Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend 2018 | Uptown Charlotte



For former NFL Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, owning a winery has been a longtime aspiration that allows him to combine his passion for fine wine and love of the Walla Walla Valley, his hometown. Drew returned in 2007 to plant his original estate vineyard, McQueen, on the southern end of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. The following year, Drew and his wife, Maura, launched Doubleback, an estate-focused winery with the goal to produce world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. Drew collaborated with his childhood friend Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellar, who consulted on all winemaking and vineyard practices while training current winemaker, Josh McDaniels. Josh earned the role with the 2014 vintage after nearly a decade of experience with the Figgins Family.

Since the very first release, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Doubleback has received numerous accolades including a spot on the Wine Spectator's Top 100 List. Drew’s vision for Doubleback remains to be a premium wine experience completely focused on quality. To further assist that vision, Drew acquired a second estate vineyard, Bob Healy, in 2011, a third estate vineyard, Flying B, in 2016, and a fourth estate vineyard, Lefore, in 2017, all in the Walla Walla Valley. The Flying B estate is where the Doubleback winery is built and slated to open in 2018. Drew and Maura Bledsoe are committed to using only the most sustainable, superlative viticulture and winemaking practices to ensure that Doubleback will be one of the best bottles of wine you will drink.

Meet Drew at the SouthPark Grill Restaurant Dinner featuring Doubleback. 


John Blazon, MS | Vice President of Sales - Spire Collection

John Blazon MS is Vice President of Sales for the Spire Collection since February 2010. The Spire Collection is a luxury driven division representing the artisan brands from the Jackson Family. As its educational and sales brand ambassador, John travels the US to work with a talented team of sommeliers in key markets focusing on collector and AAA accounts to build and strengthen equity for a unique selection of handpicked brands.

Blazon is the former wine director for Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL. During his tenure, John was responsible for the development of wine concepts and standards, including product selection, service and training for 55 restaurants, 20 lounges, 18 resorts, 3 theme parks which also included Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival.

John received his master sommelier diploma from the International Court of Master Sommeliers, during a fall 2004 exam in London, England and became the 59th MS for the American Chapter.

In 2003, Blazon’s efforts were applauded by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), which awarded its “America’s Best Wine Lists Special Innovation” honor to Walt Disney World Resort at the Monterey Wine Festival. In addition, Santé magazine named Blazon its 2003 “Wine Professional of the Year.

John continued to develop educational courses for Disney’s food and beverage team which included the Disney sommelier certificate program in partnership with the Court of Master Sommeliers. More than 750 cast members passed the introductory certificate level since the training began in 2000, which is a greater number than any food and beverage organization in the world. In 2006, Blazon was recognized by The STARWINE International Wine Competition as their “Sommelier of the Year.” In 2008 and 2013, John was elected to serve on the board for the Court of Master Sommeliers and was appointed as an inaugural board member to the American Guild of Sommeliers. 

Meet John at the Corkbuzz Restaurant Dinner featuring Spire. SOLD OUT!


Todd Brentnall, CSW, WSETIII | Regional Manager - Spire Collection

Todd Brentnall, CSW, WSETIII is the Regional Manager for the Spire Collection since October 2013. The Spire Collection is a luxury driven division representing the artisan brands from the Jackson Family. As Regional Manager, Todd is responsible for sales and marketing of the 22 brands under the Spire umbrella concentrating on key markets while focusing on collector activation and on premise sales to further the awareness of this unique selection of handpicked brands.

Todd started his career in the financial industry at PNC Bank but found a passion for wine at a young age.  In pursuit of this passion, Todd was able to train his palate and further his knowledge of wine through a variety of positions in the industry including consulting beverage selections for many top restaurants, management of top retail accounts and working as a key account specialist within a wholesaler in the Baltimore market.  Continually a student of wine, Todd is currently studying for his WSET Diploma.

Meet Todd at The Fig Tree Restaurant Dinner featuring Spire. SOLD OUT!


