The Wine Master
by Jen Russo
You’re out to dinner with friends and you want to order a bottle of wine off an extensive, expensive wine list. What do you do? Ask an expert. At Merriman’s Kapalua, like many restaurants these days, you can request the sommelier.
Up until recently, that sommelier was Jason “Cass” Castle. (Even if you don’t love wine, Jason’s name might be familiar; he’s penned a few wine articles that have appeared in MauiTime and has written for other publications.)
“I was going to go to law school but I figured out that you could make money drinking wine,” says Castle. “I decided that I would become a master sommelier by the time I am 34.” In October 2010 he completed the arduous advanced sommelier exam, joining a select group of less than 400 individuals—in the world.
An eccentric grape geek, Cass’s approach is anything but ordinary. “I break the ice and steal subtle points about their favorite wines and comfortable price points,” he says of his approach to patrons. “Then I ask them to pick one word that has nothing to do with the wine that describes what they want, like roses, purple or soft. [People] always love it. Ninety percent of the time they want something they love to drink, but not necessarily the perfect traditional pairing to their food.”
His legacy at Merriman’s may be the Werewolf Wine Club, where the full moon and great vino have combined under his tutelage for the past two years, creating a burgeoning wine club following.
For someone who never had a sip of alcohol until he was 19—and was introduced to wine via a box—it has been a journey. And it’s ongoing—Castle plans to pass another, even more difficult test next year and ascend to an even more rarefied sommelier status. “I’ll continue to push myself and interact with the masters of the craft,” he says. “I hope my contribution is to relate to people, with respect to wine, on a different level.”
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE from MauiTime’s January 13 cover story “20 for ’11: Who Matters on Maui?” featuring twenty movers and shakers in art, food and politics who are shaping our island’s future.