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Our Team

Liz Palmer

Liz is an avid learner and has amassed four graduate level degrees (including both a JD and LLM) as well as a number of certifications (including a CPA).

Liz recently combined her love of learning with her love of wine, and now holds the WSET Diploma, Bourgogne Ambassador, California Wine Appellation Specialist, Certified Rioja Educator, Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Scholar, Spanish Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional Certifications.

In 2014, Liz joined the Texas Wine School to manage day-to-day operations. She became a partner in 2015, assumed control of the school in 2016, spun it into a non-profit corporation in 2019 and now serves as the Executive Director.

Elva Akin

Elva Akin is the Education Coordinator at The Texas Wine School and her affinity for wine began in the kitchen with playful challenges between she and her husband, daring each other to create the “perfect” wine and dinner pairing. These culinary experiments and challenges, coupled with international travel, kindled a curiosity for all things wine.

Before joining TWS, Elva spent many years as a devoted stay-at home mom as well as a dedicated school and community volunteer. She was an elementary school teacher for ten years prior to staying home with her three sons. In her spare time, Elva would take wine classes and seminars, many of which were hosted here at TWS.

Elva recently acquired her WSET III certification and looks forward to embarking on a Wine Scholar Guild course or two soon. You can find Elva daily here at The Texas Wine School coordinating class schedules, ordering/gathering materials and greeting everyone who walks through the door with a smile.

Brandon Kerne, MS

Brandon Kerne is the Director of Operations for the AOC Collective, our trio of wine companies based in Houston, Texas: The Texas Wine School, Art of Cellaring, and AOC Selections. He passed the Master Sommelier exam in 2021, becoming the 270th individual since 1973 to pass this rigorous examination. For five years beginning in 2015, Brandon was the lead sommelier at Pappas Bros Steakhouse in downtown Houston. The program received numerous accolades while he was a member of the team, including a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Wine Program and the Wine Spectator Grand Award. At Pappas, he worked with over 4,500 selections spanning vintages dating back over a century from regions all around the world. Brandon also coordinated the wine education programs at each of the Pappas Bros Steakhouse locations in Texas, and is passionate about wine education. Prior to living in Houston, he was a manager and wine director at both Bar Italia and Elaia & Olio in Saint Louis, Missouri, which placed in Wine Enthusiast’s “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” and Bon Appetit’s “50 Best New Restaurants in America”.

Brad Fox

Brad discovered his palate early- while traveling through Italy during college.  Wine, travel and education have since become his passions. Brad attained his WSET- Level III Certification through the Texas Wine School, and has also studied with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and International Sommelier Guild- his studies continue.


Brad has been serving the Terroir Group, LLC in operations, purchasing and sales since 2018;  is active in collaboration with Members of the Art of Cellaring;  and assists in management of the Texas Wine School.


Since 2011, Brad has opened tens of thousands of bottles during his employment as a Sommelier in restaurants and tasting rooms.  He has assisted importers, wineries, distributors and collectors; hosted tourists through wine regions in the U.S. and abroad; traveled and tasted; worked harvest; and judged wines at the Houston Rodeo.

Stephanie Earthman Baird


Stephanie began her journey into wine in the 1980s, while globe-trotting with ExxonMobil.  In 2002, she left the corporate world and turned her passion for wine into a full-time endeavor.

She operated a wine import and distribution company for 12 years, representing boutique producers from 11 countries.  In 2014, Stephanie pivoted to wine education and consulting.

She is a Master of Wine candidate, and holds 10 wine certifications including WSET Diploma, Certified Wine Educator, Certified Sommelier and Italian Wine Professional.  She consults with Texas Tech University’s wine program, and serves as a wine competition judge.  She was conferred the Nobleman title from the Confrerio do Vinho do Porto for her efforts promoting Portuguese wine and Port.

Known to local TV and radio stations as “the wine lady,” she equally enjoys leading wine professionals and novices in their personal journey into wine.

Michael Barber


Michael arrived late to the world of wine due to an unfortunate tragedy when he was young.  His mother gave him a sip of white zinfandel (on the rocks, no less) and he thought, “I am never going to drink wine again!”   Flash forward to his 30s when two dear friends moved to the Bay Area of California, and after his first trip to Napa Valley, he caught the wine bug and has been infected with it ever since.

Originally from Massachusetts, Michael moved to Houston in 1998 to start his psychiatry residency at the Baylor College of Medicine and joined the faculty after graduating.  He greatly enjoyed teaching the medical students and residents and he continues to teach while in private practice.

Michael recently completed the WSET Diploma and holds the French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Scholar, and Spanish Wine Scholar certifications with highest honors as well as the Specialist of Texas Wines.  He currently teaches the French Wine Scholar and loves to talk about wine, especially with folks new to wine. While Bordeaux is his favorite wine, Michael enjoys wines of all types but especially weird and unusual wines.

Outside of wine, Michael enjoys time with his wife Catherine, their two daughters Cecilia and Fiona, and their rescue terrier Kallie. A music afficionado, he loves live shows, especially Dead and Company.