Amanda Britton | Mixologist/Co-Founder - Crowntown collective

Originally from New Jersey, Amanda has been shaking her way through the Queen City for over 6 years. In that time she has gained a plethora of knowledge when it comes to Charlotte’s craft beer & a love for the blossoming cocktail scene. Recently named NCRLA Mixologist of the Year she loves to utilize lesser known spirits with familiar flavors to help even the most skeptical drinker go out of their comfort zone.

Meet Amanda at the Gala Dinner.

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Gary Crunkleton | Mixologist/OWneR - The Crunkleton

Gary Crunkleton’s first bartending job was around twenty years ago at an undergraduate bar in Chapel Hill, NC as a student at the university. Gary cut his teeth at the busy bar as the co-eds wanted their drinks fast and often. A more civilized and sophisticated bartending opportunity followed as he developed the necessary personal skills of a true barman. 

Realizing the significance of his achievements as a bartender, Gary opened his own bar, The Crunkleton, in Chapel Hill, NC after more than a third of his life working on his craft. The Crunkleton has become one of the most acclaimed bars in the region by a few of the more popular magazines of the South. The Crunkleton's second location will open later this year on 7th Street in Elizabeth in Charlotte, NC.

When not at the bar following his passion, Gary spends his time with his other loves – an adoring wife, Megan, and their three boys, Montgomery, Hudson, and Beaufort.

Meet Gary at the Gala Dinner. 

Shai Fargian | Owner/Chef - Yafo Kitchen

Chef Shai Fargian opened Yafo Kitchen Spring of 2016 with Charlotte restaurateur Frank Scibelli. Having been raised in Israel, middle eastern flavors are threaded through Chef Shai’s authentic cuisine paired with the simplicity of healthy eating. Chef Shai has worked in kitchens all over the world including Tel Aviv and New York City bringing varied experience to the Charlotte food culture.  

Meet Shai at the Grand Tasting. 

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Rob Fisher | GeneraL Manager - Fisher Vineyards

Born and raised where you live and work has special meaning for a second-generation winegrower.  Growing up, quite literally, alongside vines first planted at Fisher Vineyards in 1973, helps explain Rob’s deeply rooted passion for the family business.  After graduating from Duke University with a BS in Economics, Rob worked in San Francisco and New York as a corporate financial advisor focused on mergers, acquisitions and financial restructurings.  But the inspiration to evolve the family business for a new generation proved more powerful, leading Rob to return home in 2004. After several years working in various capacities throughout the winery and in the vineyards, today Rob serves as General Manager, working alongside his two sisters (Whitney, Winemaker and Cameron, Sales & Marketing) and of course his parents, Fred and Juelle, both visionary and energetic, founding pioneers.

“As we begin our fifth decade at Fisher Vineyards, I am humbled and reminded of my father’s old adage that as winegrowers, we know half of what we think we know.  The rest is yet to be discovered in the wines from each vineyard, somewhere between the soil, the sun and the seasons.” ~ Rob Fisher

Meet Rob at the Mimosa Grill Restaurant Dinner featuring Fisher Vineyards. 

Jeff flood | Southeast sales AMBASSADOR - SIlver Oak Cellars & Twomey Cellars

Jeff has 30 plus years of experience in the wine business.  Representing Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars is the pinnacle of his years in the industry. Through his career he’s been involved in every aspect of wine, from vine to bottle to shelf. However, Jeff finds that with wine, there is always something new to learn. “Wine is a subjective product that is never the same twice”.

Covering the southeastern United States for Silver Oak and Twomey, Jeff loves working with fine wine shops and restaurants, educating customers about the wines and their origins. “People are so passionate about food and wine; it’s fun to share that with them.”

Jeff’s winery experience includes the Robert Mondavi family and Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate Wine Company.

Meet Jeff at The Porter's House Restaurant Dinner featuring Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars. 

