The Spirited Teacher: Francesco Lafranconi

Founder of the Academy of Spirits & Fine Service at Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

ACHIEVEMENTS Yes, his proper title is a mouthful. But “Executive Director of Mixology & Spirits Education” doesn’t communicate the impact Lafranconi has had on the local beverage scene since he left Venice, Italy, in early 2000. He did so at the invitation of Southern Wine & Spirits boss Larry Ruvo, who wanted Lafranconi to develop an educational program for Las Vegas bartenders and Southern’s sales force. The Academy of Spirits & Fine Service was established in September 2000; since then, more than 1,200 students have attended Lafranconi’s 12-week course, which covers tasting skills, mixology techniques, and the history and manufacture of spirits, from field to bottle to glass.

NEXT UP In honor of the 15th year of the Academy, Lafranconi will welcome students in May to a new state-of-the-art training facility at Southern’s headquarters on South Jones Boulevard. Lafranconi has revamped the program (adding more cider, beer, sake and fortified wine), and created the Academy’s first official textbook. The refurbished lab will also host dedicated sake, beer and wine courses, plus an invite-only advanced spirits class for graduates.

CLASS IS IN SESSION Before you conclude that the Academy is just some 12-week-long happy hour, take note of Lafranconi’s personal motto: “We’re not drinking, we’re learning.” Lest anyone forgets, it’s also in his email signature.

THE IMPACT Former students still talk about the positive effect Lafranconi’s program has had on their careers. “It’s all about confidence,” says Raul Faria, Las Vegas’ Absolut brand ambassador who took the class in fall 2013. “Confidence behind the stick and—when you look around and see 40-plus peers all coming together to learn their trade—confidence in the Las Vegas cocktail scene.”

HE’LL HAVE ANOTHER Lafranconi’s love of Campari, amari and Italian vermouth can be traced to his Italian heritage. “I am fascinated by their formulas, centuries-old recipes handed down through generations,” he says. But, surprisingly, Scotch was his career catalyst. “Like Cognac, you are able to sip 20-, 30-, 50-year-old distillate that started from a grape or a grain.” Just don’t ask how many bottles are in his personal collection, which numbers in the hundreds. “But I can’t ‘collect’ them—I always open them!”

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