Soul Sessions Podcast: Chuck Nix
On today's episode, we talk with sommelier and wine manager for BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar in Highland Village, Chuck Nix.
Chuck's experience in the hospitality industry came by accident, but his expertise and intentionality has made him a star in the field, and has given BRAVO!'s 28-year-old wine program a fresh new flavor.
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Paul: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your host, Paul Wolf, bringing you a look at the people, the places, and the events that make us the City With Soul.
On today's show, sommelier and wine manager for BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar in Highland Village, Chuck Nix is here. Chuck's experience in the hospitality industry came by accident, but his expertise and intentionality has made him a star in the field, and has given BRAVO!'s 28-year-old wine program a fresh new flavor.
Paul: Hey, Chuck. Welcome to Soul Sessions.
Chuck: Hey, what's going on, Paul, how are you?
Paul: I'm fantastic, Chuck. The Bearded Wineaux, they call you, you've got a show on Facebook on Monday nights. Make sure, folks, check that out. I want to know a little bit more about you, Chuck, and about the work you do at BRAVO! in Jackson.
Chuck: I am a sommelier in the most direct sense. I'm a wine steward. I'm an on the floor som. I'm also the wine director at the restaurant that I work at. That's BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar in Highland Village. So my job is to sell wine, to buy wine, to curate the wine list, keep it interesting and fun and inviting for those that come to dine with us.
Paul: Buy wine, sell wine, taste wine, get to enjoy the fruits of your labor there at BRAVO!, huh?
Chuck: That's one of the perks of the job. (Laughs) That's one of the very fun perks of the job, trying some really cool wines that I ordinarily would not be able to drink on my own.
Paul: All right, Chuck, got to find out, how did you get into this business?
Chuck: So, the briefest version of this story was inadvertently. I've been in hospitality for 20 years, but I've been serious in the wine side for about six. I was a bartender turned bar manager. And as bar manager, the general manager of the restaurant I was working at fired the assistant general manager on his way out for quitting. So then I, by default, was the next person in line to run the restaurant. And I had no idea what I was doing.
Chuck: So with the team around me, the chef and the servers, I really started to learn. Distributors rallied around me like, "Hey, let's show you what we're doing." And then I found a love for it and I fell into the rabbit hole and I'm not coming out.
Paul: Sounds like you have found your passion in life. But fun fact though: you are one of the few, like maybe three Black sommeliers in the state of Mississippi. I mean, how can that be, that you're only one of a few?
Chuck: Yeah, I know. Look, so we already know that there's a concentration of Black population in the Southeast and especially in Mississippi. You would think that there are more of us, especially in the service industry, that are doing the job that I'm doing.
Chuck: I just think it's something that's not really thought of in the service industry. We think chef, we think server, we think bartender, manager even, we don't think sommelier. Which is why it's really cool to represent for that cause, and for that effort in this position.
Chuck: So I'm really happy to be here to show other brothers and sisters that, "Hey, we're doing this too. We're not just on the floor; we're everywhere in this business."
Paul: Right. So what I think I hear you saying is representation really matters.
Chuck: Well, look, our industry, our hospitality industry, it's a trade industry, it's a second chance industry for a lot of people. And I think that we look at it with a narrow scope. You know, that there's a few things that you can do and you have this singular direction.
I think once we understand the wine side of it or the beverage side of it, there are multi avenues that you can take to a greater success. That's what I found; That's one of the most fulfilling things that I found as a som.
As a server, you look at management and then maybe you go to ownership and this is where you are. In wine, you can go into distribution, you can find a way into manufacturing. You can find your way to multiple avenues in retail. There's just so much more going on. You can educate, you can write, you can teach, you can do so many things.
And I'm finding myself doing a lot of those. My wife is really in love with my schedule, because it's very hectic (laughs). But that's just what we have in this business. There's a lot that we can do, and really be effective for the people as well.
Paul: Chuck, are we seeing a big growth in the wine scene here in Jackson? Is there a burgeoning scene among the Black population?
Chuck: It is. I do see it amongst Black people, certainly here. They're more adventurous, I would say, in Jackson than I think I found in other markets that I've worked in in the South.