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Shane Graybeal | Executive Chef - RockSalt

Shane was bornin the small townof Warrensville, North Carolina in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains.  His parents were modest, hardworking people who instilled in him the importance of work ethic, character and staying true.  As a child, his father took him fishing, taught him to clean trout, and how to fry the fish in cornmeal with lard. His mother would take him out to their humble garden, which they tended with great vigor.

Shane learned early on about what it took to put food on the table. From his fond memories of food and family intertwining, Shane will tell you that “I made the connection of food with happiness, and it’s something I live to replicate everyday.” 

His hard work, and love for food and hospitality has taken him to some amazing places. At 18, Shane enrolled at Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, SC. He worked his way through school and was exposed to some of the city’s finest restaurants. After school, Shane landed a job at the prestigious Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, NC.  He thrived in the restaurant’s fine dining environment, recreating and interpreting classic French dishes.  

Shane took his first Sous Chef role at Michael’s 102 North, with Michael as his mentor.  Thomas Abrahamsson then lured him to become the opening Sous Chef at Maxine’s near Richmond, Virginia. 

Heeding a desire to work in a larger city, Shane traveled up I-95 to Washington DC where he worked at Firefly Restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine. While at Firefly, which is part of Kimpton Hotels, Shane had the opportunity to travel and experience the cuisine of Europe and start to really develop his own style of food.   

After 5 years in DC, Shane took on a new challenge at the iconic Chicago restaurant, Bin 36, where he was the opening chef at their new location. After several successful years at Bin 36, an opportunity came from his old colleagues at Kimpton to resurrect the kitchen at Sable.  He turned around the food program and focused on new southern cuisine, using bold flavors, produce from local farms and imaginative twists on classic dishes, much like Sable’s world-renowned cocktail program.

Feeling a desire “to go home,” Shane struck up a fortuitous conversation with Travis Croxton, owner of RockSalt, who was looking for a chef with native Carolina roots and the skills, experience and pedigree to push the restaurant towards national prominence.  As Executive Chef, Shane is looking forward to bringing a little more soul to the Charlotte food scene while still focusing on the incredible fish program that RockSalt is known for.  

Meet Shane at the Grand Tasting!


Sandy Huffine | Executive Vice President - Krupp Brothers 

Sandy travels from her home in Dallas throughout the country, imparting her passion for food and wine and sharing the story of Krupp Brothers. With her boundless energy, huge smile and personality to match, her favorite part of the job is meeting people from different walks of life who are passionate about what they do. Her energy inspires people everywhere.

Sandy has more than 20 years experience in the wine, food and hospitality industry. While overseeing the Fine Wine portfolio for Republic Beverage Company in Texas, she was introduced to Krupp Brothers wines and met Joshua and Jan Krupp.

When she's not on the road sharing our wines, she enjoys playing with her dogs, Skylar and Graci, spending time with her nieces and nephews and savoring a glass - or two - of Synchrony.

Meet Sandy at the Ruth's Chris Restaurant Dinner. Click here to purchase tickets!

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Gene Kato | Executive Chef/Partner - Upstream

Gene Kato, an innovator of Japanese cuisine in the U.S., is best known for his chef-driven restaurant, Sumi Robata Bar, in Chicago. Here he presented the traditional takumi or artisan experience of robata grilling using sumi, a distinct Japanese white charcoal. During his tenure at Sumi, Kato received numerous accolades, including a Jean Banchet Award of Culinary Excellence as 2017 Chef of Year nomination and James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2017. Prior to opening Sumi, Kato’s career path had already positioned him as a visionary of Japanese cuisine on a national scale. In addition to his culinary work at Chicago’s Ohba, he dedicated nine years to working as executive chef and partner of Japonais, launching the modern Japanese restaurant in Chicago, New York, and Las Vegas. His signature dish, “The Hot Rock” garnered him national and international acclaim. In early 2018, Burke Hospitality Group welcomed Kato back to his hometown of Charlotte, NC, and to Upstream where he worked some 15 years ago. Now Partner and Executive Chef of the restaurant, Kato returns to his roots where he first learned to cook the foods so integral to his heritage and culture and where he is bringing a whole new dining experience to the city. Kato is a loving father to his son. And, in his spare time, he enjoys delving into other great ethnic cuisines at other restaurants in the city.

