top of page

OUR Team STORY

IS YOUR STORY

OUR story

The Wine Militia was founded in 2008 by Canadian touring rock musician Lamar Engel. With 20 years of hospitality and winery experience in the San Francisco Bay Area (Napa Valley) ranging from hospitality management to wine marketing production, Lamar recruited an army of wine passionate professionals and sommeliers that believe in delivering fun, energetic, whimsical, and down-to-earth wine events for everyone. 

 

With a desperate desire to combat pretension at a guest level; a need to breath new life into stale wine programs was born. By giving ALL guests an opportunity to participate in brilliant new wine and food experiences at the ground level, our journey began to revolutionize what activities were available for groups large and small. 

Whether it may be wine blending games, blind tastings, themed dinner parties or pop-up event series, The Wine Militia has worked hard to make wine more and more relevant for more people.

 

"I am in awe at the 'bang-up job'  the wine & hospitality industry has done to intimidate and brow beat people in making them feel inadequate about their own knowledge. Wine was created for humans to enjoy and celebrate! I honestly grew tired of watching guests being belittled for their lack of knowledge and naivety by my own colleagues that were supposed to be there to help them! So I had to do something about it. I knew that what had to be done would flip the industry standard upside-down on what the main priority was about - the guest. So we decide to start a revolution."        -Lamar Engel 

 

Engel put boots to the ground the philosophy that each wine holds a personal memory awaiting to be discovered calling it Memory Rapture™. Discovering that people are thirsty for new experiences, the team offers a compendium of services to choose from, whether it may be wine experiences or even destination services; the team covers the gambit on many needs for groups (large or small). 

For the People...by the people.

OUR TEAM

Northern California Battalion

Gigi Dail, a UC Berkeley graduate with a taste for hospitality, briefly explored law before realizing her true calling lay in the world of beverages. Drawing from previous experiences in bartending and restaurant management, she delved back into the industry in 2017. With an innate talent for hospitality and a thirst for knowledge, she sought serious wine education, earning the prestigious David Glancy Scholarship for the San Francisco Wine School.

Her journey led her to triumphantly complete the sommelier essentials course, securing certifications as a Beverage Specialist and California Wine Appellation Specialist. Gigi's passion for wine burgeoned during a hands-on Napa Valley harvest, where she honed her skills in the cellars and labs of Cade Estate on Howell Mountain. This experience solidified her resolve to immerse herself in the wine country's embrace and dedicate herself entirely to the world of wine.

Gigi possesses a rare gift for demystifying the complexities of wine, effortlessly weaving narratives about color genetics, plant hormones, soil nuances, and winemaking intricacies. Her eloquence in discussing the chemistry of taste and aroma, coupled with an infectious admiration for all wines, offers a refreshing perspective to those new to the wine scene.

While Gigi holds a special fondness for wines from Alto Adige in Italy and the Rhône in France, her love for Krug le Mesnil remains unmistakable—a testament to her eclectic palate.

Presently, she assumes the roles of Event Captain and Sommelier for the esteemed Wine Militia's Northern California Battalion, infusing her events with unparalleled expertise and a contagious passion for the world of wine. 

 

51925CA3-7634-470B-A764-041668817FAD_edited.jpg

GIGI

 Event Captain +

Sommelier, Mixologist

~Northern California Battalion~

With an extensive international hospitality & resort career in the Caribbean, Balkis arrived in Napa Valley by way of New Jersey with limited knowledge about the wine industry. Balkis enrolled in the WISE Academy and led the DTC programs at Silverado Vineyards.

 

Balkis has since pursued her CSW certification, and is enrolled in the Advanced Viticulture and Wine-making program at Napa Valley College all while cooking Jamaican cuisine as her side hustle. 

Balkis not only delivers one of the most dynamic wine educational experiences for The Wine Militia, she charismatically takes the hospitality world by the collar through untraditional paths within the wine industry. Balkis operates in our Northern California events including Napa, Sonoma, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento. 

Balkis was recently deployed in France working with a heritage Champagne house and has returned to the Napa Valley! 

Balkis teaching about wine blending

Balkis 

Wine Educator / Sommelier

Southern California Battalion

Jamison Law-Valdez began his journey in the hospitality industry like many others, starting as a server in a local restaurant in Kansas. With a natural love for people, storytelling, and learning from others, he found his calling in hospitality. As an exchange student in Liège, Belgium, Jamison faced the challenge of adapting to a new language, ultimately mastering French within four months. This transformative experience solidified his passion for hospitality.

Jamison holds a degree in Linguistics and a minor in Philosophy from the University of Kansas. Combining his love for languages, history, and wine, he pursued a career as a sommelier. His dedication led him to earn a degree in Oenology and Viticulture, opening doors to opportunities in San Diego, California, where he worked alongside renowned figures in the wine industry.

With over 15 years of experience in sales and hospitality, Jamison has worked in various roles across different markets and countries, including Belgium, France, Mexico, and Canada. Now, he focuses on sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring sommeliers, driven by his passion for storytelling and continuous education in the beverage and hospitality industry.

In his pursuits, Jamison is committed to growth, constantly seeking new achievements like the CSW certification. He is also dedicated to language learning, embracing the challenge of mastering French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Czech. Jamison believes in evolving with the changing world and aims to inspire others to follow their dreams through his experiences and interactions with aspiring leaders.

