Lauren Feldman | Wine Director, Cala

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There’s a reason that Lauren Feldman can list off a dozen or so favorite podcasts—from “My Favorite Murder” to “Pop Culture Happy Hour”—without even having to think about it: she spends a ton of time in her car. Feldman is the poster child for the wine gig economy.

After working in New York restaurants for years, Feldman returned to her home state of California in 2010 to take a job at Scribe Winery. Today, she runs the wine program at San Francisco’s Cala restaurant and consults for various wineries in Napa and Sonoma. “There was a need between restaurants and wineries, businesses that have a lot of overhead. The small ones don’t need, and can’t necessarily afford, someone full-time. It’s not enough for me to live off just working for one place, but if I can do five, six or seven, then that’s fine,” she says.

The list at Cala has been her baby since the restaurant opened a couple of years ago. The execution of the program presented her with a challenge: the majority of the staff has only recently returned to the workforce. Many of the servers at Cala have recently been released from the prison system into transitory halfway homes where they’re required to live substance-free, meaning Feldman has had to devise a means of educating people about wine who can’t legally taste it.

She starts by introducing flavors to her servers that they might not have encountered before, like gooseberries, white raspberries and certain herbs from Mexico, often tasted both raw and cooked. “We make sure they’re building their vocabulary of flavors,” she says. “It’s really about trying other things.” From there, it becomes more about equipping her team with ways of relating the wines to other wines that a guest might be more familiar with, as well as simple, three-word wine descriptors that they can memorize.

Lately, Feldman’s been spending most of her days at Ashes & Diamonds in Napa, a one-year-old winery project from winemakers Steve Mathiasson, Dan Petroski and Diana Snowden-Seysses, who are looking to make old school versions of classic Napa varieties, with an emphasis on Cabernet from a 24-year-old vineyard. There, Feldman’s challenges are more of the hospitality, sales and marketing variety.

So what does Feldman do when she’s not shuttling around from one job to another? Here, she tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her story of the best thing she ever drank, her undying love for Lauryn Hill and an iconic spot in the West Village she finds herself missing. —Megan Krigbaum

Current occupation:
Wine director at Cala, owner of SurPointe (wine and hospitality consulting), sales & marketing director at Ashes & Diamonds, sales manager at Anthill Farms, wine buyer at New York’s west~bourne.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A boss—but, more importantly, a boss with a healthy work-life balance who has time in life to do things for myself and for others (but I feel lucky to be so busy now).

Best thing you ever drank:
When I was 16 I ordered a “latte” in Paris, which I thought would be a caffé latte. Of course, what came was steamed milk to which I added sugar. It was a cold day and I thought it was the BEST coffee I had ever had. I was almost done and realized it was all milk. Decadent perfection.

Worst thing you ever drank:
Whiskey Sours in college. I can’t even think about it. 

First time you ever got drunk:
With my parents on vacation over the holidays when I was quite young… Baileys Irish Cream. We played cards fireside until late and it was totally innocent.

If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I collect rocks wherever I travel. I have two that I got from Uccellina Park, in the Maremma, on the coast of Tuscany. I went there after visiting Ampeleia during the harvest I worked at Foradori (2014). It was amazing coming down to the coast after being in the Dolomite Mountains for two months. As much as I love the mountains, it was so freeing to get back down to the water. It’s a big reason I love both California and Italy—the ability to be in such different environments over the course of a day. The rocks help to remind me of why I am where I am and why I do what I do.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That I should surround myself with people that make me laugh.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
I really love throwing ceramics. I rarely have time for it these days, but I know my life is in balance when I have time to do it at least a few times a month. I’ll also always squeeze in a TRX/Spin class, no matter how busy the week.

Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Argentinian malbec with a first course at Cala. I get there is a time and a place for it, but with ceviche and oysters is just…not it. It’s not that weird, but just so wrong.

Your favorite bar, and why:
The Corner Bistro in NYC, but the OG version (à la 2010). It was our local spot when I worked in the West Village and I loved how the bartenders were all assholes until you earned it. Then they were the most lovable crew and they’re my friends to this day, eight years since I’ve lived there. You order a dark beer or a light beer and fries with pickles. It’s not the same anymore, but I will forever miss it.

Best meal you’ve ever had:
The Willows Inn on Lummi Island. The ingredients are insane. It’s as fresh as it gets, and, as far as regional cuisine in America goes, it’s so specific to what is available in a five mile radius. Everything is simple and delicate and unexpected.

What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
A Dirty Martini or a mezcal Margarita, depending on the bar.

Wine bar?

In a dive bar?
Red Stripe or Negra Modelo. And a pickleback (if they have it).

Your preferred hangover recovery regime?
Advil > sparkling water > chocolate milk (oh yeah) > beer.

The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
There is a time and a place for everything. I don’t love wine lists that are broken down by style… but I get where that can be helpful.

 The last text message you sent:
“We want to do tacos for Jude’s birthday on Thursday.”

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