Meet Gene at the Grand Tasting!



Ashely Larose | Executive Chef - Napa on Providence

Originally from New Hampshire, Ashley grew up in New England for majority of her life. Food was always big part of her childhood, with most of her influence coming from parents and family. She decided to attend Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. After receiving her associates degree, she started her pastry career at the Mount Washington Resort, where she also met her husband. She continued her culinary path in NH at Passaconaway Country Club and Hanover St. Chophouse before she decided it was time for change. 

Over the last 5 years, Ashley has held many different chef positions in our restaurant. Starting as the pastry chef, she quickly moved her way up through the company. As the Executive Chef at Napa, she has complete control over culinary artistry, cuisine and execution in the restaurant. She says that moving to Charlotte has been one of the best adventures and she is always looking forward to the future. 

On her days off she loves spending time with her dogs, lounging by the pool and enjoying the local NC breweries. With her husband also being an executive chef, you can bet there is never a bad meal in their house! 

Meet Ashley at the Napa on Providence Restaurant Dinner featuring Blackbird Vineyards. 

Brandon Lopez | Executive Chef - Corkbuzz

Brandon Lopez was born in Oceanside, California. With his father in the military, the Lopez family travelled heavily, living everywhere from England to Beaufort, SC - where he lived most his childhood and teenage years. It was in Beaufort that Brandon first became interested in the world of food. From a job in a small pizzeria to exclusive work on resorts and in golf-clubs, Brandon became excited with the culinary world and decided to further explore the food and beverage field. With his parents being first generation Italian and English immigrants, Brandon had an immediate connection with European style cuisine, but with his low-country roots, Brandon’s unique cooking style immerged.

In order to follow his growing passion and refine his craft, Brandon decided to attend culinary school at Johnson & Wales University Charlotte. Originally, he set out to complete the two-year program but decided to complete the four-year program, later receiving his Bachelors of Science. Brandon mentions, “I feel like I had a successful college experience. I instantly got involved in the Teaching Assistant program and the Competition Team, and I feel as though I gained a lot from my education, including a hunger for more knowledge and, simply put, a grand since of accomplishment. This was positive motivation for my future and where I saw myself.” After this experience, Brandon grew to love Charlotte, and decided to take up roots.

“My first experience doing a wine dinner is probably why I am so interested in food and wine today. I can still remember the course: honey comb, microgreens, and parmesan, paired with Chardonnay. This was a WOW moment, and I got excited. Who knew you could mix food and wine like that? It truly was a magical moment.” From this experience, early on in his culinary adventure, Brandon developed a thirst for knowledge and a passion for unique culinary techniques and flavor combinations. Today, Brandon works at Corkbuzz, a Restaurant and Wine Bar in Charlotte, North Carolina owned by MS, Laura Maniec where he continues to break the molds of the local Culinary scene and explore unique flavor profiles to create WOW moments for other people – so they can have their own magical moment. 

Meet Brandon at the Corkbuzz Restaurant Dinner featuring Lokoya. SOLD OUT!

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Laura maniEc, MS | Co-Owner - Corkbuzz

Master Sommelier Laura Maniec brings her extensive wine knowledge and passion for teaching to Corkbuzz Wine Studio, which she opened with her business partner Frank Vafier in 2011. Already a rising star in the wine world, Maniec is also the face of Corkbuzz, which she expanded in 2014 with Corkbuzz Wine Bar in New York City’s bustling Chelsea Market and Corkbuzz Wine Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Maniec’s fresh approach to wine has made Corkbuzz a destination for expert and novice wine drinkers alike and earned her recognition as both a sommelier and entrepreneur. Since opening Corkbuzz, The Wall Street Journal called Maniec the "It Girl" of the New York wine scene, Crain’s New York Business honored her as one of their “40 Under 40” and Food & Wine named her one of their 2013 “Sommeliers of the Year.”

