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Matthew Conway on Being an Empathetic and Inclusive Sommelier

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About this episode

In this episode, we're joined by Matt Conway, the charismatic owner, operator, and sommelier of the renowned Tippling House nestled in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Alongside his delightful partner-in-crime, Carissa Hernandez, Matt has created a haven for those who appreciate the finer aspects of life's libations.

Under the wing of the late Chef Gray Kunz, Matt honed his craft at Café Gray in the Time Warner Center from 2004 to 2007. This eventually led him to to Restaurant Marc Forgione, where he wore multiple hats – GM, beverage director, and eventually a partner. Matt has collaborated with the world-famous cellers at Taillevent in Paris and has been bestowed the honor of being among Zagat's "30 Under 30" and a Star Chefs recognized "Rising Star Sommelier."

Matthew's journey is one marked by consistent acclaim and notable presence at some of the most distinguished wine events. His finely tuned palate and comprehensive knowledge have made him a sought-after sommelier at premier gatherings like La Paulée and La Fête du Champagne. Today, Matthew Conway's legacy shines brightly as a partner at La Tablée. This establishment stands as a testament to his commitment and expertise, with a special focus on the captivating allure of the Northern Rhône Valley.

Where to find Matt Conway: 

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(2:26) How Matt became a sommelier

(7:13) Working with Josh at Cafe Grey

(11:10) Building relationships with producers

(14:51) What makes a great sommelier

(21:04) Empathy and inclusion when choosing wine

(25:19) What’s in the future for sommeliers?

(31:31) Essential skills for a successful sommelier

(33:13) Working at Restaurant Marc Forgione

(35:19) Why Matt moved to Charleston

(38:46) Building a company culture with work/life balance

(44:06) Could Matt be successful with Tippling House in NYC?

(49:16) New York life versus Charleston life


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show. 


My guest today knows a whole heck of a lot about wine and mezcal and well, pretty much any boozy beverage that you can think of. Matt Conway is an old friend and he's the owner operator and sommelier of The Tippling House in Charleston, South Carolina, along with his lovely wife, Carissa Hernandez.


Matt and I met almost two decades ago working for Chef Kunz, where Matt became, I believe, the youngest beverage director in the city. He then went on to work at Restaurant Marc Forgione, first as the GM and beverage director, and eventually as a partner at the restaurant working there for over 14 years in between the time he also spent some time with the Cellars at Taillevent in Paris.


Matt has won 30 under 30 from Zagat and other awards like Rising Star sommelier from Star Chefs. And Matt just loves wine and loves the whole community and world of beverages. And anytime you talk to him, you just hear it in his voice, the passion and the travels that he's done to learn and to grow as a beverage professional.


And I just love talking to him about it. During the pandemic, Matt spent some time in Charleston to get away from the city and eventually ended up loving it so much. He has some family down there that he ended up moving there with his wife and opened up his dream spot. Enter the Tippling house. So we talk a lot about the differences between working in New York and smaller cities like Charleston, what it's like to leave New York as an expat. We talked about the food culture in Charleston, and of course we dig a lot into wine and booze. And what makes a great sommelier. I enjoyed the conversation. I always love catching up with Matt, and I hope you do as well.


Welcome to The meez Podcast. I don't think I've seen you in person in a long time, but this is an excuse to just get a call with you. I love it so, we're gonna talk about your background, your past, and I think I wanted to kind of center a lot of this around Charleston, if that's cool because you migrated from New York to Charleston. For the people that aren't listening, been a lot of chefs, you're the first beverage person here. So maybe a little about your background and how you got what you got.

Matt Conway [00:02:26]:  

Well, I moved to New York in the early 2000s from California to pursue a career as a sommelier and landed in New York and went to the American Sommelier Association, which I don't think still exists, but did at the time. And took classes in viticulture, vinification, and blind tasting. And then I was working as a server at the time. And then I landed my first gig as a sommelier at Cafe Grey, which was a Grey Kunz restaurant at the Time Warner Center on the third floor just below Perse. And Grey was a legendary chef and I just got hired as a floor sommelier working under the beverage director. I gave notice at my job, went to California for a vacation before I started the new job and when I showed up for my first day. We have 373 covers on the books. Good luck!

Josh Sharkey [00:03:19]: 

Was that Alex? Was Alex the boss?

Matt Conway [00:03:24]: 

Gil Rubenstein, maybe.

Josh Sharkey [00:03:28]: 

Why did you get into beverage? Why did you wanna be a sommelier? 

Matt Conway [00:03:32]: 

I was working in restaurants my whole life. My mother ran restaurants and I started most of my work in the back of the house. And then I realized it was less…

Josh Sharkey [00:03:48]: 

Wait, what? Yeah. You were in the kitchen. I had no idea.

Matt Conway [00:03:55]:

Yeah, I did all types of, you know, short order cooks and then garde manger for nice restaurants. And I mean, they were working me really hard, long hours. You didn't make a lot of money. And, you know, look at this handsome face. You got to put what God gave you to work. So I was like, it's so much easier on your quality of life to work in the front of the house, more money, less hours, but I didn't want to be a server. And then I moved to San Diego and I had an experience with a wine distributor who tasted me on several wines with lemon segments, bar olives, and like guanciale and tasting the salt, the fat, and the acid with different wines. And I was mesmerized by how everything played off each other. And I just decided that I had to get into wine because I thought it was a little bit sexier than being a server, but clearly much easier than grinding away behind a stove. And then I just started little by little reading and doing exercises and it's just a rabbit hole from there. And I realized if I need to, if I want to get where I need to go, I need to move to New York. So I found the American Sommelier Association and moved back.

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