If I had a quarter for every time someone asked me, "Your name is Kendall Jackson, like the wine?" then I'd be living on my own private island.

It would only make sense then for me to chat with Master Sommelier Larry O'Brien, brand champion for Kendall-Jackson of the Jackson Family Estates.

O'Brien will appear at several events during the 2015 Savannah Food & Wine Festival through Nov. 15.

 

How did your career begin?

O'Brien: It took me a long time to find a wining career, but I started driving a truck many years ago in the mid- to late '80s ... My first contact with wine was at that point, and that's when the bug kind of bit me.

My restaurant/wine career didn't begin until my first restaurant job in '88 at The Wine Merchant in Akron, Ohio.

 

So the definition of working your way up.

O'Brien: That's the cool thing about the restaurant business. If you're good and you work hard and you succeed, you continue to thrive. It doesn't see color, creed, ethnicity; it simply sees skill and willingness and ability. If you're good and you like it and you want to move up, you can.

 

What makes you so passionate about wine?

O'Brien: It's endlessly fascinating and it's delicious. (Laughs).

I still love it; I still want to try new and different things; I want to discover a grape, producer or place I haven't heard of.

There's just this sort of endlessly fascinating aspect of it. And I work for a good family that simply wants to be the best wine maker in the world ...

Our family isn't concerned about short-term returns; they're very concerned about 100- to 200-year vision. I'm still learning about what it takes to make great wine.

 

What would you suggest a first-timer start with?

O'Brien: You typically hear about people starting with a little degree of sweetness. I don't necessarily know if that's the right path - there isn't a right path.

I think it would be fun to go to a (wine) tasting.

If you like beer, you like wine. There are similarities between beer and wine: aroma, flavor, texture. It's not the same, but we all have this organoleptic system - using your senses to experience aromas, flavors and textures.

 

What's the proper wine-tasting etiquette?

O'Brien: When you do go to a tasting, it's probably best that you spit. As distasteful as that sounds, the art of spitting is necessary to taste wine. We don't need to swallow (alcohol) in order to enjoy the aroma, the flavor and the texture.

Drink a lot of water and stay hydrated ... And ask a lot of questions.

 

What do you think of Savannah?

O'Brien: I lived in Florida for 10 years up until about 2005 and I used to cover the southeast ... and I got to know Savannah ever-so-slightly.

I'm very, very impressed with how far this festival has come under Jan Gourley's leadership ...

My lone experience was last year and it was incredibly positive and that's why I'm more than willing to come back this year.