Neal Wavra Sommelier
For Neal Wavra, the world of wine and its study serves as a lens through which all facets of life may be viewed. Politics, geography, geology, history, chemistry and of course gastronomy are all inherently part of the dining experience when a fermented beverage is included. This multi-disciplinary approach makes sense given Wavra’s circuitous route to becoming a sommelier.
At the turn of the millenium, Neal began his professional career fifty miles to the east in Washington, D.C..After graduating from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington and The Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, both foreshadowingly situated in wine countries of thier own, Wavra parlayed his French, Commercial Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution degrees into a position at U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration. After having lived in two agriculturally rich areas in southeastern Washington and the central coast of California, he was keenly interested in changing policy to better allow small scale, localized farming operations to function. However, not more than a year passed before he realized his true passion was not bureaucracy. His interest is how food was produced and the joys associated with both knowing from whom and from where ones food comes prompted Neal to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America's culinary program. The idea being that a restaurant linked to a farm could have a greater impact on sustainable food production over a lifetime's work and may have more potential impact on policy impediments than continued work in Washington.
Mr. Wavra's education in the culinary arts continued following graduation. With the aid of two scholarships, he traveled the great wine producing regions of the United states and Europe, dining and tasting at each stop of the journey. The formative nature of this travel is the cornerstone of his understanding of the relationship between wine, the land and cuisine. Through Wavra's experience at home and abroad, he developed a deep appreciation of the synergy that exists when wines of place are paired with an equally thoughtful cuisine.
Wavra subsequently returned to his native Chicago and joined one of the world's finest restaurants, Charlie Trotters, where he focused on learning the art of service. Within seven months, he was promoted to dining room manager of the revered restaurant. A strong desire to integrate all aspects of the culinary process brought him to the acclaimed Blackberry Farm of Walland, Tennessee. Here his focus was to develop the property's now renouned farm-to-table culinary program and create related guest experiences. While at Blackberry Farm, Wavra also oversaw the fine dining room operation and led the opening of the property's newest restaurant, The Barn at Blackberry Farm. Most importantly, though, Neal met his future wife, Star.
The two moved to Virginia in the fall of 2008 and were married in June of 2009. They took over operations of the venerable Ashby Inn & Restaurant in November 2009. Here the couple seeks to draw on their collective experience to offer guests a one-of-a-kind experience that features the splendor of the Virginia countryside.
Neal Wavra is a certified member of the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is the recipient of the Commanderie de Bordeaux Wine Scholarship and the Kopf Foundation Wine Excellence Scholarship.