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.
By breathing new life into stale wine programs it gives patrons a refreshed perspective and opportunity to participate in new brilliant experiences at the ground level. 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 industry has done to intimidate and brow beat people in making them feel inadequate when it comes to wine. 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 started a revolution."
Engel put boots to the ground the philosophy that each wine holds a memory awaiting to be discovered calling it
Memory Rapture™. Engel and The Wine Militia have discovered that people are thirsty for new experiences and began to create a compendium of services to deliver.
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.
Event Producer / Advanced Sommelier
Owner / Founder
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'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.
Sonja Rei Strand
Autumn has worked in the restaurant industry since she was a young teenager from working in a 50s-style diner to a James Beard Awarded restaurant, she has learned all the ins and outs of hospitality and operates with high intuition in our events.
She is a southern Californian native who moved to the Bay Area on a whim where she was mentored by Sommelier Shelley Lindgren of A16, who taught her the nuances of Italian wine. She quickly gained a love and appreciation for all wines, creating the most extraordinary thirst she had ever quenched. She continues to grow her palate in hopes to later become a Master Sommelier one day. Autumn operates as the wine experience/event coordinator + sommelier for the Wine Militia's Southern California Battalion.
Wine Experience &
After graduation from UC Berkeley and having a brief stint in law, Gigi Dail soon realized the office life was not for her and returned to the beverage industry in 2017. With bartending and restaurant management under her belt from her previous life prior to law, she soon began seeking a serious wine education and ended up receiving the David Glancy Scholarship for the San Francisco Wine school. Gigi successfully passed her sommelier essentials course and received a Beverage Specialist Certificate as well as a California Wine Appellation specialist certificate.
Gigi recently dove into a Napa Valley harvest working in the cellar and lab at Cade Estate on Howell Mountain. This solidified her desire to move to wine country and pursue wine full time. Gigi has been known to wax poetically about the genetics of color variants, plant hormones and water stress, soil types and influences, wine making decisions, the chemistry of taste and smell, and how amazing all wine is in its own way. She has a way of disarming those intimidated by the wine world and allow them to see wine through a new lens.
Some of her favorite wines are from regions Alto Adige (Italy) and the Rhône (France) although the team has never seen her say no to a glass of Krug le Mesnil.
Gigi operates as the Event Captain and Sommelier for the Wine Militia's Northern California Battalion.
Event Captain +
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.
Event Wine Captain
With an extensive 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 is currently deployed in France working with a heritage Champagne house and will soon saber many bottles of bubbles for us all in due time.
Wine Educator / Sommelier