Meet Carlton McCoy: Master Sommelier, Youngest Pres & CEO of Heitz Cellars

Interview with Carlton McCoy, 1 of 2 African American Master Sommeliers and earlier this year became President and CEO of Heitz Cellars.

[Updated August 6, 2019] Interview with Carlton McCoy, 34, is only 1 of 2 Master Sommeliers and earlier this year was hired as President and CEO at the iconic Napa Valley winery Heitz Cellars. Previously he was the Wine Director at The Little Nell.

Carlton McCoy, only the second Master Sommelier of African-American descent, has had a whirlwind of experience from Thomas Keller’s Per Se to Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit, Tom Colicchio’s Craft Steak in New York and Eric Zeibold’s CityZen at The Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C.

This interview with Carlton was during his time at Little Nell. He can now be found swirling and sipping as the President and CEO of Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley.

Carlton McCoy Heitz Cellars

I read that you didn’t even want to take the interview at The Little Nell; what made you change your mind? Or what was the catalyst?

Meeting the people…The Little Nell is a special place. Overall, it’s a five-star experience without an ego; my colleagues love their job. It’s hospitality in its purest form, and we live to breathe in that environment. There’s a certain energy, people are smart and kind. It was a breath of fresh air and people are respectful.

Tell me your experience on guests’ wine preferences in the East Coast vs the West?

New York was an interesting experience; guests came from all over the world to dine at Per Se, so it’s not your typical New York restaurant. At CityZen, I found most guests drink Cabernets, Bordeaux blends, and heavier reds. At The Little Nell, my guests tend to stick with Pinot Noir, Burgundy, white Burgundy, and Northern Rhone.

Drive through napa valley
Interviews. Price to Value charts. Napa Valley history. Modern design.

What was the best and most amazing food & wine pairing you had?

I was at Maison Pic, a five-star hotel located in Valence, France, in the Northern Rhone region. I’m not into Northern Rhone wine, but the sommelier there insisted I try a Hermitage blanc and pair it with a warm brioche and brie de meaux (aerated brie). This was a rich wine paired with a rich food. I’m not always an advocate of contrasting pairings; it doesn’t always have be an acidic wine to cut the fat.

Ok, so we believe that music and wine should be paired – give us your best wine and song pairing! 

A 1999 Cornas from wine producer Noel Verset…very little came to the U.S. in the past 20 years. As for the music, I don’t have a favorite genre, but good music should have some sort of soul and make you exhale. Lately, I’ve gotten into soul music and Motown, such as The Temptations; the lyrics from “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” are amazing.

In addition, Tame Impala – someone asked me if I had heard of them; I was hooked immediately. Others include The Beach Boys (love the album Pet Sounds), Steel Pulse, a reggae band (favorite is the album, True Democracy). No one style of music is required; there’s great music in every genre. For every great album, there are ton of bad albums. In addition, I’ve seen more parallels with wine, music, and art, and I hope to see it progress.


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Contributor: Based in Washington, D.C., Sangeeta Rao

Twitter: @therealsangeeta
Instagram: @therealsangeeta