One-On-One with Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy
Posted: January 21st, 2020
It’s not often one gets to spend time with a Master Sommelier. After all, there are only a handful in the country. Carlton McCoy is one of those select few. His story is one of inspiration and interest. In the past year he accepted a job as as President and CEO of Napa Valley’s celebrated Heitz Cellar, thus necessitating him leaving his role as a prominent wine director in Aspen. A significant move from a man who adored the restaurant business and its helter skelter pace: “I always imagined myself dying in a restaurant one day.” Fortunately, for wine connoisseurs and burgeoning aficionados, he is very much alive—and has embarked on a Napa Valley journey that is sure to prove fruitful and groundbreaking.
We recently had the great privilege of spending time with Carlton and asking him some questions about his new gig in Napa, his dedication to cycling, and what he has in store for CampoVelo 2020.
So Carlton, congrats on your position with Heitz Cellar. That’s quite a distinctive position. I read recently that you said: “no other estate could have brought me to Napa.” Can you elaborate on that?
Well, it was something I couldn’t pass up. I have always considered myself a throwback, in that I have always loved the old classics. I’ve collected a lot of wine over the years and I find myself drawn to the classics, which have been properly aged and stored. Heitz is one of the few wineries that has stayed true to this tradition and made a commitment to the old classics, if you will. It’s reminiscent of the post-prohibition era in California, which I have always been intrigued by.
So you’ve been at Heitz Cellars for a year now. What’s new? What’s exciting? What are your plans?
Well, having come from the restaurant side, I’m used to a fast-paced environment. I’ve tried to bring that here to this old, revered Napa winery. You might say we’ve changed the energy and high-intensity pace of cultivation and production. But the main thing that excites me is that we’re able to help people rediscover the old Napa. It’s such a rich history and I feel fortunate to be able to carry that mantle forward.
So you’re coming to CampoVelo 2020 in a few months. Is cycling something that has become part of your life?
Absolutely. I love being on the bike. I wish I had more time to really dedicate to it. I started riding when I was in Aspen and took to it right away. I wanted to challenge myself physically and this was the perfect outlet. Best of all, I’ve been able to ride with some of the top pros, who are all wonderful people and very down-to-earth. I felt no pretension or attitude from them even though they were among the elite in the sport. Super guys and very welcoming.
Have you been able to ride in Napa?
I have actually. This is a stunning, scenic area and, for me, being on the bike is the best way to take it all in and discover the beauty of it all. It’s become a way for me to explore the mountains and countryside and feel part of this place. It’s at once gorgeous and challenging.
So tell us about your plans at CampoVelo? What will you be preparing and showcasing?
Well, first of all it’s an honor to be invited to such a great event. It’s in Napa, it’s all about cycling, and wine and cycling have always gone hand-in-hand I feel. Some of the Tour de France riders I’ve met say they developed a knowledge and taste because of their years bouncing around Europe and being exposed to different varieties. I’m excited to be a part of this year’s event. But to answer your question, I’ll be involved with two events: one Saturday day and one Saturday night. The first one, on Saturday afternoon, will be a Wine Workshop, for lack of a better name. It will feature blind tasting and encourage people to determine what wines they truly delight in most. No one will be judging anything. It will be an opportunity for people to take their own journey with wine and discover what they like best. The Chef’s Benefit Dinner, later that night, will be a chance to introduce complementary wine pairings to the various cuisine that will be served. I hope that people will discover new possibilities that they can take with them after they leave.
As a final question, what do you want people to take away from this event, as it pertains to wine?
That it should be fun, not intimidating. So many people are afraid to embark on wine tasting journey because they feel they aren’t experts and don’t know enough or something like that. But I can tell you that, as a Master Sommelier, it is impossible to understand wine. The more I learn the more I am amazed at the mystery of it. So if I can impart one thing, it would be that people embark on their own wine journey and discover what they truly enjoy.