Catching up with laV’s Vilma Mazaite

We’ve partnered with a host of talented bloggers from around the web to let you in on some of the stories behind the wide range of talent at this year’s festival. From profiles and interviews to recipes and previews, follow along for the inside track on all things AFWF.

We’re kicking things off with Ginny Bell of Ginny’s Austin, who will be taking a look at two of the wine + spirits experts ready to share their knowledge next month at the fest!

The 2014 Austin Food and Wine Festival is less than a month away, and what better way to start the official countdown by talking wine with festival panelist Vilma Mazaite, the driving force behind one of Austin’s most impressive wine programs.

Lithuanian-born Advanced Sommelier Vilma Mazaite is currently the resident wine expert at laV, a newly opened restaurant in East Austin. With a wine list boasting over 1,200 labels, including several rare vintages sourced from private collections and world-renowned wineries, laV is truly a wine lover’s dream.

Before she moved to Austin, Mazaite cut her teeth curating wine lists alongside some of the best in the business. Under the mentorship of renowned sommelier Rajat Paar, Mazaite helped to build the wine programs at several top Las Vegas restaurants before joining the team at Mario Batali’s famed Babbo restaurant in Manhattan. Mazaite next found her way to the prestigious five-star resort The Little Nell, located in Aspen, CO.

It was at The Little Nell where Mazaite fortuitously crossed paths with future La V Executive Chef Allison Jenkins, then leading the kitchen at one of the resort’s acclaimed restaurants. The duo, along with James Beard-nominated Pastry Chef Janina O’Leary, now comprise the restaurant’s all-women culinary team.

Like much of the culinary world, the wine industry has long been something of an old boy’s club, but thanks to emerging talent like Vilma, this won’t always be the case. During this year’s Austin Food and Wine Festival, Mazaite will lead a discussion highlighting some of the most innovative female leaders in the winemaking industry today.

Join Vilma Mazaite for her Tour de Femme panel
Saturday, 4/26
1:00-1:45PM (Oak Tent)

Prior to moving to Austin, both you and laV’s Executive Chef Allison Jenkins worked together at The Little Nell in Aspen. What about this opportunity prompted the decision to relocate?

I really love Aspen and had a wonderful time working at The Little Nell. However, as wonderful as Aspen was, the opportunity to open a brand new restaurant and be able to put my mark on it simply doesn’t happen that often. Neither Allison nor I had any second thoughts about laV. Of course it was a scary transition and having opened just two weeks ago, we are really just getting our feet wet in Austin. But anyone who knows me would agree that I am not the type of person to look back. Without risk there’s little reward. I’ve taken a big leap but am excited about the possibilities.

With over 1,200 labels, laV’s wine list is arguably one of the most expansive in Austin. What was your approach and inspiration in putting it together?

My business partner Ralph Eads is a huge wine lover and has collected wine for many years. We both share a great passion for burgundy and this is the main direction of the wine list. However, my goal is to provide a large range for guests to choose from. It’s incredibly fun for me to find and share wines that are off the beaten path but truly extraordinary. Our list is still growing and we are expanding the Tour de Monde and Tour de France categories, where all the wines will be under $100 per bottle.

You are currently studying to be a Master Sommelier, of which there are only 19 women out of 135 in North America. At this year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival, you will be leading a panel celebrating female leaders in the wine industry. How have you seen the role of women in the wine industry change over the last several years and how do you think it will evolve going forward?

I have never been a feminist. I feel it’s all based on the individual and their strengths. But yes, for some reason this industry is still dominated by men. There also tends to be a lot of ego in the world of wine. And while that’s not an exclusively male trait, I think it probably stems from the best place – a true love for wine. I believe we will be seeing more and more women in wine and hopefully this will make it less intimidating and more approachable. After all, women do have more sensitive palates.

Which regions and varietals are you currently excited about?

It changes frequently. I have always been fond of Italy and its undiscovered regions like crisp Liguria whites, light reds from Lombardi or powerful yet elegant wine from Umbria. I am also a fan of Jura and Savoie regions in France.

What is your favorite food and wine pairing at the moment?

I don’t think I have a favorite one, but just the other night I had Allison’s sweetbreads/scallop and leak speatzel dish with sauvignon from Jura. It was perfect!

What are your go-to everyday wines?

I will sound very girly, but I love bubbles and rosé. Especially when it is getting warmer. I find pleasure in finding sparkling wines that don’t have a price tag of champagne and are simply delicious!

If you could share a bottle of wine with anyone over dinner, what would you be drinking and whom would it be with?

I’m looking forward to having more neighborhood guests into the restaurant and sharing our list with them!