Screen Shot 2023-11-20 at 12.13.58 PM.png

Jamison

Sommelier + Event Captain/Coordinator

~Southern California Battalion~

JADE 2023.jpg

Jade

Screen Shot 2020-03-07 at 10.46.35 PM.pn

Born in Nashville and raised in Kentucky, Jade Thacker's passion for wine was ignited during her studies abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico. After completing a degree in Geography at the University of Kentucky, she embarked on a transformative journey that led her to explore the world of wine.

Jade's adventure took her to the breathtaking landscapes of Australia, where she delved into the world of wine on a tour of the Margaret River in Western Australia. This experience left a lasting impression, sparking a deep-seated desire to understand and appreciate the nuances of wine.

With over 12 years of experience in hospitality, Jade honed her skills in customer service and developed a profound love for working with people. Her joy in personalizing guests' dining experiences led her to listen attentively to their preferences, always seeking to offer them something new and exciting.

Driven by her newfound passion for wine, Jade dove headfirst into her wine studies. Under the guidance of Master Sommelier Peter Neptune in Orange County, she completed the rigorous levels I, II, and III of the WSET program in an impressive 15 months.

Today, Jade Thacker is an integral part of The Wine Militia, where she shares her expertise in both San Diego and Orange County. In addition to working for The
Wine Militia, she is also a sales rep for San Diego County where she delights in introducing her clients to a diverse range of wines, from classic favorites to adventurous selections like Greek, Slovenian, and Croatian wines.

Jade's journey through wine is a testament to her dedication and enthusiasm for the craft. Her commitment to expanding her knowledge and sharing her passion with others continues to inspire those around her.

Sean brings a level of intuitive hospitality that is rare among professionals within the wine industry. With a background in restaurants and front of house service, Sean operates each event with a calm 'zen' that immediately sets the tone for guests to feel welcomed in every event space. 

Best known for his random facts and statistics of obscure wines found throughout the world, Sean delivers a down-to-earth demeanor that The Wine Militia hangs its hat on. 

Sean operates in our Southern California Battalion events including Los Angeles, Orange County, Carlsbad & San Diego market. 

Sommelier + Event Captain

~Southern California Battalion~

Sean a.

Event Wine Captain

For the past 12 years, Sonja has pioneered marketing and PR strategies and initiatives in numerous industries including world-renowned resorts, hotels, agriculture, retail companies, restaurants and automotive.  

Sonja's journey in wine began with a humble picnic in a Napa Valley vineyard with Lamar Engel. What once started as playful conversations about soil, vine growth, and the wine industry; soon transposed into a thirsty quest for knowledge and desire to create wine experiences for others alongside Engel's team. Her inspiration became contagious as she soon developed new programs to engage a broader audience within a tired industry. 

 

By pollinating multiple industries with wine such as floral, music and hospitality - Sonja has proved that continually deepening the marketing efforts of The Wine Militia can expand new horizons for wine. Sonja and Lamar started new marketing focused sister company 'Militia Consulting' to answer the need to diversify the market in a strategic way.

Sonja's favorite wines are Santa Maria Pinot Noirs (Presqu'ile), Sta Rita Hills Gamay (Story Of Soil), and Cinsaut from Santa Ynez Valley (Carhartt) - Yes she all sold out for Santa Barbara Wine Country. 

 

Photo of Sonja

Sonja Rei Strand

Marketing Director

Kelly Husserl comes from a world of wine, travel, hospitality, and photography. What started as a spark in photo journalism took off into travel, wedding, lifestyle and brand photography.

 

Kelly has a keen eye on brand standards as well as the ‘how-to’ in building creative brand imagery.Kelly has successfully managed many social media accounts, actively integrating strategy plans, building criterias for greater content development and deployment.

 

Kelly is no stranger to wine and if you are lucky, may just witness her slinging wine in Paso Robles for a local family winery called Torrin Wines.

We are extremely fortunate to have a talented mogul like Kelly on our team as she stays ahead of the trends within Social Media by keeping her finger on the pulse for all things wine branding. 

Kelly

Social Media & Content Manager

Lamar cut his teeth on wine in 2000, with humble beginnings in small tasting rooms throughout Napa Valley as well as working in restaurants in San Francisco being mentored by some of the world’s greatest Master Sommeliers such as Larry Stone.

 

In 2005, Lamar managed movie director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola’s winery Rubicon Estate (AKA Niebaum-Coppola & Inglenook) in wine and hospitality programs as well as curating the Coppola family’s personal wine cellar, entertaining Hollywood’s elite celebrities that would visit the family. During this time with the Coppola family, he began to mentor young wine professionals and sommeliers in multiple tasting groups throughout the bay area, to ready them for restaurant service as well as future Court of Masters examinations. Lamar began to consult and entertain celebrities through wine in private homes with dinner parties and charity events. With the rapid growth of these wine experiences and events, in 2008, formed a small army of wine professionals and sommeliers, launching his company entitled

‘The Wine Militia’.

Engel has been called upon for wine marketing, wine industry panels and keynote speaking engagements, wine writing, and wine media having been featured in syndicated publications such as Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, SMART Meetings Magazine, 7X7, Sunset, and Prevue Magazine. 

Recently, Engel has also had a small dabbling in personal winemaking including a small production low intervention wine called "Grenade" Merlot from grapes hand picked in Calistoga as well as a second label called "Two Swords" featuring Syrah & Petite Sirah from Lake County. 

Lamar oversees all the strategy and team operations for both Northern and Southern Battalions. His favorite wines are many but he currently loves Taurasi (Aglianico from Campania), also Tannat from Uruguay and South West France and is passionate about Syrah from Santa Barbara County. 

 

Photo of Lamar Engel

Lamar Engel

Event Producer / Advanced Sommelier 

Owner / Founder 

bottom of page