"I came up with STL Wine Girl at 2 a.m. after two bottles of wine," laughs Angela Ortmann as she recalls the genesis of her business. "I made it work because it has to. If I had a desk job, I'd be fired in a week."
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Ortmann's road to becoming STL Wine Girl -- sommelier, consultant, event producer -- began with an interest in restaurant design. A former Mizzou business student, Ortmann headed to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to pursue this passion, but ended up falling in love with all things food and wine while working in the Bay Area's fine-dining restaurants. "Before I got out to San Francisco, I barely knew the difference between cabernet and riesling," she recalls. "But once I got into the restaurants out there, I instantly knew I had a knack for food and wine." Her employers took notice, sending her to study in kitchens and wineries around the area. Armed with this knowledge, Ortmann returned to St. Louis and worked for the now-shuttered Monarch and the Ritz-Carlton before striking out on her own.
Now, this self-described "cork dork with a fork" operates STL Wine Girl, doing everything from cooking classes to traveling wine dinners to consulting on wine lists. "Basically, if there's food or booze involved, I'm there," she says.
Ortmann took a break from sharing her love of the good life with thirsty St. Louisans to share her thoughts on the city's food and beverage scene, what wine you'll never see at one of her tastings and why you'll never hear her call this a flyover city.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? That I am currently lobbying for a national Put a Fried Egg on It Day. No, seriously...that I am more than just wine. I am an eater of all the things, and consider myself an equal opportunity imbiber. I can't tell you how often people comment if I am sipping on a beer or cocktail instead of wine. My training, studies, experience and passion includes wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, sake, food of all cuisines, cheese, chocolate, coffee, tea, et cetera. I am also obsessed with the process of service and hospitality. We can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can't deliver it with confidence and a smile, it's worth nothing.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Mornings are all about making endless to-do lists -- that I will never fully complete -- while drinking kombucha tea, and there has to be music. I am a firm believer in listening to music for the mood you want to be in, not the mood you are currently in. This is the only way I can get up in the mornings. I am so not a morning person!
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Teleportation, so I could wine and dine the world over.
What is the most positive trend in food, beer, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? Personally, I have been really excited to see more and more bartenders and mixologists taking a stronger interest in wine as both a subject and an ingredient. I think it has been a bit of an afterthought before now for many of them. But it is not only emerging as something they want to study, but they are also incorporating various styles into their cocktails. And they are taking note to the nuances and differences more than ever, such as taking just as much care choosing which sparkling wine to top the drink with as they do choosing which bourbon/gin/rum is used.
Who is your St. Louis food or beverage crush? My food crush is definitely Adam Gnau at Acero. He radiates a passion for food, wine, and, most importantly, hospitality that really speaks to everything I am about in my business. His dishes combine classical with creativity, and I could listen to him talk about food for hours. Plus he happily lets me come in for chocolate torte -- with olive oil and sea salt, of course -- minutes before closing without complaint.
My beverage crush is Justin Sampson at Mission Taco. That guy is crazy talented and knowledgeable. He is always surprising me with new concoctions and he really understands people's tastes and adapts to them well. Plus, he loves to make drinks with sherry -- one of my all-time favorite ingredients. Extra bonus, he has a big smile and sweet demeanor to go along with those mad cocktail skills.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? I don't know if I have one person so much as I have a group I would like people to be watching: women in wine. We have more females in leading roles than ever before and the number of emerging sommeliers is constantly growing. Some special ones to me are Denise Mueller [sommelier at the Dark Room] who has cofounded the Mid-American School of Wine; Jorie Taylor [bar manager, Cielo at the Four Seasons] who is doing a bang up job not just with wine, but she's killing it with cocktails too; Kara Flaherty [general manager at Elaia & Olio] who is rising to the occasion by taking over a list that was well established in someone else's name.
Which wine is most representative of your personality? It has got to be rosé. It's the best of both worlds and goes with any food, occasion or season. And even though I look "girly" on the outside, I have far more depth and layers than you would think. In addition, I have been known to be a constant advocate of pink wines in general: No, they are not just summer wines. And it also happens to be my middle name -- without the accent, of course.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' food and beverage climate, what would you say? Ready for the spotlight. In fact, my all-time favorite hashtag to use on Twitter is #flyovercitymyass.
Name a wine never allowed at one of your events. While I believe there is something to be learned from every bottle, you'll never see me pouring white zinfandel for any reason other than comparison to actual rosé wines.
What is your after-work hangout? I am bit of a social butterfly, so you are likely to see me at a number of different places on any given night, but I would say most people that know me well would tell you to expect to find me at Mission Taco in the Loop at least once a week. Not going to lie, sometimes it's three times.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? Red velvet anything.
What would be your last meal on earth? A proper croque madame (yes, I need the fried egg), a side of duck fat fries and a bottle of rosé champagne.