My appreciation for the artistry and craft of wine-making began when I was working on the first Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival, and was invited to participate in sommelier education at the Disneyland Resort. What I thought would be a course to add knowledge and help me in my role turned into a passion that I could not have imagined. More than 500 cast members have been given the opportunity to begin this journey, and I am pleased to introduce you to the person who currently leads the wine education for our cast.
You may know Joy Cushing as one of the managers who oversees the dining room of the outstanding Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. But in addition to her daily duties, she also manages the extensive Disneyland Resort wine list and conducts the sommelier education program. I sat down with her to talk about her role.
Jim: How did you begin your personal education to become a sommelier?
Joy: One night I had a bottle of wine with a friend, and for the first time the wine spoke to me. The timing was great as Michael Jordan had just begun the sommelier education program. I was eager to learn more and and just dove in.
Jim: How has the wine education program evolved over the years?
Joy: There is such a great respect for the wine program here at the Disneyland Resort and the knowledge that our cast possesses. The program has grown so much. We have over 200 sommeliers currently working at the Resort. We have more advanced sommeliers than anywhere else. The training has grown from “introductory” to really embracing the advanced education needed to progress through the various sommelier levels – Introductory, Certified, Advanced and Master. We work with the Court of Master Sommeliers to hold exams here at the Disneyland Resort.
Jim: You are taking your Master Sommelier exams soon. How does the educator prepare as the student?
Joy: I am currently studying to take my Master Sommelier exams in February 2012. It is crazy the amount of knowledge you need to have – from regions, sub-regions and vineyards to soil types and the history of grape varietals – and how they all relate. I study constantly. I love to learn, but with wine, you never stop studying. I jokingly refer to myself as a “wine nerd” at this point because I found an industry that allows me to be constantly studying.
Jim: What is your best memory as the wine educator for the Disneyland Resort?
Joy: When you see a class of students pass their introductory exams – that relief and excitement. When I see someone who has that spark, that passion for wine and service, and the drive to learn all that they can. Those are the best memories.
Jim: What bit of advice would you provide to someone who is just beginning to discover the world of wine?
Joy: Find what you love to do and keep the passion going. It is important to find a rhythm that allows you to succeed. It would be very difficult to continue studying and progressing if I had not found a pace that keeps me motivated and moving forward. For me, nothing is more exciting than helping a guest discover something new. I’ll frequently ask what a guest normally drinks because that will help me know if we are going on adventure. Should we branch out or stay with something comfortable? Nothing feels better than finding the perfect wine for someone.
Jim: Finally, do you have a favorite wine?
Joy: It changes every day! One day I will find the perfect Cabernet Sauvignon, rich and full of tannin and then discover a crisp, refreshing white wine while enjoying lunch on a sunny day. That is the great thing about wine: There is always something you have not yet tried.
Last fall, Level I (introductory) and Certified Sommelier exams were conducted at the Disneyland Resort by an esteemed group of Master Sommeliers. Joy led those students through the often complex material, and 20 cast members became the newest sommeliers of the Disneyland Resort!