Chris Poole, WSET II
Chris is currently the Cellar Manager at the Vinum 55 Phoenix location. After spending over 20 years in the aerospace industry, Chris had the opportunity to follow his passions outside of the corporate world. Having collected wine for the past 15 years which included a few years as a Vinum 55 client, he approached Vinum 55 as an avenue to get into the wine industry. Fortunately Vinum 55 provided him the opportunity to learn about the industry, and a few months later an opening became available at and the rest is history! Chris graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelors of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering and has recently completed wine certifications WSET I and WSET II, and has his sights set on WSET III in 2018.
Chris loves to visit the wine region of Willamette Valley in Oregon, and when he thinks about his favorite wine – “all roads lead to burgundy”. Not just Burgundian red and white, but also new world interpretations of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Best wines tasted have been and the 2009 Ramonet Montrachet and the 1999 Domaine Romanee Conti Grand Eschezeaux.
The most exciting thing about working in the wine industry at Vinum 55 is that every day you come across a different bottle of wine. Whether it be a variety, region, or especially an old vintage. It’s a daily lesson of different winemaking techniques, geography, and especially the link to history – wine is still living even if after some of the people that had a hand in making it have passed.
Jillian Newman, WSET III + CSW
Assistant Cellar Manager
Jillian Newman is the Assistant Cellar Manager at our Phoenix location.
She has over 15 years of experience in the Food & Beverage industry, starting as a bartender and manager at Sportman’s Fine Wines in Phoenix, then continuing on as General Manager of Tarbell’s Wine Store, which was the first of two businesses that Jillian has helped to open in her wine career. The second is Desoto Central Market on Roosevelt Row in Phoenix, where Jillian created the bar program as their first Beverage Director. She also has experience in fine dining, working at Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley.
Jillian has earned the designation of Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) through the Society of Wine Educators and a WSET Level 3 Certification through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. She also has a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) degree in Business and Psychology from Arizona State University.
Willamette Valley in Oregon is her current favorite wine region to visit because she loves the smell of mushroom and forest floor found in a glass of the valley’s signature Pinot Noir and the diversity of its landscapes, where vineyards can be planted next to a blooming flower meadow or even a Christmas tree farm! The region’s close proximity to Portland, with its funky, foodie vibe and emphasis on farm-to-table dining, makes Willamette Valley a wonderful destination!
Due to the frequent heat of Phoenix, Jillian typically enjoys drinking crisp white wines from Alsace or Roses from southern France, but on a cooler day, you’ll likely catch her enjoying a spicy Gigondas.
Talking to members and co-workers at Vinum 55 provides ample opportunity to stoke Jillian’s natural curiosity of what everyone else is drinking, which helps keep her wine knowledge and palate sharp. She also loves to take advantage of the seemingly endless opportunities for continued education at Vinum 55, whether through organized tastings, educational events or just sipping some of the fabulous wines our members may share!
Raini Keyser, Certified Sommelier + CSW
Raini Keyser is the Cellar Manager of Vinum 55 Scottsdale and Director of Vinum 55’s Wine Program.
Technically, Raini’s beginning in the restaurant industry began at birth – her grandparents owned restaurants in Iowa and she grew up in them. Raini got her start in wine when she moved to Arizona from Kansas City, working for Houston’s Restaurants. In the 14 years that she worked for what is now Hillstone Restaurant Group, Raini managed the bar and wine program at Bandera first, then also for the Houston’s Scottsdale location. She then worked for Tarbell’s, where she completed her Bachelor’s degree, achieved the CSW degree and discovered her true passion for fine wine. While working for Tarbell’s, she had the unique opportunity to taste 1947 Cheval Blanc. It was truly an eye-opening experience, the likes of which many wine enthusiasts are not afforded. With that and the work of studying to achieve her first wine degree, Raini’s passion for wine was born.
Raini is dual credited with the Certified Specialist of Wine degree from the Society of Wine Educators and Certified Sommelier from the Court of Masters Sommeliers. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology.
Raini has traveled to several wine regions, and it’s nearly impossible to name a favorite! She’s been to Napa, Sonoma, Willamette Valley, Sicily and Tuscany. Soon she will travel to Sardinia, and had a lifelong goal of traveling to every meaningful wine producing region on the planet.
Some of Raini’s favorite wines are from the regions of Champagne, Burgundy, the Rhone, Italy, Oregon, Washington State and California. (In other words, all wine!) It would be nearly impossible for her to name a favorite – she feels she will spend the rest of her life learning and working in wine.
Raini’s favorite part of working for Vinum 55 is the members. There is a beautiful common thread with all the members, and that is a shared love of wine, food and experience.
In Raini’s spare time, she loves spending time with her husband and 3 boys, travel, hiking and yoga.
Andrew Hood, WSET II + CMS Level 1
Assistant Cellar Manager
Andrew started in the Service industry at the age of 21 as a server at a small Italian restaurant and never looked back. In his 12 years Andrew has held many positions but none were more rewarding than Wine Buyer at Stock & Stable in Phoenix. Here he was able to gain vast knowledge of the world of wine and restaurant management. While at Stock & Stable Andrew completed the CMS level 1 and since completed levels 1 and 2 in the WSET program, and the Intermediate CSWS. While Andrew has not had the chance to visit too many of the great wine regions of the world he is looking forward to traveling to Napa Valley this fall to take his WSET 3.
