Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas
- 4150 North MacArthur Boulevard, Irving, Texas, 75038, U.S.A.
Beverage Manager and Master Sommelier
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2002
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- Erna’s Elderberry House, Oakhurst, California; Restaurant Serenade, Chatham, New Jersey; Liquorama Wine Cellars, Hyde Park, New York; Grapevine Wines & Spirits, Little Rock, Arkansas
- Many, Louisiana, USA
- Bachelor of Science, International Trade and Finance, Louisiana State University; Culinary degree, Culinary Institute of America; Diploma, Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Certified Wine Educator, Society of Wine Educators; Certified Tea Specialist, Specialty Tea Institute; Certified Sake Professional, Sake Educational Council
“I’m good. Overwhelmed, but in a good way.” That’s James Tidwell on his remarkable run as Beverage Manager and Master Sommelier at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. Since embracing the dual roles – his first with Four Seasons – in 2002, Tidwell has transformed the Dallas property into one of the company’s most exciting destinations for wine, as well as a standout for the same in the industry across the US.
Like the first sip of something extraordinary from just the right glass, the Resort’s notoriety under Tidwell speaks for itself. The Dallas property was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program four times consecutively from 2011 to 2014. Each August, the Resort hosts TEXSOM – aka Texas Sommelier Conference – which since 2005 has grown from a local into a must-attend international event for sommeliers from across the Lone Star State and around the world. Indeed, thanks to the Four Seasons setting and Tidwell’s tireless efforts, TEXSOM has become the largest sommelier conference anywhere, attracting 900-plus attendees to participate in tastings, seminars and other industry excitement.
The event also offers examinations and certifications sponsored by the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Society of Wine Educators, and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. As the Washington Post noted in its coverage of TEXSOM 2014, which drew 900 attendees from around the world: “There were even sessions on tea.”
Tidwell is also behind the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, held in February. In 2014, 68 judges gathered for two days at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas to consider 3,600 wines and award 2,600 medals, with a panel of 28 sommeliers from across the US providing written commentary on the Gold medalists.
Tidwell has similarly been the talent behind the Dallas property’s impressive wine collection, the better to dazzle the palates of sophisticated clientele. “One of the great features of the Resort is that it is so wide-ranging in terms of who it attracts,” he notes, mentioning family travellers, the meetings market, spa-goers, golfers on TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas, and the private membership of The Sports Club.
The collection includes wines from a couple dozen countries “at least,” with many regions and hundreds of grape types in the mix. “It really meets the wide-ranging tastes of our guests.”
Wait – isn’t Texas supposed to be beer country? “Oh, there has been a huge explosion of craft beer and cocktail culture here, too,” says Tidwell, referencing the selection of suds, sake, bitters and spirits that he keeps flowing across the Resort’s many dining experiences. “Millennials,” he continues, “tend to be experiential rather than relying on critics. They’re actively seeking out new beverages and we’ve got them covered.”
But back to wine: As one of less than 200 Master Sommeliers in the world, Tidwell knows what he tastes and what he’s talking about in matters of the grape. He has a lot to say about the state of the Texas wine industry and the preferences of locals who, in the past, might have favoured big California cabernets. “Texas is producing numerous wines that can compete with anything in the world these days, and volume and quality have vastly improved over the past five years.” Indeed, an increase in price point among Texas wines judged at TEXSOM International Wine Awards 2014 indicated significant quality growth, he says. With its expanse and varied climate, the state can produce just about anything. “Texas is satisfying the thirst for what Americans want to drink.”
Tidwell’s intimate involvement in wine education and the North American wine scene pairs with the expanding focus on beverages in Dallas and across the Four Seasons portfolio and beyond. He is a sommelier representative on the company’s core wine committee and corporate beverage committee, and has consulted and helped with training at the Nevis and Beverly Hills properties. Perhaps that is why he was nominated for a James Beard Award again in 2015, this time as Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional.
Meanwhile, Four Seasons has been “very supportive” of Tidwell’s efforts to further the wine industry, having generously granted “space, staffing and leeway” to host TEXSOM and other educational events onsite at the Dallas resort. “Holding these events here is vital to their appeal.”
Raised by an evangelical minister in small-town Louisiana, Tidwell fell hard for cooking and earned a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, from which he graduated with honours. After dividing time between wine shops and the kitchen, Tidwell decided that wine held the most appeal.
He has pursued his profession to the fullest, with particular focus on education and enhancing the talents of sommeliers within Four Seasons and elsewhere through his involvement with the Court of Master Sommeliers. “As the popularity of wine continues to grow, it is important for sommeliers to grow with it and distinguish themselves with their knowledge and abilities.”
Even still, Tidwell remains one of only a handful of Master Sommeliers certified from Texas. “I am also certified in sake and in tea,” he says with a smile. “Both are as complex as wine in terms of style and origin. Their aficionados are just as passionate, too.”