In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, our October Vegan Somm Select Bundle will feature wines selected by Native American sommelier Kevin Lewis. Kevin is the Wine Director & Sommelier of Kai Restaurant at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Arizona. Kai is located on the Gila River Indian Community just south of Phoenix. It is Arizona’s only Forbes 5 Star and AAA 5 Diamond restaurant.
For this bundle, Kevin has chosen six vegan wines that span varietals and regions across the world. We asked Kevin a few questions to learn a bit more about his background and love for wine!
Shop our October Vegan Somm Select Bundle!
October 12th is Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the inspiration for this bundle (along with you!). Can you tell us a little bit more about your Native American heritage?
I am full-blooded Native American. I am primarily Akimel O’otham (Pima) from the Gila River Indian Community. I grew up on the reservation and attended school there until I graduated from high school. The restaurant I work in is owned by my tribe and the restaurant tells the story of my people and also utilizes indigenous ingredients from our land.
Tell us about your career as a sommelier and how you got here.
I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the Sheraton Grand for a little over 17 years. My journey at Kai began 13 years ago, and I have been head of the wine program for 7 wonderful years.
While my career has taken me through a few of our Food & Beverage departments, wine was something I had always struggled to understand. How do you taste acidity? What are tannins? These were just a few things I couldn’t quite grasp. Then I was asked to be part of the Kai team.
As expected, much of the Kai team were very knowledgeable about wine. I didn’t want to be the “new guy” who didn’t know anything so I invested in a lot of wine books and enlisted the help of our Sommelier staff to get me up to par. In 2008, I sat for the Introductory Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers and passed. In 2011, I sat for the Certified Exam twice and passed on the second try. And in 2018, I took the Advanced Exam Course in gorgeous Dallas, Texas.
When I am not working the floor at Kai, I love to make memories with my two children, Kaleb and Lily, who are 7 and 5. You could also find me keeping up with hockey or shooting photography. I have been fortunate enough to do quite a bit of photos for Kai’s social media outlets, and I have also contributed to two major projects for the Sheraton Grand that I am extremely proud of!
We find that lots of people don’t know much about vegan wines? As a sommelier, is this a relatively new area for you? Do you routinely choose vegan wines?
Vegan wines aren’t new to me per se. I do get guests who ask for vegan wines every so often and I try to research the bottles on my list to accommodate them as best as I can. The selections for my bundle are definitely wines I would seek out to add to our wine list!
I am not vegan myself, although I am actively incorporating more and more vegetables into my diet.
We currently offer a plant-based cheese and vegan wine club. Could you tell us some of your favorite wine and food pairings?
We do have one particular dish on our menu that is composed of root vegetables, mushrooms, and beets. The mixture of favors range from earthy, by way of the mushroom, to sweet, with the inclusion of the beets. I love pairing Gruner Veltliner with this dish. The texture from this grape is silky enough to support the wide range of textures from the veggies, while adding balanced acidity and slight sweetness to compliment the flavor profile spectrum.
How did you select the wines for our October Somm Select bundle?
The process for choosing the wines for my Vegan Wines bundle was a mixture of simplicity and intrigue. There are some grapes that I am simply a big fan of, like Gamay and Sangiovese, and I chose based on this notion. On the intrigue side of things, there were quite a few wines that were unique in either their country of origin (Chilean Sauvignon Blanc) or in the grape itself (Pinot Noir Blanc).
Also, I am a wine nerd and I love to examine the “typicity” of a grape in relation to where it is being grown. For instance, what similarities are present in a Sauvignon Blanc grown in France? New Zealand? Chile?” The wine world is constantly changing and keeping up with it is a very welcoming challenge!
Here are the wines Kevin has selected for our October bundle:
Pandolfi “Larkun” Sauvignon Blanc
2017 Proteus Illusion Pinot Noir Blanc
Castello Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico Riserva
You can buy these wines or the October Somm Select Vegan Bundle now in our online shop!