WHO IS TEAM USA?

We’re like you, not wine professionals who do this for a living. We enjoy tasting different wines, visiting wineries around the world, and enjoy getting together to try new wines. We enjoy sharing our discoveries and love to hear from others on what they’ve learned. It’s a journey and a damn good one.

Learn more about our journey to the 2016 World Wine Tasting Championship in France here.

John Vilja

John Vilja

Captain of TEAM USA

He started to understand the pursuit of winetasting in 1990 after buying a mispriced bottle of Cardinale for $12. It opened up a hobby that’s since cost him much more than he saved on that first habit forming deal. He has attended numerous blind tastings all around the world and visited many of his favorite wineries and vineyards. This oenophile experience coupled with an annoyingly good memory (which often upsets people because he never takes notes) has earned him the title of TEAM USA CAPTAIN. 

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When not tasting wine he is happily retired pursuing other things like technical scuba diving with closed circuit rebreathers, snow skiing, hiking, and world travel. Prior to this life of leisure and adventure he spent 33 years working on liquid rocket engines for the NASA and USAF. With an B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cal. St. Northridge and an MBA from UCLA he has something to add to every conversation, which is really just a strategy for people to give him wine so he shuts up.
Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez

Chief Counsel

Tony Lopez is a partner at a Multi-jurisdictional law firm, a former College Professor and was a Jeopardy contestant before Alex Trebek went grey. In his copious spare time, he tries to figure out where Napoleon went wrong. To date, he does not have an answer to that question.

Kristen Shubert

Kristen Shubert

Sommelier

Kristen Shubert pursued her early interests in cooking and entertaining by enrolling in culinary studies at J.C.C.C in Kansas City, Kansas in 1986. She continued her studies in Hospitality and Restaurant Management at UNLV, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1991. She was a member of the Wine Club, Hospitality Club, Soccer team, and Omega Chi Sorority while attending UNLV. She went on to be employed by great restaurants and hotels during her 25 years of residency in Las Vegas, such as the Mirage, The Hyatt Lake Las Vegas, Lawry’s The Prime Rib,

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Smith & Wollensky, and the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. Progressing to the position of Food and Beverage Director at The Sands/Venetian Convention Center from 2004-2009, she was responsible for the planning and execution of events for up to 19,000 attendees at a single event or up to 100,000 attendees for a convention. Kristen then added to her experience a retail sales career with the 7-Eleven Corporation in various roles, including franchising, analytical consulting, and making beer, wine and alcohol decisions for the Las Vegas and SoCal areas from 2009-2016. In July, she passed her Sommelier exam and is looking forward to competing in the World Wine-tasting Championships in France in October. She brings to the team her sense of competitiveness, as she also has a background in racing. From 1999 to 2010, she competed in local, regional, and International Jet Ski racing for both endurance and closed course racing where her highest professional WORLD ranking was 7th at the IJSBA World Finals in 2000. Kristen was quoted as saying,”I am extremely blessed to be able to compete in two of my passions at an international level. I am truly the luckiest person to have both- the support of my family in France, and friends as teammates and coaches! This opportunity will be life-changing for my future.” Kristen has been recognized for her charitable work in the community by the Hyatt as a Manager of the Quarter, by 7-Eleven twice as a Servant Leader and Consultant of the Quarter, and by local politicians LA City Councilman Bob Blumenfield and Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as the LAUSD. She and her husband are also undertaking their largest renovation project to date, a 4300 sq ft. house flip in Chatsworth, California.
 

Sharene Lewis

Sharene Lewis

Honorary Alternate and Part-time Paparazzi

She just showed up at our first wine tasting practice for fun and many months later everyone realized that Sharene was the only person who hadn’t missed a single practice. So we made her an honorary alternate on the team. Her nose and knowledge has increased substantially and we now consider her a valuable member of TEAM USA (not only because she’s the only one who knew how to build a website, but because she volunteered to handle the social media too).

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Sharene is possibly the clumsiest graphic designer in SoCal. She may walk blindly into a wall on occasion, but Sharene clearly sees the “Big Picture” of brand strategy. A graduate of Cal State Long Beach with a B.S. in Industrial Design, Sharene has practiced both the industrial as well as graphic disciplines of design for the past 25 years. She leaps every hurdle the design industry throws in front of her with the dexterity of a dancer and the drive of a Mac truck. She runs Pi Design, a boutique design agency, with an iron fist and a soft heart, cramming deadlines down the throats of the staff and always expecting 103.1415%. Sharene WILL take her client’s image to the next level, but there’s a good chance she’ll trip up the stairs on the way.
 

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis

When he is not looking for the next great wine he works on mission assurance for critical national security rocket launches. He has been involved with the development of the International Space Station, the B-2 Bomber, communication satellites, rocket engines, as well as other complex manufacturing challenges. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cal. St. Northridge and enjoys playing sports and world travel. 

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He learned to appreciate wine during the ascendency of California’s central coast wine region. With frequent visits to the up and coming vineyards of Santa Barbara and Paso Robles he learned a great deal about winemaking and the development of wineries. Since then he has gained international wine appreciation with visits to leading wineries in France and Spain as well as attending multiple blind tastings in the United States and Europe.
 

Ulf Palmnäs

Ulf Palmnäs

Coach

He learned to appreciate wine during many travels around the world. The wine that really opened his eyes was a Fort de Latour in a restaurant in Kagoshima in 1992. His wine education started in 2000 by joining the Swedish amateur wine tasting society Munskänkarna. Within this organization he has later held numerous lectures and is also a contributing writer to its wine magazine.

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He has successfully competed in blind wine tastings competitions in Sweden and has won both the national Munskänkarnas competition as well as open team competitions beating the teams of sommeliers, wine writers, and wine importers. He has been on the Swedish team in the international wine tasting competition organized by “Revue des Vins”- the “Championnat du monde de degustation.” When not tasting wine, cooking or writing about wine from all corners of the world he works with the next generations of European Ariane rockets (yep, also a rocket scientist). Recognizing good wine is made all over the world, his top three wine regions are California, Bordeuax and the Rhône Valley