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Alumna brings wine expertise to San Diego’s only Michelin-starred restaurant

As the wine director for Addison, San Diego’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, alumna Victoria O’Bryan oversees an extensive bottle list of 3,600 bottles in their selection and more than 10,000 bottles in the wine cellar. She said she was initially drawn to the field because it allows her to explore a number of different disciplines, such as geography and science. (Courtesy of Addison)

By Yasmin Madjidi

March 1, 2020 11:19 p.m.

This post was updated March 3 at 1:35 p.m.

Addison restaurant has more than 10,000 bottles of wine in its cellar – and each has a story.

Alumna Victoria O’Bryan is the wine director for Addison, San Diego’s only Michelin-starred restaurant. She said her passion for the restaurant business began when she entered the catering and service industry after her first year at UCLA, which eventually led her to the position of wine director in December. The intersection of different fields within wine are what she said attracted her to it, as the practice allowed her to apply several disciplines, such as geography and life sciences. She said searching for the origin stories of certain grapes through thousands of producers spanning centuries is one of the never-ending journeys of her career.

“Wine really encompasses everything,” O’Bryan said. “There is not only geography and geology, but also biology, chemistry, and you have to think about meteorology and climate change.”

[Related: Wine About It: Pinot gris lives up to name as gray, dull, pond water-looking wine]

With a background as an English student, O’Bryan said being trained to constantly read taught her to focus on the meticulous details of perfecting the dinner menus every night and keeping up to date with current wine information, which is crucial for her position. She tries to easily articulate intricate ideas, such as fermentation, to customers in a way that allows them to quickly understand how it works, O’Bryan said. Her general responsibilities as wine director focus on overseeing an extensive bottle list of 3,600 bottles in Addison’s selection and 12,000 in the wine cellar, she added.

“Half of my job when I am with guests is just translating complex ideas into something more fascinating and intriguing,” O’Bryan said. “I paint it in a way so they can really enjoy the experience of it all to see how everything came together for that moment.”

Practicing pairings allows O’Bryan to gain more accuracy in her work, as she said she thinks through and writes down what she is eating with her wine. There are endless combinations of wine and food, and O’Bryan said reading about what other curators are doing opens her eyes to possibilities she would not have previously thought of, such as glossy champagne with rich and fatty wagyu steak.

Although comfortable with pairing similar tasting food to similar tasting wines, O’Bryan said she prefers pairings with tastes that would not typically match. For example, she said a bright and fruity pinot noir complements something like a briny seafood dish. The opposing flavors and textures surprise her guests in a delightful way, she added.

Historically, wine pairings stemmed from the local cuisine of the regions the grapes were grown, O’Bryan said. The classic pairing of Barolo wine with truffle originates from Barolo, Italy, as both are abundant within and indigenous to that region. This morphing of the wine and cuisine to create local delicacies within provinces is repeated throughout history, O’Bryan said.

“You see this time and time again with regions that have local cuisine and local wine that have been around for centuries,” O’Bryan said. “They seem to find some sort of symbiotic relationship and somehow complete each other.”

[Related: Student creates sommelier club for Bruins to cultivate love for wine]

Exploring the origins and modern-day impacts of these historical pairings, Professor Joseph Nagy said he helped establish the interdisciplinary food studies minor for UCLA students, as he has an interest in the process of obtaining, distributing and consuming food. He said drinks such as wine often come to symbolize crucial cultural values and social relationships.

“It is not just the humanities,” Nagy said. “It is also social sciences, life sciences and the arts. All of these things come together in our appreciation of food both as an essential human reality and profoundly meaningful and symbolic part of our lives.”

Wine doesn’t have to be in a Michelin-starred restaurant to be appreciated. The Anderson Wine Club’s co-president and graduate student Emily Mitchell said the club aims to promote education, appreciation and networking revolving around wine for graduate students. She said wine specifically fosters personal and professional connections through its balance of pleasure and sophistication.

“I love the connection it builds among people,” Mitchell said. “I love the history that you can learn about a certain region through wine. You know it’s good because of the terrain.”

For O’Bryan, she said her role extends past the wine selection, as she monitors the house staff and serves as her own copy editor for the menus. The restaurant also earned Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, which it has held since 2009, O’Bryan said. Her love for wine is what she said has solidified it as a career that is constantly expanding to keep the restaurant and wine pairings exciting and up to date.

“We are constantly evolving,” O’Bryan said. “But being able to be here every day helps me not see it as pressure, but as a challenge to get a chance to really take the next step into what our next vision might be.”

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Yasmin Madjidi | Assistant Arts editor
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