The drinkers here, the consumers here, they really want to know more of what's out there. I think that we're graduating past the typical what's trending in social media and in entertainment. And we're really starting to look at what's the next thing. We're trying to find the most exclusive bite. So we want more.
So it's really fun for me because I get to talk to these adventurous drinkers and I get to say, "Hey, this is the education base that I have, let me show you something that you don't know." Like Kanye West said, "I just spent 400 bucks on this just to show y'all you ain't up on this." It's a lot of people that are really trying to be on the next wave. So it's really fun doing what I'm doing.
Paul: Our friends, Dan Blumenthal and Jeff Good at BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar would love for you to talk about how special their wine program is, there at the restaurant.
Chuck: Oh, it's a very, very special one for me and many other people in, not just Jackson, but in Mississippi. I have to say this.
I learned when I got there: first off, it's a 28-year old program. That's one of the longest-running wine programs, especially with the level of prestige that it has, in the state. So there's that part.
Then on top of that, it's very creative. We've got some of the most enthusiastic, passionate wine professionals that have come through this program. I mean, Kelly Boutwell, Val Spellman, Leslie McHardy, just to name a few that have come through here.
I'm really excited to fall in line with this group of people. Also, Dan and Jeff really let me spread my wings. They let me go. So you can get really creative with the wine program. That's why it's really, really interesting at BRAVO!
You're not going to find just a typical Italian wine list, not a domestic list. I mean, we're all over the place. I'm doing South African wines, I'm doing Austrian wines, I've got Australian, and the new South American stuff. I'm going crazy on the list right now, Paul.
Paul: Oh, it sounds tasty, I've got to get by soon. Okay, Chuck, one question here we always ask everyone. If you had 24 hours in Jackson to show off the city to your family, to your friends, where might you take them?
Chuck: Oh, you know what I'd do? A lot of my family's from Memphis. And in Memphis, what's a really big attraction is the Civil Rights Museum. So there's the one in Memphis, but the one here is newer and it's expansive.
Chuck: I'll tell you this: I've been to it twice and I still have not covered all the ground that's there to see. So I'd take them to the Civil Rights Museum. Plus, we'd get a bite to eat somewhere downtown as well.
Paul: Oh yeah. You have any favorite restaurants downtown?
Chuck: Yeah, I do. I have a new favorite now. I have a new favorite now because, while I love every restaurant in my group, Broad Street, Sal & Mookie's, and BRAVO!, we've got some of the best lunch and dinners, but when I'm downtown, I go see Chef K Ray at 4th Avenue. He's doing some really fun things with their lunch menu. And he's talented, man. So we'll go down there, we'll get a bite. We'll get some of the spicy shrimp. I hate to call them Bang Bang Shrimp, but that's kind of what it is. I get that on the plate and just have a good day.
Paul: Oh, that does sound like a fantastic day to me, between the culture-
Chuck: Come on.
Paul: ... and the food. Yeah. I'm sold-
Chuck: Come on, come on!
Paul: I've got one more question for you here. And that is, to ask you what makes Jackson so special? What makes it unique?
Chuck: Culture and a rich history, man. I really think that people need to see more of what Mississippi has to offer. Especially Jackson. In my time here, I was apprehensive, you know, coming from a larger market, I felt. And when I got here, there's a sense of community here that I don't think that I've experienced in many other places. And people have a strong sense of pride about their places.
So I'll say this, we look at people a lot, especially these days, on our screens. And we have our vision and idea of these people just on the screen. Here, in Mississippi, I think that we are really more akin to looking at each other across the street versus on the screen. And that's what's really most endearing about Jackson. And I love the sense of community here. I say this often, or I've heard it said most often: Mississippi is not a state, it's a club, and your membership can give you some long-lasting friendships.
Paul: You are the wine manager and sommelier at BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar in Highland Village and the host of the Bearded Wineaux. Check it out on Facebook on the BRAVO! Facebook page on Monday nights. Chuck Nix, thank you so much for being here today.
Chuck: Paul, thanks for talking with me, brother.
Paul: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Rickey Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission head to visitjackson.com. I'm your host, Paul Wolf, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.