In today’s world, where innovation and creativity are highly valued, there are countless opportunities to earn a livelihood. Regardless of the industry, whether it’s in the public, private, or joint sector, there are numerous ways to make a living. Some people earn a salary by working in an office, while others make money through writing, drawing, designing, cooking, or providing services. Every job has its own importance and merits, and no profession is considered inferior to another. Everyone works hard to provide for themselves and their loved ones and to live a decent life.
There are those who work for a boss and others who are their own bosses, such as Carlton McCoy, an American businessman and master sommelier. He is an example of someone who has achieved success in his field through hard work and dedication.
Clearly, Carlton McCoy has found success in the food and beverage world, and credits his many mentors along the way for his accomplishments—starting from the very beginning.
“I learned the kitchen basics working at my family’s catering business,” says Carlton. “My grandma was an amazing cook known for her pecan pie and peach cobbler, and she was by far the leading influence behind my career in the restaurant business.”
Food, not wine, was certainly a focus of family life. “No one in my family drank wine,” says Carlton. Little did he know that wine would play a big part in his future—today he is master sommelier, president and CEO of Heitz Cellars in Napa, CA, and a James Beard Foundation Trustee. “The first time you visit this winery, you realize what a national treasure it is—it’s a living history lesson of Napa Valley.”
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Perhaps the word “sommelier” is unfamiliar to some. Allow me to provide a brief explanation. Essentially, a sommelier is a trained wine professional with expertise in wine services and pairing food with wine. They pay attention to the temperature and the glassware used for serving wine, and are responsible for ensuring that health and safety guidelines are followed. Typically, they are employed in high-end restaurants, but it is important to note that a wine waiter and a sommelier are not the same. The latter’s work is more specialized, involving management of vineyards and cellars to ensure proper wine storage, stock levels, and delivery.
Carlton McCoy’s Date of Birth (D.O.B)
Carrying his hard-earned diploma, Carlton began an exciting journey that led him through a diverse range of experiences, where he absorbed valuable insights from his mentors. He had the opportunity to work alongside culinary legends like Marcus Samuelson at Aquavit, and Tom Colicchio, with whom he launched Craft Steak. Carlton also worked as an expediter at Per Se, where he had the privilege of working alongside culinary geniuses like Thomas Keller and Jonathan Benno. The sommeliers at Per Se were especially gracious in sharing their expertise with Carlton, answering his numerous questions and providing him with a rich array of wines to sample.
Carlton McCoy Early Career
The businessman’s upbringing in America was shaped by the tragic heroin epidemic that ravaged the late 1970s and 1980s. Along with the rise of crack cocaine and crime rates, it was a challenging time to grow up. As a child, he was known to be a bit of a troublemaker, but he ultimately rose to become a prominent figure in the world. Despite dropping out of high school twice, he persevered and overcame his obstacles.
However, his journey was not without setbacks. He was expelled from both D.C. Public Schools and Virginia School, but eventually allowed to return to Anacostia High. Although the school had a reputation for poor student outcomes and violence, it was there that he met Carlton, one of his mentors who opened his eyes to new possibilities.
Carlton McCoy Family
Carlton is an accomplished individual, with a long list of achievements and titles to his name. Despite all his success, he remains grounded and never forgets his roots. He values his relationships and cherishes his role as a friend, brother, and grandson.
Unfortunately, Carlton had to deal with addiction at a young age, which led to the loss of both his parents. He grew up with his cousins, who were also orphaned. Despite the challenges, Carlton’s story shows the resilience of the human spirit. He had someone in his life who uplifted him and provided refuge, and that was his grandmother, Dr. Rose Elizabeth Bess.
Dr. Bess was a Pentecostal preacher in the Independent Church of God, and she owned a catering business. She even worked part-time at a funeral home, and her caring attitude earned her the title of “mother” from many. Carlton credits her for shaping him into the person he is today. She also instilled in him a love for food, which ultimately led him back to Washington D.C. after her passing in 2006.
Returning to the city during a culinary renaissance, Carlton found himself in the midst of a national recognition of D.C.’s status as an epicurean town. Despite the loss of his grandmother, Carlton’s journey is a testament to the power of resilience, and the importance of having someone in our lives who inspires us and gives us strength.
Carlton McCoy Education
When he was in high school, Carlton was inspired to pursue his passion for culinary art and enrolled in a class sponsored by the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). This non-profit organization aims to provide mentorship, scholarships, and competitions to underserved students to encourage them to pursue college and career opportunities in the hospitality industry. Through C-CAP, Carlton met Ian Barthley, who introduced him to the idea of becoming a chef as a profession, not just a hobby. Carlton won a city-level competition and was awarded a complete scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Hyde Park, N.Y.
