Meet Sommelier Julie Bingham, the Best Sommelier in the Fleet

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A sommelier, or wine steward, sails weekly on the Rivers of Adventure and Wine, UnCruise’s itinerary along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. It is the only itinerary with a dedicated sommelier onboard. And in this author’s humble opinion, Julie Bingham is the best sommelier in the fleet.

After working in the restaurant industry for 15 years, Julie decided to pursue becoming a sommelier. After years of mentorship from the sommelier where she was employed, she decided it was time. Sommeliers must prove mastery in wine tasting, service, and theory in a 1-day examination. Topics of study include everything from the anatomy of grape vines to wine business, and fortified wines. Julie said working at a restaurant with a wine list of 600+ bottles helped. It gave her access to tasting a wide selection of varietals and experience with service and making recommendations for food pairings. Julie shares her knowledge of wine onboard with our guests. She offers wine pairings with lunch and dinner in addition to four presentations intended to educate guests about wine and make it more accessible. Topics include an introduction to winemaking in the Pacific Northwest, the Science of Taste, Blind Tastings, and (my personal favorite) junk food pairings. Wine can be a daunting topic. Often people are curious and have questions but are afraid to speak up and ask. Julie has an approachable style, easy smile, and an infectious laugh that make her a guest favorite each week she sails.

Julie Bingham with a microphone in front of a screen teaching about wines

As a sommelier for the past three years Julie enjoys pursuing avenues of study based on cool questions that guests ask.  For her, the most fascinating thing about wine is how our ever-evolving understanding of the chemistry involved in the wine making process is helping us understand why we’ve had long-time traditions. To learn so much about the wine regions of Washington and Oregon she read a lot of books. A LOT of them. Plus she talked with a lot of people in the industry in this area specifically. Right now what excites her most wine in the Pacific Northwest is how unique Washington’s red blends are in the world and the experimental techniques being pioneered in Oregon.

Julie Bingham and two guests sitting at a table wine tasting

Julie helps wine novices not be intimidated by the historically snooty nature of wine. One thing I often hear Julie say to guests is that if you think a wine is good, then it’s good! Encourages experimentation and play, she wants guests to try diverse pairings and wine from different regions. Once they find something they like, Julie helps them pursue that varietal. She highly recommends reading “Wine Folly” and getting to know your local wine vendor.

Wine experts find in Julie a fount of knowledge who challenges them to never rest on their laurels. Our understanding about wine is constantly evolving. One of the best things about wine is every vintage is different so you literally can never stop being surprised.

Julie Bingham standing on the terrace at the Maryhill Winery

Guests constantly ask Julie what her favorite wine is, but she cannot choose just one. If she said one and you ask her again tomorrow, it will be different. Her favorite pairing though? Dots honey mustard pretzels and Balboa Gruner Veltliner. Give it a try and tell her what you think!

One of the things that is best about the Columbia and Snake Rivers itinerary is that whether you are a novice or an expert you can come along on the trip and try everything for free. You can learn what you like, better understand your own tastes, and it’s completely risk free. Also with this route you get to go adventure in beautiful places and come back to meals with wine pairings and see history right from the heart of wine country!

Catch Julie on the No Ordinary Adventure podcast, Special Episode: The Thrill of Wine Tasting on the Rivers