WineInk: Aspen Wine Grad goes Global

Former Little Nell Sommelier Carlton McCoy to make television debut

Kelly J. Hayes
Wine Ink

Buckle up!

For the next six Sundays viewers will be able to travel with Carlton McCoy, the former Aspen Sommelier traverses cultural destinations as diverse and wild as the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Ghana on the west coast of Africa, and Seoul, South Korea, on his CNN series “Nomad with Carlton McCoy.”

The hour-long program will premiere on Sunday, May 1.

“All of these destinations often come with a marketing identity that is very far from the reality of how locals experience them,” he said of the places that will be profiled in the programs. “We wanted to challenge people to discover a place outside of the usual travel guide.”

“Nomad” is produced by New York City-based Zero Point Zero, which knows its way around the world. They were the production team that collaborated with chef/author/traveler Anthony Bourdain as he made his way through 40 different countries for over 100 different episodes of the acclaimed “Parts Unknown,” which set a new standard for travel documentaries. They also are the production company responsible for the James Beard Award-winning chef profile series “The Mind of a Chef.”

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“We started this conversation five years ago, so yes, it’s been an interesting journey,” McCoy said about the process and time that went into creating “Nomad.” “People always inspire me. The people that I was able to interact with, whether as guests on the show or the production crews, further solidified my beliefs that people are amazing. We need to disregard the noise that shows us only the horrible things in the world.”

“Open your mind,” reads the tattoo etched into McCoy’s right forearm. It is an apt adage for a Black Jewish man who brings an incredibly diverse set of bona fides to his new role as a television host.

While in Aspen, McCoy opened his mind in ways that included passing the prestigious Master Sommelier exam (at the age of 28 in 2013), becoming a distance runner and finishing a sub-four-hour New York City Marathon (2017) and, along with his wine team, founding the hyper-hip downstairs wine cellar at the Little Nell. It was heady stuff for a man who grew up in the impoverished southeast section of Washington D.C., where he was first exposed to cooking and food in his grandmother’s church.

“It was such a pleasant experience, I loved to cook, and I have never had a job outside the hospitality industry,” said McCoy in a previous interview while at the Nell. Cooking led to a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America, where he studied and learned …that he didn’t want to be a chef. “It was different, it was regimented and not as fun as the stuff I did as a kid.”

He went on to be a “front of the house” guy, working the floor, first as a busser and then a server, at such stellar locations as Craft Steak and Per Se in New York, before returning to Washington and a prime job at the celebrated CityZen. It was there he discovered wine. “I had a mentor there, Andrew Meyers. He was into death metal and wine, he kind of helped me turn towards wine.”

In 2011 he joined the wine team at what was then known as Montagna at the Little Nell.

Three years ago, in December of 2018, McCoy concluded his enviable seven-year run as a member of the wine team at Little Nell hotel in Aspen to take the reins as president and CEO of Heitz Cellars in the Napa Valley. In that short time, he has become a managing partner in Lawrence Wine Estates, which has been on an acquisition spree that has included the purchase of the Stony Hill Winery, Burgess Cellars and the famed Haynie Vineyard to name just a few. McCoy has become one of the most well-known wine executives in the Napa Valley.

Oh, and as if he does not have enough going on, last week the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix auto race announced that McCoy will have a role as the event’s Master Sommelier when it roars into action on May 6-8. He will curate wine experiences across all hospitality spaces. It is truly life in the fast lane.

Though the initial conversations for “Nomad” began while McCoy was in Aspen, they, like McCoy, matured in his new surroundings. “I would say that NOMAD is rather a part of the chapter I started when I came to Napa. Coming to Napa allowed me to begin to explore new approaches in my thinking and further helped to form my view on the world.”

That worldview will be on display in each of the episodes. The first, airing this Sunday, will see McCoy as he explores the “Banlieues” or suburbs of Paris, where he examines the cultural diversity of the art, culinary and music scenes that are influenced by the rich melting pot of its residents. This is followed by what may be the most wine-centric episode when he travels with old friend, and fellow Master Sommelier Kyungmoon Kim, and the New York- based, Michelin-star winning Korean Chef Hooni Kim to Seoul, South Korea for a look at how the nation’s food scene has gone global.

McCoy in Ghana during an upcoming episode of “Nomad.” (CNN Creative Marketing)

Future programs will see McCoy interacting with family and friends as he returns to his roots in Washington D.C., takes a sojourn to the emerging nation of Ghana, gets some Canadian ice time in Toronto, and explores the Mississippi Delta and the future of the distinct and diverse region.

“In each of these destinations, you will find people who are proud of their city or country, and they want to share their love of what makes their homeland special,” he noted, obviously moved by the experience. “Kindness and generosity of spirit was another common thread we found in all of these destinations.”

The much-anticipated “Nomad with Carlton McCoy” was originally scheduled to air on CNN the evening of March 13 following the season opener of Stanley Tucci’s food/travel program “Searching for Italy.” But the world changed dramatically this spring and the “Nomad” series, along with other CNN original programming was delayed due to CNN’s 24/7 coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now it begins. Good thigs come to those who wait.

While he won’t be quitting his day job in the wine world, McCoy looks forward to pursuing the adventures that have brought “Nomad” to life.

“I feel blessed to work in the wine industry every day,” he said with contemplation. “With that said, my life interests consist of more than wine. NOMAD was an opportunity to show the world through the lens of other cultural pillars like art and music.”

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Under the Influence

2016 Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Usually in this space I like to recommend wines I have tried and liked, but in this case I write of a wine I would like to try. In the mid 1960s, Joe Heitz began to buy small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon from a small vineyard in what is now the Oakville AVA. The vineyard named for Martha May, the wife of vineyard owner Tom May produced many of the best bottles of Napa Cab ever made and was responsible for the development of the single vineyard designation that informs consumers of a wine’s origin.

Through the years the Heitz Martha’s Vineyard has become one of the most prestigious and collectable wines in American history well known for its ageability, balance and notes of chocolate, mint and currant. This 2016 bottling of the wine, which is now the flagship of Lawrence Wine Estate, was named by Wine Spectator as the No. 3 release of 2021. It is a prize to be held for years, even decades to come.

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