Sip and swirl with a Master Sommelier |

Sip and swirl with a Master Sommelier

When people ask Master Sommelier Ron Mumford what his favorite wine is, his response is always the same: "What’s for dinner?"

"Wine is part of dinner," he explains. "The food is good, the wine is good, but it’s that pairing that makes both taste better."

Mumford is the wine director for the Nevada office of Southern Wine & Spirits, a nationwide distributor. He owns a home in Park City and is one of the featured guests at this weekend’s Park City Food & Wine Classic, during which he will speak at three seminars and present wine pairings at a dinner benefiting the People’s Health Clinic.

Mumford started his career when he took a job with the Arizona Biltmore Hotel during college. A coworker told him that the key to success in the hotel business was an expansive knowledge of wine, and Mumford picked up a flimsy paperback guide to begin his education. Four years later, he was running the wine program at the Biltmore.

After spending several years as a salesman of real estate, cars and other products, he moved to Las Vegas, passed the Advanced Sommelier Exam and joined Southern Wine & Spirits. He served as the representative for restaurants including Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House and Charlie Palmer’s Aureole.

He earned his Master Sommelier Diploma in 1999, becoming one of only 170 people worldwide who have achieved the title since the first exam in 1969.

Mumford estimates that about 60 people take the notoriously difficult Master Exam each year. The test consists of three parts: a theory examination, a practical wine service examination and a blind tasting. The minimum passing score for each of the three sections is 75 percent.

Students have three consecutive years to pass all parts of the exam. Very few pass the entire exam in one sitting, Mumford says. "I did not, but what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger," he adds.

Perhaps the most challenging component of the test is the blind tasting, which requires candidates to verbally identify the country and region of origin, grape varietals and vintages of six wines tasted in 25 minutes.

According to Mumford, blind tasting skills go far beyond familiarity and memorization. There are ways to detect winemaking techniques through smell and to determine grape types based on the acidity spectrum. "The better your theory, the better your blind tasting," he says.

Mumford was scheduled to teach a blind tasting seminar Friday afternoon as part of the Food & Wine Classic. He said the focus would be teaching guests how to use their eyes, noses and palates to determine the origin and type of red and white wines.

Despite reaching the highest tier of sommelier certification, mastering the world of wine is an ongoing education, Mumford says. "Every year there is a new vintage, new laws and new growing techniques it’s an ongoing study."

People tend to think that achieving master certification is a golden ticket, but "it’s like any other advanced college degree," he says. Sommeliers have to market themselves and prove their worth to employers. "I paired [my knowledge of wine] with my sales experience to present a package to distributors and suppliers."

There are also many different directions for Master Sommeliers to follow, which include working for a vineyard, restaurant, hotel, importer or supplier. Some choose to take the winemaking route, although, "Just because you’re a Master Sommelier does not make you a winemaker," Mumford notes.

As a member of the supplier/distributor side of the industry, Mumford works with high-end specialty wines like California cult wines and specialty import portfolios. He is responsible for supplier relations, allocations and sales, and some staff training. He also teaches classes as part of the Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada School of Fine Wine and Beverage Service.

He has traveled around the world and has tasted wines from as far back as the 1800s during his career. Although he doesn’t consider himself a collector, he does keep a small but fully stocked cellar at his home. "I have more of a drinking cellar than a collecting cellar," he explains.

Mumford hopes to make a permanent move to Park City within the next three years. His wife, Tina Brunetti, lives here full time and teaches second grade at McPolin Elementary School.

He says he looks forward to meeting more restaurateurs and locals during the Food & Wine Classic, which runs through Sunday, July 11.

Tickets are still available for the "Secrets of Wine and Food Pairings" seminar with Mumford Saturday from 2 until 2:50 p.m. at Westgate Resort at The Canyons. He will be joined by Southern Wine & Spirits Executive Chef Nick Lorenz to provide guests with recipes and pairings to try at home. For tickets and more information, visit

Mumford’s summer wine recommendation:

Dr. Loosen "Blue Slate" Kabinett Riesling Mosel

  • Origin: Germany’s Mosel Valley
  • Traits: off-dry, low alcohol, high acid, no wood, aromatic
  • Smells like: melons, peaches, nectarines and honeysuckle
  • Pairs well with: fish, chicken, pork
  • Meal suggestion: cold poached salmon with cucumber dill sauce
  • Where to find: retails for under $20 at state liquor stores

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