Meet The Experts

Featured Chef

Norman Van Aken

Norman Van AkenChef & Owner, NORMAN’s
World renowned chef and culinary genius Norman Van Aken is owner of the award-winning restaurant NORMAN’S located in the historic Coral Gables section of Miami. Known as the “Father of New World Cuisine” for his lifelong contributions to the culture of his region, Van Aken was selected by The St. Petersburg Times as “one of the 25 people who mattered the most in Florida’s history.” He is one of the only chefs in America to have won the James Beard Award, the Robert Mondavi Award, and the Food Arts Silver Spoon.

“Considered South Florida’s most gifted chef”

- The New York Times

Acclaimed by the likes of Gourmet and The James Beard Foundation, NORMAN’S is the home base for Aken’s New World Cuisine. It has been labeled by The New York Times as “South Florida’s finest.” Condé Nast called NORMAN’S “one of “The top 10 restaurants in the United States.”

Wine Experts

Luis Torres

Luis TorresWine Expert and Educator, Academy of Wine
South American-born, Chicago-raised Luis Torres lends his extensive background in wine supply, distribution, and on-premise roles to the Academy. He studied Food Science and Technology before spending 15 years in the restaurant industry. His experience includes an apprenticeship at Charlie Trotter’s with Master Sommelier Larry Stone, studies with the Court of Master Sommeliers, The Wine and Spirits Education Trust and management and wine buying responsibilities for all of Hilton’s Chicago star properties.

As a manufacturer’s representative Luis represented a portfolio of worldwide high prestige wines. Luis’ expertise in the education arena quickly became apparent. In 2001 he was promoted to his current role directing the Academy’s Central, and East Coast education programs. He currently supports extensive business development in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean. His commitment to his students is evidenced through a highly interactive and comprehensive teaching style.

Shane Owens

Shane OwensDivisional Vice President of Sales, Precept Wine Company
Shane Owens is a 20- year veteran of the wine industry having started his career in 1994 with Alabama Crown Distributing Company. He soon joined Constellation Wine Company as a District Manager in North Carolina. From there, he joined Ste Michelle Wine Estates as State Manager. There, Owens developed a passion for Pacific Northwest Wines. He represented many well-known Washington State brands such as Chateau Ste Michelle, Columbia Crest, Col Solare. 14 Hands and Spring Valley.

In 2012, Owens took the role of Divisional Vice President of Sales for the Southeast Division for Precept Wine Company, the largest privately-owned Pacific Northwest Wine Company with vineyards in Washington State, Oregon and Idaho. Notable Wineries represented include Waterbrook, Canoe Ridge, Willow Crest and Browne from Washington State and Primarius from Oregon.

Jake Pippin

Jake PippinWine Expert, Vine Connections
Jake Pippin was born and raised in Oregon’s wine country, but it wasn’t until studying abroad in Vienna, Austria in 2008 that he discovered his passion—a passion that includes the people, communities, and geographies that make wine more than just a beverage and turn it into bottled culture.

Upon returning to Oregon in 2009, Jake was offered a harvest intern position at Sweet Cheeks winery while he finished his senior year of college. After graduating, Jake moved to New York City and began working at Wines of Chile USA. He helped Lori Tieszen run the US office for two years while promoting and marketing Chilean wine.

In 2012, Jake created and began teaching his own Chilean wine classes at Puro Chile where he has enjoyed sharing his passion for Chile and its wine. His expertise has most recently taken him to Vine Connections where he now works as their Chile Ambassador.

Jake holds the Introductory Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers and an Intermediate with Merit Certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

Thom Horsey

Thom HorseyWine Educator, Ste Michelle Wine Estates
Thom Horsey, National Wine Educator for Ste Michelle Wine Estates, is a 35 year veteran of the wine industry having begun his career in a retail wine shop in Ellicott City, MD in 1978. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is Certified Specialist in Wine and pursuing his Certified Wine Educator certification.

Since getting the wine bug at 19 years old, Thom’s efforts were focused on a career in the wine industry. While getting a BS in Business Management at Virginia Tech, he taught wine classes to the student population thru the university short course program and also made a wine in the University’s Food Science & Technology Department’s Wines & Vines class.

After graduation, he spent 2 years at the distributor level in Maryland before joining Robert Mondavi Winery in 1988 as the DC Market manager. After several promotions and 16 years he transitioned to Constellation Wines after their purchase of Mondavi where he spent two years before joining Rodney Strong Wine Estates in 2007. Thom joined Ste Michelle Wine Estates in 2013.

Thom has conducted and developed well over 1200 training’s, seminars, dinners and tastings on almost every aspect of wine. He founded the Ladybug Wine School in Richmond, Virginia, which helps raise money for the Ladybug Fund, an effort to ensure Children with Special Needs get the therapy and services they need. Thom lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Max Vater

Max Vater Alexander Valley Vineyards
Max Vater was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and currently resides in Jacksonville FL. He acquired his BBA in Accounting at the University of Houston, was a University of Houston football letterman for two years, and coached two years at UH.

He became part of the Oil and Gas industry as an accountant in Houston before entering into a Wine and Spirits industry career for the next 28 years. For eighteen years he worked in Houston Texas with Glazers Wholesale Distributors as a Sales Rep, H&R Sales Manager, and brand manager for fine wine and spirits.

For the past ten years, he has been with Alexander Valley Vineyards, a California winery as the Regional Sales Manager for seven states in the Southeastern U.S.A.

Alberto Eckholt

Alberto EckholtWinemaker, Vina Montes USA
Born in Santiago, Chile in 1985, Alberto was always attracted to farming and agricultural life. Eckholt enrolled in the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and earned an Engineering degree in Agronomy with a major in Enology. After finishing his studies, he was hired as assistant winemaker at the Montes winery in Apalta, Chile under the tutelage of Master Winemaker and President of Montes Winery Aurelio Montes.

Eckholt worked abroad for a time, then came back to Montes where he assumed the position of Head Winemaker. In this position, Eckholt oversaw production of the Montes portfolio out of the winery in Apalta, Chile. The wines he produced that year are coming on the market now to critical acclaim.

Eckholt now leads the Montes properties in America. Eckholt still works with Aurelio Montes while also overseeing the Enology team in Chile. He is personally responsible for the wines of Napa Angel and Star Angel, produced in the Napa Valley and Paso Robles, respectively. Together with Aurelio Montes, Eckholt crafts wine representative of the region’s terroir, and the wines are a revelation in elegance, finesse, complexity and flavor concentration.