Jarrett Buffington is currently a successful sommelier in Sydney, Australia, a long, long way from his beginnings. His application for a Taylor's Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship was keenly supported by Franck Moreau MS, arguably Australia's most famous somm.
I’m an African American coming from a single-parent household and being one of five children growing up in Houston, Texas. Wine was a luxury that was in no way incorporated into my life. It was a tradition that wasn’t passed through the generations in the Black community. That’s why this journey and the scholarship is so important to me. It’s so humbling as a Black man to be so far from what you expected your life to be, even if you’re the only one who resembles you in the room. My mother and my siblings take so much pride in my wine journey and I feel my successes are theirs too.
So being on my way to taking the Master Sommelier exam for the first time is a dream come true to say the least. And my motivation to pass is my attitude to always strive for excellence and my belief that I have a place in this wine community as a pupil, a teacher and a bridge for others. I want to be an inspiration to the outcasts and the young boys and girls who look like me that they have a place in this industry.
I’ve had a lot of adversity in my life. Growing up, I was often bullied. I ate my lunch at school in bathrooms. I witnessed family violence. I was subjected to verbal abuse. My oldest brother killed himself, and so much more. For most of my life I never believed that I was going to be anything other than disappointed and sad.
But hospitality and wine have truly changed my life. Every day I have the opportunity to make people feel their best, to make significant moments more special, to give insight and value. And because of my upbringing I don’t take the power I wield to make guests and colleagues feel special for granted. Being a sommelier has made me open up as a person. I’ve had to learn this past year specifically to open up more. I’ve always been someone who’s too shy to put myself out there and be known. I feel a lot more myself when I praise others.
I’ve always believed people can reach amazing heights when they are positively motivated. In the industry I do this in the form of a private message to a friend who’s struggling, a post highlighting a colleague who inspires me, a tasting and theory session for those just starting out in the industry. I always want to make time for the questions like, ‘I’m interested in becoming a sommelier. How do I do it? What are the benefits? What are the pros and cons of the job? What other avenues are available in the wine industry? What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had as a sommelier?’
One of my favourite ways to keep the focus going in the community in Sydney is via an advanced tasting group I have facilitated for the past few years. I purchase the wines, set times and mark the tastings for them. I encourage the sommelier to stay and watch the next session too. Everyone has their own individual tasting styles and strengths that can benefit another. I love learning with and from my peers.
When looking back to the times when I had no idea what a Chenin Blanc was, I am extremely proud of my progress and excited to know that I’m still just a baby in the wine world. This year I competed in the Best Sommelier of Australia competition and have joined the Sommeliers Australia organisation in hopes of promoting diversity and providing proof that a young Black man from Houston, Texas, can find himself happily placed so far from home and what I was expected to be.
I’ll be a panellist next week at a California wine tasting, discussing the wine that first made me fall in love with all of this. I desire to be a part of this diversity and mentorship programme. I am committed to my continual growth and involvement as a sommelier and a mentor. I know I have what it takes to pass the Master Sommelier exam and the humility to realise that this is not about me. It’s about what I can continually give of myself. And when you become an Master Sommelier even more is required of you – that’s the essence of hospitality.