For those who seek to pursue excellence in the hospitality, restaurant, or beverage industry, there are several awards, certifications, and diplomas that must be garnered to become a truly noted master of the craft. Some of the more prominent accolades, in no particular order, include being a part of a team that earns three Michelin Stars, the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service, the Wine Spectator Grand Award, Certified Wine Educator certificate, Advanced Sommelier certificate, Wine and Spirits diploma, Master Sommelier diploma, and Master of Wine diploma.
JESSE RODRIGUEZ, Montage Palmetto Bluff’s director of wine, has either already accomplished these honors during his impressive career, or is very close to it.
Jesse’s remarkable background begins in the Southern California desert town of Beaumont, where he worked as a volunteer firefighter in high school and then went on to work on the Malibu fire line post-high school graduation in 1993. He then attended Arizona State University to major in history and anthropology. During that time, he embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime trip where he traveled to Bab edh-Dhra in Jordan to do archaeological field work in 1999 and 2000.
From there, Jesse attended graduate school and participated in the Air Force ROTC. During his physical prior to commissioning for the Air Force, he learned that he has a degenerative cornea disease, which ultimately restricted him from entering the military.
But he didn’t let that slow him down—Jesse still had an unanswered calling. His interest in the hotel and food and beverage industry was piqued as several college friends began to see success in their own hotel careers. Therefore, he decided to leave Arizona to work at a small family, Rutherford winery, and eventually at renowned restaurant The French Laundry. It was here that Jesse’s passion for wine, food, and service was awakened and his career would truly begin to take shape.
Jesse served as the head sommelier at The French Laundry from 2003 to 2006, helping it earn its inaugural three Michelin Stars in 2006. After this achievement, he returned home to San Diego to work as the director of wine at The Grand Del Mar from 2006 to 2013 where he was able to acquire the majority of the above-mentioned awards, among notable others.
In 2013, a decade after Montage Laguna Beach opened, Jesse decided to bring his expertise and success to this luxury resort collection, and in April 2016, our little town of Bluffton, South Carolina, was lucky enough to have him join the Palmetto Bluff hospitality team.
Apart from his current role as director of wine at Palmetto Bluff, Jesse is also studying for the final portion of the Master Sommelier examination, which is scheduled for September. This is a prestigious, invitation-only program conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers and takes many years to complete. In fact, there are only 236 people worldwide who have earned this title.
At the time of writing this article, Jesse has already successfully completed the first two examinations (service and theory) in the three-phase program, leaving the tasting exam as the final portion to be achieved. This rigorous exam will put his taste buds and wine knowledge to the test as he blindly sniffs and sips six wines from around the world while describing each of them proficiently to a panel of Master Sommeliers in just 25 minutes. He began the pursuit of this diploma in 2002 and takes his final test in September 2017.
Jesse is also currently in his second year as a wine student at the Institute of Masters of Wine. There are only four other people in the entire world who hold the dual title of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine.
We are lucky to have Jesse Rodriguez as a part of our Palmetto Bluff Lowcountry family, and we are proud and eager for Jesse to finish his current studies and become one of a handful of people worldwide to hold such an esteemed title.
WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF PERFECT HAPPINESS?
Well, besides finishing the tasting exam for the Master Somm diploma, I’m also excited to finish building my home in Bluffton. But I’m truly happy when I’m with my wife, Tiffany (who also happens to be the Director of Banquets for Montage Palmetto Bluff), and my dog, just hanging out in the backyard, cooking and listening to music.
WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR HEAD AS YOU DRIVE TO WORK EACH MORNING?
The humidity! It’s going to do wonders to my face! But seriously, every time I drive Old Palmetto Bluff Road, I’m very humbled to be here. There’s not much distraction on that drive in. I can really focus on my goals for the day and week.
AND ON THE WAY HOME?
I reflect on how big of a property this is and how much effort goes into the day-to-day operations while also thinking about all the other things I can do and am capable of. I also try to take the time to check in on my team and get them to walk me through their day so we can continue to strengthen our team and service.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE?
The Russian Tea Room in New York City.
MOVIE THAT YOU WOULD RECOMMEND TO FRIENDS?
The Sandlot or The Goonies. I like the old-school movies.
IF THERE WAS A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE, WHICH ACTOR WOULD PLAY YOU?
Viggo Mortensen does a fantastic job in the movie Hidalgo, and although I look nothing like him, it is the character that he plays that I feel a connection with.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT?
Apart from marrying Tiffany, I’d say the scholarship I set up at Beaumont High School. This will be the 11th year I’ve contributed and I keep in touch with all the recipients.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST MARKED CHARACTERISTIC?
That I’m driven and resilient.
WHAT IS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?
Well, the last podcast I listened to was “Rebuilding Self Confidence” to help me not second guess myself in daily business and personal decisions.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ONE “SUPER POWER,” WHAT WOULD IT BE? HOW WOULD YOU USE IT AT WORK?
I would want the ability to smell every beverage without tasting it and know exactly what it is.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT HERE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
I’m with my family. Tiffany and I love to travel and always turn our traveling into a learning experience when we do.
WHAT WORD DO YOU USE THE MOST?
The phrase would probably be “Let’s make it happen.”
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Dumb jokes. I’m just a kid at heart.
TOP FIVE SONGS ON Y OUR PLAYLIST?
AFI: Rabbits are Roadkill on Route 37
Common ft. Pharrell: Universal Mind Control
Classixx: A Stranger Love
Foster the People: Helena Beat
Pennywise: Living for Today
FAVORITE SPOT ON THE BLUFF?
I love the Lake Haynes area in Headwaters when I’m running.
BEST PALMETTO BLUFF MOMENT?
Music to Your Mouth in 2016. My first year here. Super cool.