Q&A with Levi Dalton from the “I’ll Drink to That!” podcast
When you’re immersed in the world of wine, you get to know a few people. Sommeliers often spend hours researching wine and reaching out to producers around the globe to find their next “favourite bottle” of vino to share with their clients or to pair with a new dish at a restaurant.
Levi Dalton is one sommelier who decided to expand his audience from the tables in a restaurant to the entire online community; he launched the podcast I’ll Drink to That, in which he interviews famous, knowledgable wine personalities in his living room and shares these interviews every Tuesday and Friday.
Audiences around the globe can access Dalton’s podcast on iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or on their website. In fact, the website also has curated playlists based on wine region, top episodes from each year, careers, and major topics of interest – so you can listen to the podcasts that pique your interest… or start from the very beginning.
Dalton has produced regular podcasts since May 2012. I asked him a few questions about his experiences and what drives him to continue exploring the wine world through podcasts.
When and why did you become a sommelier?
At some point in the late 1990s, I transitioned to being a sommelier, but the job roles were less clear back then. I was working at a restaurant with a ton of wine, just an immense amount of bottles everywhere, there were a lot of wine sales, and they needed help. I would work all the time, and come in on my day off to clean up the cellar. I’d help with inventory, and when I wasn’t at work, I would go home and read about wine, or hang out in the bookstore looking for new wine books. Gradually it got to the point that if one of the other waiters at the restaurant wanted to know where a particular bottle was, they would ask me to find it for them. If they wanted to know something about that wine, they would ask me to tell them about it. Or they might send me over to their section to answer a guest’s question. And that was when I became a sommelier. It was an on-the-job transition.
Are you still active as a sommelier?
No. I left the floor in 2012, after about 20 years of working in restaurants.
What inspired you to start I’ll Drink to That?
I knew a lot of people in the wine trade. A lot of them. I had done business with them, I had been at tastings alongside them, I had gotten drunk with them. And there were a lot of interesting people in the wine world, who had done super cool things, and lived varied lives. Impressive people, with real skills, and hilarious stories to tell if you could get them going. People that I was happy to know, and who I enjoyed being around immensely. But I would read interviews with these same people in the press and they would sound two dimensional, wooden, and maybe a bit boring. They made wine sound boring as well. I decided that it wasn’t the people being interviewed who were boring, it was the questions they were being asked. I thought there was a better way to go about drawing these people out, and showing who they were. And I think that telling the story of wine through individual people is the most engaging way to go about it. It occurred to me that, if someone who knew a great deal about wine and the wine world were asking the questions, there might be a different result. So I gave that a shot, as a host of my own interview program, and I’m still at it several years later.
How do you choose your topics each week?
I ask myself who I’d really like to have a conversation with, and then I reach out to them with my fingers crossed that they will say yes. Most of the time they do. If I really want to talk to someone, that’s all I need to go on. Everything else falls into place.
What is your best experience so far with I’ll Drink to That?
There has been a lot of personal growth, honestly. When you really want someone to do well in an interview, you have to create the space for that to happen, and I didn’t know how to do that before. If you listen to early episodes of the show, you can hear me trying to make it a great show. Now you can’t hear me, and it is actually a great show. Getting in touch with what makes it possible for other people to shine has been the reward for me. That is where the growth has been, both for me personally and for the audience numbers. I feel really good about that.
Have there been any major hurdles you’ve had to jump to produce I’ll Drink to That?
It really just comes down to time management at this point. My wife and I welcomed a child recently, and that has meant a lot of positive changes for our family, but it has also meant that free time has become harder to find. I just have to make time where I didn’t think there was any. I’ve read wine books out loud to my kid on more than one occasion. Sometimes he listens while I do show edits. It is like story time for him. That’s how it gets done.
What plans do you have for the future of the I’ll Drink to That?
I look at it as a chance to make connections with people. I think that when you leave work in restaurants, what you end up missing the most are the interactions with all sorts of different people. I have been able to hold onto that with my show, and to learn more about wine at the same time, and frankly that’s been great.