Corkbuzz is part wine bar, part wine school, all wrapped up in a cool, casual studio designed to feel like a living room. Maniec created the wine program to bring casual and professional wine drinkers together in one space with approachable yet comprehensive classes. The wine bar also offers a robust, seasonally inspired menu with dishes designed to complement Maniec’s changing wine and Champagne offerings.

Maniec first discovered her true enthusiasm for wine through an 18-week sommelier certification class at Windows on the World, and just as she was legally allowed to drink, she became a sommelier at Blue Fin, a 400- seat restaurant in New York City. Progressing quickly, she was made a partner as well as wine and spirits director for the entire B.R. Guest Restaurant Group of 20 restaurants across the country. At only 25 years old, she was managing the wine lists as well as educating the entire front-of-house team on wine.

Maniec earned her master sommelier designation, the highest accreditation given to wine professionals, in 2009 after nearly eight years of intensive study. She is currently just one of 32 women in the world to have the designation.

In summer 2010, Maniec left B.R. Guest and spent the harvest season in Champagne, which she recounts as one of the best experiences in her life. After finishing the harvest, Maniec returned to New York City to pursue her dream of opening Corkbuzz.

In addition to her work at Corkbuzz, Maniec is the vice chair for the Sommelier Foundation, and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier’s New York chapter. She regularly sits on The New York Times tasting panel also contributes to industry publications, including Food & Wine and Sommelier Journal. Corkbuzz has been chosen as a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program for 2017 and 2018. 

Meet Laura at the 1000-Point Tasting. Waiting List Only!
Laura will also be at the Corkbuzz Restaurant Dinner featuring Lokoya. SOLD OUT!


Thomas Marlow | Executive Chef - Mimosa Grill

Chef Thomas Marlow hails from Fairport, New York and made his way to Charlotte to study at Johnson and Wales University.  While he was in school, he was able to work with some of the best chefs in the city, including Chef Tom Condron and Chef Tommy Dyrness, learning the business and crafting his skills. Before graduating, he spent a summer in Singapore and Chaing Mai, Thailand where he acquired much of his own personal culinary style including the importance of respecting the ingredients that you have available and instilling your passion into what you cook.    Chef Marlow joined Harper’s Restaurant Group in 2009 where he quickly moved up the ladder from line cook to Sous Chef at Mimosa Grill.  Under the tutelage of Executive Chef Jon Fortes, he honed his skills and then moved on to other Harper’s Group locations such as Upstream, M5 and Zink. American Kitchen before coming full circle back to Mimosa Grill as Chef de Cuisine and finally, Executive Chef.    While at Mimosa Grill, Chef Marlow has had the opportunity to travel to Birmingham, Alabama to work in the kitchen of renowned chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club.  Here he cooked alongside Chef Hastings, a 2012 James Beard Recipient of Best Chef in the Southeast, and witnessed his approach to blending various styles of cooking using local harvest.    Thomas also had the distinct opportunity work with Master Charcuterist Francois Vecchio in Palmer, Alaska, where he learned the fine craft of salami making.  Chef Marlow now oversees Mimosa Grill’s charcuterie program, using natural pasture raise pigs from Rock House Farm in Morganton, NC.   Guests will find these unique products showcased on the Mimosa Grill menu each day.    Perhaps Chef Marlow’s most profound culinary influences are based on his upbringing on his father’s large farm where he connected personally with the hard work and effort it took to raise fresh ingredients and product for market.  He brings this respect for farmers and for the food they produce to his work at Mimosa Grill where he uses only the best ingredients to create the restaurant’s extraordinary cuisine and adds his own distinctive southern twist to each and every plate.     

