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Meet the Expert - Rajat Parr

Rajat Par SommelierSommelier. Winemaker. Author. Legend.

Universally regarded as possessing one of the world’s finest palates. Two-time James Beard Award Winner: 2015 Outstanding Wine Professional of the Year and 2011 Beverage Book Award.

Favorite wine region? Burgundy.

Favorite wine story? Any story written by Matt Kramer.

Light-bulb moment? My first epiphany wine - 1986 Raveneau Chablis 'Les Clos'.

Last meal? Zuni Chicken and Allemand Cornas.

Desert island wine? Dauvissat Chablis "Les Clos" (any vintage). I bet its warm on that island. White wine would be good. And, this is also my favorite producer of white wine!

If you could live anywhere in the world… Santa Barbara. Luckily I already live here. I love the weather!

Bucket list? Travel the world to see Penguins.

If you ruled the world, what would you change on Day 1? I would enforce rules to make the very loose appellation system for U.S. wines more like Europe’s AOP.

Greatest achievement? Opening my restaurant RN74 in San Francisco.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Being a chef.

THEN It was while visiting an uncle in England that a 20-year-old Rajat Parr tasted wine for the first time. Throughout his youth in India he had never had so much as a sip — and now, with the taste of his uncle’s vintage still lingering on his palate, he was both awestruck and confused.

Awestruck by the flavors of the elixir he had just discovered. And confused at the thought that something so profound could come from something as seemingly simple as a grape. Rajat’s curiosity was aroused and soon afterward, while attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, he did everything he could to further his wine education.

Wine classes inflamed his fascination with what he calls the mystery of the grape. “At my first wine class, I got interested—really interested—but I couldn’t afford anything.” he says. “So I sold my computer and got three cases of wine.” His focus now firmly on a career in wine rather than cooking, Raj took a job as a food runner at Master Sommelier Larry Stone’s Rubicon restaurant in San Francisco. Before long he was apprenticing under the Master, soaking in all the wine knowledge he could.

In 1999 Raj left to somm at the city’s Fifth Floor, and four years later celebrity chef Michael Mina appointed him Wine Director of all his award-garlanded restaurants nationwide — a position he held for 13 years.

NOW Today Rajat is regarded as possessing one of the world’s finest palates. He has collected some of the wine industry’s highest honors, including a little thing called the James Beard Award — twice! Four years after receiving the Foundation’s Beverage Book Award for his “Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World’s Top Wine Professionals”, he was named Outstanding Wine Professional of 2015.

Rajat produces beautiful wines at several wineries that he’s founded and operates. Among these is Sandhi, opened in 2009, where he creates Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from select vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills near Santa Barbara. His nearby estate Domaine de la Côte, which rests on an ancient seabed, produces wines of exceptional finesse and minerality. He also consults for big-name restaurants, most recently New York’s Pondicheri.

NEXT You can read all about Rajat’s latest discoveries when he finishes a new book, “Atlas of Taste,” which explores why a grape actually tastes the way it tastes. He will never cease to wonder at the magic of his favorite fruit, and continues to lovingly nurture his vineyards in the expectation of passing them on to the next generation of growers.