Napa by Way of Vegas

Meet the Sin City expats who are making wine country an even better place to drink

The Napa Valley is a quick trip from Las Vegas. Fly into San Francisco, San Jose or Oakland, and you can be sipping pretty in little more than an hour’s drive. Napa’s close proximity makes it a next rung on the ladder for many of those graduating from the Las Vegas food and beverage industry. A growing number of Las Vegas “expats” have found success in the idyllic Northern California wine country setting. To experience the best of what Napa has to offer right now, pay a visit to some of these familiar faces.

  • A native of Southern Nevada, Julia Gomez Sanchez opened Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace as an assistant sommelier in 2006 before becoming the sommelier at Fiamma in MGM Grand in 2008. You can now find her as the guest-relations coordinator for cult winemaker Harlan Estate ( For Sanchez, 31, making the transition from prestigious dining room to top-notch producer was easy. “The community in Napa Valley is warm and welcoming, not to mention highly creative and passionate,” she says. What does Sanchez miss most beside friends, family and Lotus of Siam? “I miss the conveniences of Vegas,” she says. “My husband, Daniel [a chef], and I would like to have a restaurant of our own. We hope it will be in Napa Valley, but we are open to Vegas, and a few other places.”
  • Nick Rimedio is a familiar name if you had the opportunity to dine at Restaurant Charlie during its short stint at the Palazzo. Choosing Napa’s milder climate over Las Vegas’ excessive summer temperatures in 2009, Rimedio, 32, is now living his dream, opening his own restaurant, Empire Napa, in mid-May ( It’s a tapas-style eatery with an artisanal cocktail program, including tableside carts and cocktails on draft. Rimedio’s time in Las Vegas influences the Empire philosophy. “You see great team efforts every day in the casinos, the shows and the restaurants,” Rimedio says. “With that in mind, I will emphasize that ensemble of both service and culinary.” And while he loves being close to some of the world’s best vineyards and farms, Rimedio says he would love to bring a bit of Napa flavor to Las Vegas one day.
  • Formerly a wine manager at Bartolotta in Wynn, Alessandro Sbrendola and his wife, Alessia, have opened Alex Restaurant in Rutherford (, serving cuisine that brings together their native Italian regions of Romagna and Liguria.
  • For many years William Sherer was the recognizable face at the helm of Aureole’s wine program in Mandalay Bay. In addition to making his own Iberian Remix wines based on Spanish grape varieties, Sherer is the wine director at chef Richard Reddington’s Redd and Redd Wood restaurants ( in nearby Yountville.
  • Former Wynn Resorts wine director Danielle Price recently launched wine purveyor Maison du Prix ( in the Bay Area. The wine Price has been making since 2004, Coup de Foudre (, consistently gets high scores from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and The Tasting Panel. While in Napa, visit the Maisonry (, a collective tasting environment pouring a delightful selection of Price’s Coup de Foudre wines.
  • Desi Echavarrie worked as wine manager at Switch in Wynn. But it was during his stint at Julian Serrano that he got the call that most wine professionals dream of, and moved to Napa to work as a sommelier at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Having received his certification as master sommelier, he now works for Soutirage (, where he sells fine and rare wines.

Click here for Melinda’s full Napa Valley itinerary—and what she wore while completing it!

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