Back when she first arrived in New York City, the Minnesota-bred Siri Nyman didn’t have much use for alcohol. At the time “a pretty hardcore Buddhist follower,” Nyman abstained entirely from both alcohol and caffeine. Now, reflecting on her life and career path, Nyman acknowledges that it’s nothing short of incredible that she came to be the ultimate wine professional.
“When you learn to appreciate wine, it becomes an art,” Nyman says. “It’s an art of enjoyment. It’s not just some gluttonous, thoughtless consumption.”
Yes, Nyman — now senior wine buyer and event coordinator for Twin Cities-based liquor store chain, Top Ten Liquors — says she views wine as something inherently beautiful.
“Just the ability to study a wine and call out what grape it is, what region it is from, possibly even the vintage and the producer, it never stops being astounding to me,” she says. “Because, when you do that, it’s been taken to a different level of science and art.”
Nyman’s journey was hardly traditional.
When she first moved to New York City in her early twenties, she started as a server at various fine-dining restaurants. While at first she didn’t specifically take to a life in wine, she loved how much respect there was for everyone in the New York food industry.
“I took the job very seriously. I took the food seriously and I took the beverage program seriously,” she says.
To that end, as she recalls, it was common practice to gather with other servers before a night’s service and taste both the food and the wine. “And everyone had to go around and contribute thoughts about the pairing of the wines,” Nyman explains.
It was in this experience — and quickly surrounding herself with a group of friends of which nearly all were wine-obsessed and pursuing their Advanced Sommelier certification in some capacity — that Nyman fell in love with the world of wine. To her, this glorious and spontaneous time in her life felt not unlike a college experience . . . albeit a bit more classy.
“I was just having so much fun,” she says. “It was an absolute blast, just drinking wine every night as if you were in a college dorm and talking about it with friends. It was like a playground.”
She soon became a Wine Captain at City Winery, where she dove headfirst into her wine education. “We got to try all these amazing wines,” she recalls, “from Crus Burgundy to Château Pétrus.” She then began pursuing her Court of Master Sommelier certification.
Soon after, she returned home to Minnesota. While working as the maître d’ at the esteemed Minneapolis restaurant, Corner Table — an eatery where the owners’ dedication to wine ignited her inner spark — Nyman began to see her foray into wine as a viable career option.
“At Corner Table, they had some of the most unconventional wines by the glass. It was truly gutsy,” she says. “And it greatly inspired me.”
It’s also where her career took a drastic turn. One of her longtime customers was Top Ten Liquor’s owner Jon Halper. Eventually, after some persuasion, he convinced Nyman to come onboard as his company’s senior wine buyer.
Nyman admits crossing over to the retail world at first seemed like an uncomfortable move. “I always thought going to retail was like a movie star going to cable: you went there to retire or die,” she says.
But the challenge immediately excited her. Plus, Halper, she says, has come through on his promises. Most notably, his vision of opening an upscale wine bar with a grocery, restaurant and liquor store — now called Wineside — will come to fruition this year in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka.
“Jon has done everything he said he was going to do,” she says. “It really gives you confidence and gusto in how you personally can contribute to making that vision happen and it allows you to have a healthy sense of hope and optimism that we will achieve our objectives.”
Having now been at Top Ten Liquors for five-plus years, Nyman is regularly recognized as one of the Twin Cities premier wine experts. “I’ve learned the business of buying and negotiation on a whole different level,” she says.
She couldn’t be more excited about where wine will bring her next.
“This life in wine was something I couldn’t have originally foreseen coming. But it’s truly wonderful,” Nyman says with a smile. “I can’t wait for the next step in my journey.”