. 

What has been your greatest challenge professionally to date? 

I thought it would have been my worry and fears of being able to continue in the profession I have fallen in love with and mentally, physically and emotionally devoted myself to for the last ten years, but the biggest challenge I ever had was finding balance and responsibility while working. It is a fun challenge now and always will be.

What surprised you most about your role as a wine educator for Hakkasan Group?

The biggest surprise was when they accepted the job position Constantin Alexander created for me. That was shocking as they hadn’t had a dedicated individual or position to train on a corporate level before. With some of our flagships carrying extensive and beautifully challenging wine lists, I felt it was a true benefit to the company. 

What is the best piece of advice you’d offer young people who are interested in becoming wine professionals?

Make sure you enjoy humans. Sound too simple? It is not. When I say enjoy humans, I mean enjoy being a social persona, one that likes to engage and talk to others in public settings. Make sure you are open to learning about culture and history, traditional customs and design, food and beverages. Make each job purposeful and it will make sense and flow with more ease and benefits than you ever imagined.

When it comes to learning, absorbing and studying wine, stop comparing your knowledge to that of others and take care of your guests. Learn the menu you are working with. It doesn’t matter if you have ten wines total on your list. Stop always looking over your shoulder at someone else’s menu to get better. If you don’t know your own menu, food included, inside and out then you are not present in your own world so nothing else will really make sense when studying. Please trust me, foundation is everything!

Study and find a pattern of how you enjoy learning solo and make habits out of those patterns. Next, find a group that challenges you in good ways by going outside your normal patterns. Embrace the struggles and ASK FOR HELP!

Don’t worry about rushing to get your certifications but work hard at getting them if you’re going that route. No matter when you get the certificate, the journey to get it will have been more worthy and instrumental in your practice and skills than the ticket itself. Certifications only mean you proved something to yourself. 

How do you feel yoga and meditation practice can influence or enhance your abilities as a wine professional?

Meditation is more than beneficial, it is the reminder of how alive we are in each moment, in each single breath. With that simple acknowledgment we can shine our brightest. A quick breath in breath out moment when you’re about to take a test, start an interview or take that troubling guest to the next level of contentment is the difference between purpose and complacency. 

Yoga as the physical aspect creates more oxygen and blood flow pathways to keep the insides juicy while the outsides stay strong. It also promotes flexibility both in the mind and body which increase your ability to serve and succeed.

If you had to choose one grape varietal that best represents your personality, which would it be and why?

I thought for sure I would have settled on an intense and sassy grape, probably Italian, but I am still smiling and honored by the response given when I asked a mentor and friend of mine which grape best represented me, so I have to repeat it. This was their response: “Sercial, Noble for Madeira. Beloved by those who know. Dry and crisp. Sweet but not always obvious. Real with no pretense and demonstrating how it came to be what it is.”