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Rahn named Sommelier of the Year

Expensive wine, snowboard cross and a boy keys to story


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Put a Saskatchewan farm girl in the mountains and amazing things can happen.

There's a good example of this theory right here in Whistler. Samantha Rahn, the wine director at Araxi, is a case in point. This sommelier who moved to Banff from Saskatchewan just ahead of her 20th birthday while studying music at university likely had no idea the move was the first step in preparing for the day last week she would be named Sommelier of the Year at the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

"I was quickly realizing after a couple of years of working on that degree that I was never going to be able to support myself if I stayed in Saskatchewan," Rahn says.

It was clear to her that there aren't very many orchestral jobs in Canada and she knew she didn't want to teach music.

"I needed a job," says Rahn. "I came to Banff because I saw a lot of help wanted signs when I was there for International Youth Orchestra Festival."

A "dumpy" Banff apartment became her new home with some friends. While she worked as a supervisor at Wendy's one of her roommates was working part-time at a wine store and that friend regularly brought home bottles.

"We would drink them out of styrophoam Wendy's cups," Rahn recalls.

That was the start of her wine fascination. She started buying magazines like Wine Spectator and reading them from cover to cover. At first she didn't understand any of it, but over time her knowledge grew and she was doing everything she could to get into wine tasting events.

"A lot of really cool people nurtured me right from the beginning and really believed in me," Rahn says.

It didn't take long for Rahn to get herself on the staff at a restaurant with 269 choices on the wine list.

In Banff, Rahn also fell in love with snowboarding. At the age of 30 she opted to take a winter off to focus on snowboardcross racing. Near the end of that season a Whistler boy caught her eye at an event on Cypress Mountain. He invited her to the international wine festival.

"I wanted to know if he was a serious wine guy or a bullshit wine guy so I tested him with a very expensive — like thousand dollar bottle — very obscure wine called Pingus and I said, 'I had Pingus yesterday.' He was walking in front of me, he stopped dead in his tracks and turned around and said, 'Which vintage?' And that's how I ended up in Whistler. I knew right at that moment."

Her life course was set.

Rahn is at the top of her game with the Tabletop Group. These days, in addition to snowboarding, enjoying rare Spanish wine and spending time with that boy, Jamie May, she has added downhill mountain bike riding to her list of interests. Her recreational pursuits might be all about going down as fast possible but her professional pursuits are headed up just as quickly.