Andrew’s favorite part about being Assistant Cellar Manager of Vinum 55 Scottsdale is getting to meet fellow wine lovers and sharing experiences. Getting to learn and at the same time teach about this thing that brings us all together. Being a fan of Burgundy one of Andrew’s most memorable wine moments is when he was greeted on his first day at Vinum 55 with a glass of 2009 Corton by owner, John Finn.
Kat Leas, CMS Level 1
Kat Leas is the Cellar Manager at Vinum 55’s Chandler location. Kat has been a part of the Food & Beverage industry since she was old enough to work. Kat spent five years with the prestigious Hillstone Restaurant Group and then six years with local restaurants Citizen Public House and The Gladly. Kat graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Exercise + Wellness/Health Promotion and has received her level one certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers with her sights set on becoming a certified sommelier in early 2019. At this point, Kat has only traveled to domestic wine growing regions but she is especially fond of Anderson Valley. She feels that Anderson Valley is the best kept secret of Northern California and she loves the relaxed, unpretentious mentality of the wineries up there.
On a daily basis, Kat enjoys crisp, dry Riesling from Alsace and Pinot Noir from Oregon. To date, the best wine she’s had was a 2009 Ramonet Montrachet- she could have smelled the wine for hours before ever even tasting it. Kat’s favorite part about working for Vinum 55 are the people she has met in the process. She is motivated by the knowledge and passion of her coworkers and loves the fact that every day she comes to work, she learns something new about wine. Vinum 55 has given Kat the opportunity to turn a life-long passion in to a career and she feels extremely grateful to be working in such an inspiring industry.
Ruth Cuthriell, Certified Sommelier
Assistant Cellar Manager
Ruth’s wine adventure started during her time in culinary school in Grand Junction, Colorado where she graduated with an Associates of Applied Science in Culinary Arts. While studying cuisine, she was also introduced to wine. Her first brush with learning how to really taste wine had her imagining the endless possibilities of what would pair well! From that moment on, Ruth knew wine would play a large part in her life. Ruth spent roughly fourteen years working her way through all aspects of the kitchen.
After two years of being a Sous Chef at the local iconic restaurant, Tarbell’s, she began her transition to the service side. She fell in love with the interaction with the people and it allowed her to get serious about wine. Her passion has continued to grow and it shows through her enthusiasm and motivation to study with the Court of Master Sommeliers. In June of 2018, Ruth earned the title of Certified Sommelier. Her studies have given her the opportunity to not only taste some of the finest wines in the world, but to also develop her palate and her knowledge of all things wine.
Wine is used to celebrate, comfort and inspire over a broad range of occasions. Wine honors tradition, but is ever changing. Those are the philosophies that drive her passion for food and wine. Her favorite part about working at Vinum 55 is the “All Things Wine” mentality that she shares with the members and staff. She loves the organization that comes with being an Assistant Cellar Manager, the opportunity to be confronted by wines from all over the world, and the task of trying new wines daily. Currently, Ruth’s favorite wine, that has changed her perspective and revived her, is the 2006 Veuve Clicqout La Grande Dame Brut Rose. Ruth believes that every time a bottle of bubbles is opened, it is a celebration and a truly beautiful experience.
Tom Whyte, CMS Level 1
Tom is the Director of Cellar Operations for Vinum 55. He’s employee #2 at Vinum 55 and you will see him at all three locations. With grandparents owning a diner and a food broker father, Tom was fascinated at an early age by the processes that go into creating memorable food and wine experiences. His first job waiting tables came with required wine classes (this is in the early 80’s), building his foundations of wine knowledge while still a teenager! Tom is a chef and sommelier with years of experience in restaurants like The Regatta on Cape Cod and Fullers in Seattle, hotels including the Sheraton Seattle and Willows Lodge, and wineries, most notably DeLille Cellars.
Tom majored in Information Systems Management at the University of Nebraska, is a first-level Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers and an Oregon Pinot Camper. His favorite wine region is the one he’s spent the most time in, the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Tom lived in Seattle and got to run down to the vineyards every few weeks and really see the vintages develop in the vineyards, and then transform through the winemaking process from a basic agricultural product into amazingly complex, delicate and delicious wine that lasts for decades. As far as a daily drinker goes, Tom was spoiled during his time working at DeLille in Washington and his ‘go-to’ wines will always be their Chaleur Estate Blanc and D2. He is also known to never turn down Champagne, especially brut rose’! Vinum 55 is the perfect job for someone with such a diverse background, and he loves putting all those accumulated skills to use.
Jordan White, Certified Sommelier
Jordan, Vinum 55’s logistics coordinator is in charge of setting up and executing the secure, temperature-controlled transportation of private wine collections for all Vinum locations. Whether the relocation is local or national, Jordan is using his passion and respect of wine to bring it home. Jordan discovered wine while working in the food and beverage industry. The realization that he could surround himself with wine and make it his life, all came from one sip. After that sip it was a dash to learn and absorb as much as he could until he passed a long sought-after goal and dream of becoming a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Along the way Jordan was awarded certifications including WSET level 2 and professional beverage certificates. Jordan has been fortunate enough to visit a few of the wine regions in the United States, Oregon being at the top of the list not only because he is from Portland but also because of the friendships and memories that the Oregon wine country has given him. Jordan truly believes all wines are best enjoyed with friends whether it’s something bold and peppered from Northern Rhone or a crisp bubbly from Champagne. The best part about Jordan’s life and work is that it is filled with people passionate about wine and of course drinking it!