Pablo Braida’s life has seen several watershed moments. Born in Morteros, a quiet town to the northwest of the Province of Córdoba, Argentina, he studied to be an accountant and worked at an automobile factory. In 2004, however, he felt the need for a change of scene.
“I wanted to travel, but I had to pay my way.” He decided to try his luck in Germany, and got his first experience serving the public in an ice cream store in Gemünden am Main.
Later, he moved to London: “I went there hoping to improve my English and started out from scratch at The Berkeley hotel, where I was first introduced to top class service. I also started to learn about wines and got interested in sommellerie.”
Thanks to the excellent wine list at the hotel, he was able to try a number of labels that gave him a solid grounding. He would soon move on to Spain, where he found work as a sommelier in Mallorca and Barcelona.
Pablo Braida took the Summiller course at the Higher School of Hospitality in Barcelona while also working in the wine program at Torre d’Altamar, but he had no idea that his time there would be life changing.
“It was there that I met Lila, who is now my wife, who was on vacation in Spain. She’s from Iowa so I followed her to the United States and when I got there, she had just got a job in the Napa Valley, which was amazing for me given I’d already taken my first steps as a sommelier.”
Now living in the heartland of California wine, he began studying at the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS). “I already had a diploma as a sommelier but in the USA everyone asks about the CMS degree. So I started to visit wineries, to learn about the wines of the Napa Valley and to study, until I was able to get a job at the Ram’s Gate Winery, marking my return to the restaurant business. What I really wanted was to oversee wine at a fine dining establishment.”
He soon got a chance to get on the ground floor with the Compline Restaurant and Wine Shop. “It was a great time because we put together a wine list that was very original for the Napa Valley, with a selection of wines from California but also elsewhere. I loved opening diners’ minds, introducing them to wines they’d never heard of.”
This professional experience encouraged Pablo Braida to continue his studies at the CMS, so he applied for the Advanced level in 2019 and passed first time. Now there was only one more step between him and the prestigious golden pin.
However, 2020 didn’t exactly go as planned for Pablo Braida . Covid-19 forced him to put his plans on hold and, later, the forest fires that raged through the Napa Valley saw him move to Iowa, to stay with Lila’s family.
“In the midst of all that uncertainty, I decided to keep studying, while I also gave wine workshops and tastings at different venues across the city. My study group and I were in touch daily, helping each other out, and so by 2021 I had passed the theory chapter. But I still needed to practice my service so I returned to the Napa Valley to work at the Press Restaurant with the Master Sommelier Vincent Morrow, which has a Wine Spectator Grand Award wine list.”
In spite of all this hard work and dedication, his first attempt at the service and blind tasting exams didn’t go well. He decided to rethink his training regime, focusing especially on his skills as a taster, so he moved to Dallas, where he helped in the dining room at Monarch restaurant, working under Wine Director and long time friend Nicole Nowlin, with one of the most amazing wine lists that Texas has to offer.
Four months later, in August 2022, he decided he was ready to take the final exam again and this time passed, earning the title of Master Sommelier: the first ever Argentinian to wear the coveted golden pin.
Today, he’s back in Iowa for a break before his definitive move to Texas: “I’m processing what I have achieved, it took many years of study and sacrifice. It’s time for my wife and I to settle down while I work as a consultant and continue my relationship with the Monarch, among other projects.”
The argentine wine scene according to Pablo Braida
You’ve worked your way across the world… I’d like to know more about your relationship to Argentine wine and whether you’ve stayed up to date with developments in the different wine regions of the country.
When I moved to Europe, in 2005, I liked wine and had my favorites of those I could afford. But back then the Argentine wine industry was only just taking off so I missed that stage and in Europe, Spain mainly, I didn’t get much chance to work with Argentine wine.
In 2012, my dad and I went on a road trip across the different wine regions. I knew a lot about wine, but Argentina was completely new to me. We left Córdoba, heading for Río Negro via San Rafael, the Uco Valley and other terroirs in Mendoza. I was impressed by Patagonia, especially Noemia, which is now one of my favorite wines.
Back then, there wasn’t much room in the Napa Valley for wines from elsewhere but you still saw Argentine wines around. Little by little, I studied and got up to date, finding out which winemakers to follow, although I still need to learn more. I’m anxious to reconnect with the world of Argentine wine.
How do you envisage that reconnection?
I’d like to help from where I am now, not just promoting producers’ wines but also providing support to colleagues who want to study at the Court of Master Sommeliers.
When it comes to the wines themselves, I know that Argentina has a lot to offer, and most are wines that aren’t well known in the US. All these great wines need to get into the hands of the most influential sommeliers and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to make that happen.