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Matt Martin | Executive Chef - Fern

New Hampshire born Executive Chef Matt Martin has been working in restaurants since the age of 12, when he spent summers scooping ice cream at his grandmother's small diner. Ever since then he's know what he wants to spend his life doing: making people happy through food just as his grandmother did there. After graduating from Southern New Hampshire University's Culinary and Business Management program in 2013, Matt and his wife Mariah relocated to Charlotte; a move that allowed her to pursue a Masters Degree at Winthrop University and him to put his motivation and energy to work at Fern. After joining the kitchen team at Fern, Matt showed his talents with such popular menu items as the Sweet Potato Reuben and Honey Tart. His skill and ambition allowed him to quickly move up the ranks, eventually being named Executive Chef in August 2014. Moving into the future, Chef Matt hopes to continue taking the lessons he's learned from both the kitchen and his everyday life as a vegetarian and bring food to Fern that is all at once elegant, engaging and approachable. In his free time Matt enjoys spending time with Mariah and their cat Chia, hiking and other outdoor adventures, and working out.

Meet Matt at the Grand Tasting!


Stephen Schmitt | Executive Chef - WP Kitchen + bar

WP Kitchen + Bar executive chef Stephen Schmitt is one of the rare Charlotteans who was raised in Charlotte, N.C., a burgeoning New South city that is now welcoming thousands of new faces every day.

Prior to cooking, Schmitt was pursuing a computer science degree from University of North Carolina, Charlotte. It wasn’t until he was offered to work in the kitchen at an Uptown Charlotte restaurant that his passion for cooking and food grew. In 2005, he left UNC Charlotte to attend the prestigious Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. While attending school he was able to work in the US Virgin Islands at the prominent Caneel Bay resort, as well as the Harper’s Restaurant Group concept, Zink American Kitchen, in Uptown Charlotte. Schmitt continued to work with the Harper’s Restaurant Group at a number of their locations over the next seven years as a sous chef and chef de cuisine. In 2012, Schmitt joined the opening team for Wolfgang Puck’s first Pizza Bar, located in Charlotte. In 2016, he oversaw the restaurant’s transition from a pizza bar to a new concept, WP Kitchen + Bar, located at 6706 Phillips Place Court in Charlotte. 

Meet Stephen at the Grand Tasting.  


Chef Tweesak (Peter) Sripan | Executive Chef -Ray Lay Thai Cuisine

Born in Nakhon Ratchasima Province (Northeastern Thailand) and raised in Bangkok, Peter began his cooking career working alongside a Chef of the Royal family at the age of 13. His passion continued more than a decade later, working in restaurants and mobile kitchens in Bangkok. Arriving in Boston at the age of 35, he steadfastly began working in gourmet Thai restaurants and hotel establishments while mastering his techniques. In October 2015, Chef Peter moved to Charlotte and worked briefly with Basil Thai restaurant and then joined Dee Jai Restaurant Group as the head chef of Ray Lay Thai Cuisine, Chef Peter brings a uniquely warm and distinguished touch to Thai Cuisine. 

Meet Peter at the Grand Tasting!

Will Williams | Executive Chef/Owner - Seasoned Provisions

For years, William has enjoyed bringing people together with his meals, believing that food is an important part of a person's life. He wanted to share his passion for hospitality with others.

In 2014, William created Seasoned Provisions, a private catering company, where he also provides private chef services and cooking lessons. He has been serving the Charlotte area since, establishing a reliable reputation for Seasoned Provisions.

Through Seasoned Provisions, William translates your needs into delicious food, ensuring each bite creates a memory. He studies each event, understands each guest, and carefully arranges excellent service and a delightful experience.

William studied at Johnson & Wales University, one of the best culinary schools in the country, and graduated in 2011. He became ServSafe certified in 2015. In 2017, William started appearing live on TV showing off his cooking skills

Meet Will at the Grand Tasting!