Character: Jackson Rohrbaugh finds a story in every bottle of wine

Jackson Rohrbaugh, ’09, is the newly minted master sommelier at Canlis, one of Seattle's premier fine-dining spots.

I wooed my wife with poetry.

I wrote and sang a song for her the first Christmas we were dating. I think she wondered a bit, Is this guy serious with this? I guess it worked because we’re married! My creative writing training proved useful.

Writing didn’t take hold for me in college.

I studied abroad in Italy during my junior year at UW. People were curious about what I was doing, so I started a travel blog. For a year and a half, I also wrote for The Daily.

An “epiphany bottle”…

is a wine that makes you want to become a sommelier. Mine was a 2001 Château Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I had just started working at Canlis and was there on a date with my now-wife. The sommelier offered me a taste of this rare wine. It was so expressive and had a distinct note of white pepper. It was a moment of truth.

Barista, bartender, kitchen server…

lead server, sommelier, assistant wine director, wine director, master sommelier. I started working at Canlis in 2008 and worked my way up. I guarantee that eight out of 10 sommeliers started as a dishwasher or bussing tables. We find our way to the profession because we have a common desire to share stories and educate people about wine.

Canlis has 17,000 bottles of wine…

in the cellar with 2,500 different selections. I write about new wines to describe them to the staff, and I maintain the 88-page wine list.

No monocle or top hats!

People worry they don’t know enough about wine and they fear sommeliers. They have an image of a villainous old Frenchman wearing a monocle and cummerbund telling them they’re wrong and didn’t spend enough money. Today’s sommeliers work tirelessly to share their knowledge and bring people together.

Paint them a word picture.

Being a sommelier is a combination of studying married to storytelling. You draw from your proverbial cellar of knowledge. It’s not interesting if you just spit out facts, figures and flavor profiles. You use stories to illuminate feeling.

Bacchus, the Roman god of wine…

is depicted on the master sommelier pin that I earned in October 2017. It really does take 10,000 hours and more to earn it. The process requires personal study, apprenticeship, exams, reading and dedication.

Every wine has a story.

Someone has to clear land to plant a vine. They wait years, sometimes decades, for grapes to grow. The weather has to cooperate. Someone harvests the grapes by hand, then makes the wine and ages, bottles, labels and ships it. There is another process for it to reach the restaurant.

Equal parts James Bond, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

Working at Canlis, you’re expected to interact with class, elegance, grace and a bit of suaveness. It’s about more than winning awards or turning a profit. The narrative of our fine dining experience is to make memories for people and protect their special time with their loved ones.

Whole milk is still the greatest pairing…

for chocolate chip cookies! I have access to some of the greatest dessert wines in the world, but remain convinced that a glass of milk is best for cookies or chocolate cake. It’s important to think outside the box as a sommelier and consider what truly suits a dish.