Kristin Olszewski is the wine director at Gigi’s in Hollywood, founder and CEO of canned wine company Nomadica, and host of this month’s Eater Wine Club. The wine aficionado majored in sustainable agriculture in college before embarking on pre-med studies at Harvard; during her time in Cambridge, she met the owner of a wine bar who sparked her passion for the drink. She dropped out of school to earn a Level 3 sommelier certification and hasn’t looked back since.
Over the past decade, Olszewski has worked for and run wine programs at a number of esteemed restaurants including Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles and Husk in Nashville. These days, she’s balancing the growth of Nomadica, along with curating environmentally conscious wines at Gigi’s. Eater LA sits down with this Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 pick to hear why she’s feeling optimistic about the environment, the economy, and the Central Coast — and why the wine industry is overdue for a renaissance.
On the importance of holistic sustainability within the wine industry: I think the biggest thing no one is talking about is the actual sustainability behind wine. We talk a lot about organic farming, biodynamic farming, and natural wine, but I don’t think enough people are asking meaningful questions around holistic sustainability. Like, is your packaging sustainable? I cannot even tell you how much of an uphill battle it is to start a sustainable packaging company. People think just because it’s not in a bottle that it’s not as good as bottled wine, which is totally incorrect. But even beyond that, are the employees of the winery being paid fair wages? Good working conditions? Do they have health insurance? What are we supporting here with our dollars when we’re talking about sustainability?
I was up the coast a few months ago on a trip to west Sonoma when the region got certified as its own AVA (American Viticulture Area), and was just blown away by the stewardship and environmentalism that these vendors were exhibiting. I feel like that dialogue is often lost in the natural wine conversation.
On why the future of wine is in the Central Coast and Sonoma: I’m excited by all the young people who’ve been coming to the Central Coast. We’re really pushing the envelope on what California wine is. Holus Bolus, Amplify, Natural Action Wine Coalition, Scotty Boy (not that young but doing cool stuff), Sol Miner — oh my god, it’s so good. The Central Coast became known for trying to be Napa for a while, especially Paso Robles, and I think the area has developed this tight-knit community farming the right way and making low-intervention wines.
In terms of ecological stewardship, the West Sonoma ADA, Hirsch Vineyards, Ted Lemon, Ceritas, Occidental, all of these really incredible legacy vintners, are thinking about winemaking in a way that is so meaningful and exciting. I was up there a month ago [and] this trip invigorated me and reminded me why I got into wine. Now, we’re not just talking about making great wine and selling it, we’re talking about returning nutrients to the earth, having a reduced carbon footprint, veterans being paid fair wages and being taken care of. And I think it’s just really inspiring to know that I’m working alongside people like that.
On how consumers can be more mindful about sustainability and their carbon footprint: A little bit of a hot take – I think that change needs to happen within the wine community on the buyer’s side. One of the problems with wine is there is so much of it and it’s insane to navigate. Educating consumers is important and more buyers need to do that.
On the next decade of wine: I have a unique perspective because I have Nomadica, and we’re investor-backed and fundraised, but then I also run the program at Gigi’s where I buy from really small producers and small distributors. I have a holistic view of the wine industry.
I think the wine industry is very scared. The investment community is really down on wine as a category — they think it’s dying, they think young consumers are switching to spirits. But I am optimistic that wine is here to stay, and is having a resurgence with millennials and Gen Z. We are trending toward knowing what is in our food and there’s no better beverage for that than wine. It’s grapes, water, yeast, and time. Do you want lower ABV than that cocktail? Great, drink wine. Something that pairs really well with food? Great, drink wine. Something with a story behind it? Wine. It’s a living beverage. As the palate skews more bright, acid-driven with the rise in popularity of things like kombucha, wine will have a big resurgence in the larger market.
On where she drinks in Los Angeles, and thinks you should too: Evelyn Goreshnik, who runs the program for Last Word Hospitality (Red Dog Saloon, Found Oyster) — I think her lists are incredible. She really walks that line of focusing on small producers farming the right way, but who still make classic wines, with good moral ethics behind them. I’d be remiss not to mention Cristie Norman, as she’s one of the most impressive people in the Los Angeles wine community. She started the United Sommeliers Foundation and created the LA Wine Community, with weekly tastings and a job board. She’s young, she cares so much, I can’t say enough good things about her.
One of the most secret, underrated programs is Rachel Grisafi at Antico Nuovo. It’s the best Italian wine list in town. And, of course, Sarah Clark who runs the program for Republique and Bicyclette; she was my mentor at Mozza. A famous Napa winemaker told me they thought Sarah is the best sommelier working the floor in America. She’s best-in-class and best-in-the-city.
This interview is condensed for clarity.