UW-Stout News Story

Successful alumna offers career advice at hospitality fair

February 22, 2012

As its name indicates, the hotel, restaurant and tourism major at University of Wisconsin-Stout offers a variety of career options.

Brooke Sabel, a 2002 graduate of the program, has taken one of those myriad possibilities and run with it. Sabel has built a career as a top-flight sommelier, or wine steward.

For the past three years, Sabel has been wire director at Natirar, a luxury resort near New York. She previously held a similar position for three years at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, N.J.

She gets to rub elbows with the rich and famous but said she has paid her dues.

“I get paid to drink, eat and travel. It’s not a bad life. You work a lot of hours and put in a lot of time, but it pays off in the end,” Sabel told current students in the program Tuesday during the annual Hospitality Career Conference at UW-Stout.

Natirar is co-owned by billionaire Englishman Sir Richard Branson and multimillionaire Bob Wojtowicz. Sabel oversees four wine cellars for the four-star restaurant, teaches wine classes at Natirar’s culinary center and helps develop private wine labels, among other daily duties.

“I started with 400 labels. We now have almost 1,400 labels. The prices range from $150 a bottle to $3,200. Everything I put on the list I taste blind,” Sabel said. “I don’t care about price or who’s making it. Ultimately, is it going to pair with my chef’s food?”

She focuses on buying small production wines that come from sustainable, organic or biodynamic winemakers. “It’s the wave of the wine future,” she said.

Sabel is a certified sommelier and is working toward her Master of Wine and Master of Sommelier degrees. Just 13 people in the U.S. and 280 in the world have earned Master of Wine, she said.

She trained under one of them, Christopher Cree. “I was working 12 to 14 hours a day, but I loved what I was doing.

“It is a craft to be a sommelier,” she said, saying she has been trained to identify a wine down to the type of grape it came from, the vintage or even the village of its origin by simply tasting it.

Sabel has been featured in national publications and shows, such as Martha Stewart Radio, has helped develop wine lists for chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and developed friendships over wine with people like singer John Mayer.

Sabel, originally from Clintonville, began considering a career in the wine and spirits industry after taking a class on that subject at UW-Stout. Professor Peter D’Souza recognized Sabel’s talent and told her to think about it. “Peter instilled that passion in me,” she said.

Sabel stressed to students that if they remain humble and passionate they can reach all of their career goals.

Representatives from about 50 companies, including many national chains, were at the career conference at the Memorial Student Center to talk with students about internships and full-time job openings.

To learn more about UW-Stout’s hotel, restaurant and tourism management program, part of the School of Hospitality, go to http://www.uwstout.edu/programs/bshrtm/index.cfm. It is the only such program offered in the UW System and among the largest in the country.

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