One of Carlton’s classes at CIA was on wine with Steven Kolpan, which he found to be a revelation. He attended all the sessions and was eager to learn as much as possible. Koplan became one of his mentors, and Carlton even tasted his first wine in his class. The CIA’s curriculum is a combination of the French kitchen and military code, which Carlton found challenging. However, he was determined to take advantage of the opportunity and become the first grandchild of Dr. Bess to attend college. Carlton excelled in his classes, becoming one of the top students and even tutoring and assisting in teaching.
Carlton was fortunate to receive a scholarship to assist Professor Kolpan in Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, and Tuscany. This experience led him to work at the Ecoffer Room, a restaurant run by CIA students. Carlton also earned a hospitality management degree from the CIA.
Carlton McCoy Career
Carlton honed his skills at some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, including CityZen at The Mandarin Oriental in Washington, DC, Aquavit by Marcus Samuelsson, Craft Steak by Tom Colicchio, and Per Se by Thomas Keller, after graduating in 2006. His serious interest in wine began when he landed a job at CityZen, where he initiated his education and certification in the Court of Master Sommeliers. Andy Myers, himself a Sommelier, mentored Carlton, recognizing his potential in the industry. Additionally, Carlton met CityZen’s Chef, Eric Ziebold, an alumnus of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, who further nurtured his interest in wine and introduced him to the vibrant D.C. sommelier wine community.
While working as a sommelier and assistant manager at Zeibold’s Sou’wester Restaurant, Carlton continued his studies, developing his own menu of wine, beer, and cocktails. In 2009, he passed The Court of Master Sommelier’s Advanced Sommelier exam.
In 2011, Carlton joined The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, an establishment renowned for its wine program and considered the Mecca of the wine world. His work there earned recognition from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. After receiving his M.S. title in 2013, Carlton was promoted to Wine Director and oversaw a staff of 150 and acclaimed the Little Nell’s 20,000-bottle wine cellar. It was during his time in the Private Cellar Tasting room at the Little Nell Resort that Carlton met Billionaire investor Gaylon Lawrence, a wine lover. Carlton convinced Lawrence that purchasing Heitz Cellar would be a profitable investment, which Lawrence did in 2018.
Carlton McCoy Success
Carlton was able to make history by becoming the first black CEO of Napa Valley. For almost a quarter of a year, Carlton had to travel between Aspen and Napa every week. It wasn’t until he went through this routine that he finally made the official decision to move to St. Helena and take on the responsibility of managing Lawrence Wine Estates. Since he became the managing partner in 2018, the company has experienced significant growth and expansion. Carlton now oversees eighty employees from ten different companies and manages some of the most notable and historic wine brands in California. He even proposed a project to acquire Stony Hill Winery, Burgess Cellars, and some major vineyards, including land holdings from the renowned Heitz Cellars.
In early 2019, Carlton was appointed CEO and President of the Heitz Cellar. This particular winery is known for its traditional style, reminiscent of California’s earlier winemaking era. As a Master Sommelier, Carlton is well-versed in wines from all around the world and has a keen eye for recognizing iconic brands. He strongly believes that as Americans, we should cherish wines as a national treasure, just as Heitz does. Carlton feels honored to be the steward of such a historic and iconic brand.
Carlton McCoy Awards
Recently, Carlton’s outstanding accomplishments in the food and beverage industry have been recognized by several prestigious publications. Forbes magazine has included him in their 30 Under 30 list in the food category, while Wine Enthusiast magazine has named him one of their 40 under 40 tastemakers of 2021, despite his age being under 40. In addition, the Culinary Institute of America has appointed him to its Board of Trustees, which is an excellent achievement.
Besides his professional accomplishments, Carlton is also the founder of a non-profit organization called The Roots Fund. The organization aims to provide educational and employment opportunities for the BIPOC community in the wine industry, which is an outstanding initiative.
Throughout his journey to success, Carlton has attributed his achievements to his mentors, who have guided him along the way. He believes in leading by example and following in his grandmother’s footsteps, who also believed in leading from the heart.
Carlton believes in maintaining a healthy body and mind, which he achieves by listening to audiobooks during his runs. This helps him to broaden his perspective and grow more quickly by avoiding the echo chamber.
In summary, Carlton’s incredible achievements are a testament to his hard work, dedication, and commitment to the industry. His initiatives to give back to the community are admirable and inspiring.