YEDaily: Kurtis Kolt

Kurtis Kolt is an independent wine consultant who spends his days and nights immersed in wine culture. He educates with enthusiasm and gusto, and can lead a tasting event like few others. This winner of Sommelier of the Year (at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival) started his business but a year ago, and since has cemented and rediscovered why he went in the biz in the first place. Find out more about Kurtis Kolt in today’s YEDaily.

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
I’m an independent wine consultant. I’m a Jack-of-all-trades wine enthusiast whose mission is to share my passion with people to enhance their enjoyment of wine and lead them to the good stuff, because there’s plenty of plonk out there. I do this via many avenues: through events and seminars I’m involved in; wine list design and staff training for restaurants; freelance wine writing and judging wine competitions. The ‘independent’ part is key, having full integrity and control over what wines and regions I choose to promote and work with, with no obligation to any particular company or brand.

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
I ran restaurants and their wine programs for many years, but when you’re running a restaurant, unclogging toilets, staff scheduling headaches and filling in for the dishwasher when he cuts his hand on broken glass are as much part of the job as the wine thing. I wanted to focus my creative energies on why I entered the industry in the first place. That said, I can unclog a toilet with the best of them!

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
I love everything about wine and find that working with it and always learning more about it is quite fulfilling. It’s way beyond simple sensory enjoyment; it’s a passion and subject that encompasses history, geography, biology, chemistry, law, economics, art and revelry. The most challenging part is the many hurdles presented by the BC Liquor Control & Licensing Branch, who have a stranglehold on our industry, making it an incredibly expensive, difficult ride for everyone involved with wine – restaurant owners, wine importers, retailers and particularly the consumer.

Where do you see your business going in 5 years?
I don’t want to sound like I’m not ambitious, but I haven’t given that too much thought. I’ve seen many people try to go the freelance route in my industry and end up failing because of unreasonable, lofty goals. This first year has been about the learning experience. I find leading seminars and events more fulfilling than I’d expected, and note there’s more demand for me within that realm. I enjoy the writing part but it’s a fairly solitary aspect of what I do, so I find balancing it with more ‘social’ ventures seems to be a good fit. Now that I have that first year under my belt, I can re-tweak the direction I see myself heading. I would like to travel more, and not just wine country touring. I love cities, and fortunately all cities have wine events of varying degrees. I’d like to explore options for roles and appearances at wine events beyond BC.

What does success look like to you?
Work/life balance is key. My wife and I are both self-employed and very conscious of the slippery slope that can lead to it becoming all-encompassing. Keeping myself organized, enthusiastic and engaged with my work, having it be sustainable, and leading a balanced life is my perception of success, and I believe I’m fortunate to feel successful in the present.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
On my very last day running a restaurant and being its wine director, I was named Vancouver’s Sommelier of the Year at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, receiving a standing ovation in a room full of respected colleagues and peers. It was the perfect way to cap off that part of my life and made me feel I was in a good position to launch my own thing.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Don’t be a jerk. I believe much of my success is because of a very supportive community of colleagues and friends. I can’t imagine doing what I’m doing if I weren’t a friendly guy and supportive of those around me.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I support the Vancouver Food Bank in one way or another each holiday season and am currently donating my time and services for a United Way fundraiser. Closest to my heart is my work for the BC Hospitality Foundation, which provides financial support to individuals from the hospitality industry who are coping with extraordinary costs that have arisen from a serious medical or health crisis: accident, injury, disability, long-term illness, surgery and rehabilitation. I sit on the Board of Advisors, and see much value in our work, as most hospitality employees do not have benefits, yet contribute so much to our city’s culture.

What is Notable to you?
The support and sense of community in Vancouver’s wine and restaurant industry. Everyone works together rather than being competitive and playing politics. Our city is so much better for it.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
iPhone. It’s pretty much my office.

How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
I’ve been on a steady(ish) fitness regime and eating healthier over the last year and it seems to be going well. I spent many years having my “dinner” at one in the morning and figured this career shift would be a good opportunity to re-tweak my personal habits as well. Oh, and wine is an important part of my life. That’s gotta be part of it, too!