Cecilia Barretto


Cecilia Barretto, is a wine expert, but not like the snobby kind, more like the female version of David Letterman meets Anthony Bourdain kind (RIP). She has been studying (read: drinking) wine since 2002, the wine bug bit her when she was 18! Her parents were supportive of her passion at such a young age and were present everytime she drank wine until she turned 21 (because really great fake IDs are against the law). She then moved to Burgundy, France in 2008 to pursue her Masters of Science in Wine Business. She is one exam away from completing the WSET L4 Diploma certification. She owns her own Wine Edutainment business in San Antonio, TX. Her favorite wines to drink are: dry Sherries, sparkling wines, Italian wines, esp Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso, and Vin Jaune. Cecilia’s other passions are cooking, cheese, jazz music, dad jokes, meditating, Frank Sinatra, and her corgi, Vita.

Bryan Blackmur


Even though Bryan Blackmur is an instructor at the Texas Wine School, he’ll always be a student of wine. With every bottle, he’s found there’s something new to learn about the time, place, art, and craftsmanship that went into it, and knowing a bit more about each of those elements makes every sip all the richer.

In enriching his own experience of wine, Bryan has earned an WSET Advanced Certificate, and become a French Wine Scholar and is Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. As an engineer in the oil and gas industry by day, Bryan loves to understand how a wine came to be and his passion is sparking that same joy and deepened appreciation for others.

Giorgio Caflisch


Giorgio “George” Caflisch, a/k/a “The Italian Wine Guru,” started his wine journey as many Italians kids do, with a little glass of watered-down wine at family dinners.  And the rest is history.  In 2012, Giorgio obtained a WSET Level 3 Advanced Certification with Distinction through the Texas Wine School.  In 2016, he was recognized as a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers.  He received the Italian Wine Specialist certification, with Honors, from the North American Sommelier Association, in 2013.

In 2015, he was awarded the Italian Wine Professional certification, with Honors, from the Italian Wine Central.  In 2017 he completed the Italian Wine Scholar Certification from the Wine Scholar Guild, with highest honors.  In 2018, Giorgio was awarded the coveted Italian Wine Ambassador certification from the Vinitaly International Academy in Verona, Italy, and in 2019 he successfully passed the VIA Educator Certification program. Giorgio has been a volunteer judge at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Uncorked International Wine Competition every year since 2011.

He is a Master Knight of the Houston Chapter of the Knights of the Vine and a Treble Member of the Wine Century Club, having tasted more than 300 different international grape varieties.  A prolific writer, Giorgio has written thousands of tasting notes on CellarTracker as the “TannicBeast.”

Gary Clark


Born in Scotland but raised in Texas.  After a brief stint as a private investigator, Gary entered the world of wines and spirits in 1987 at Mr. Dunderbak’s and later Matthias’ Restaurant in Houston.  After 6 years of 2AM closings and rowdy customers he transitioned to the wholesale tier of the business in 1993.  A particularly embarrassing presentation and an admonition of his supervisor (who told him he needed to be able to read a bottle’s front and back label and give a presentation) he began seriously learning about his chosen profession.  Since then he became known as “the professor” while selling spirits at Glazer’s wholesale before moving to a wine supervisor position.  Gary went to work for a small wholesaler in 2005 and after a brief period became their wine buyer.  Since 2010 Gary has owned his own company, Clark Liquor Brokerage, LLC.  In this capacity he represents numerous small producers and importers.  One of these companies had Japanese Whisky to sell but had no information about their own brands.  Gary researched their brands and went on to research many others and in 2017 published the “Japanese Whisky Handbook”.  While researching the book he took and passed both the Sake Level 1 and Sake Level 3 classes of the WSET.  He passed the WSET Spirits Level 1 in 2018 and Spirits Level 3 in 2019January 2019 saw Gary began teaching consumer spirits classes at the Texas Wine School in Houston.

Daniela DaSuta


Raised on a Texas vineyard, Daniela fostered a love of viticulture that later bloomed into a full-fledged wine career. Because of her love of administering wine education, she founded Sekt Wine Consultation, a company that offers wine training, classes, and wine list analysis.

Daniela is also the wine buyer for three independent Austin-based wine stores and a social media coordinator for Pen and Tell Us, an ad agency specializing in food and beverage campaigns. She currently holds a Diploma in Wines from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and plans on pursuing the coveted Master of Wine title.

Trienet del Valle


Trienet del Valle is an accredited wine educator, consultant, and certified sommelier (Sommelier Society of America, NYC.) She was awarded the Advanced Certificate (with Distinction) and the Diploma (with Merit) by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), an international leader in wine and spirits education based out of the UK. Trienet also holds the California Wine Appellation Certification (CWAS) offered by the San Francisco Wine School, and the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) offered by the Society of Wine Educators.

In addition to teaching at the Texas Wine School, Trienet consults for private and corporate clients in Houston and New York City. She has a keen interest in geography, viticulture, food and wine pairing, wine tourism, and the business of wine. Prior to working in the wine industry, Trienet enjoyed a career in higher education at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and the Engineering School at the University of Virginia. She is also an avid horseback rider and competes in the Western Riding discipline called Reining.

Erica Fine


Erica has worked in the wine industry for 12 years, serving as a distributor, wine buyer and floor sommelier. She helped found both a wine distribution company and a chemical solvents company.  While keeping her toe in the chemical solvents business, she currently works as a consultant to a number of boutique wine distributors and serves as a wine educator. She has traveled extensively and has a passion for the small wineries, maintaining connections with wine growers around the world.  She has also served as a wine judge for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s Wine Competition.

Russell Kane


Dr. Russell Kane is an award-winning Texas writer, author and wine aficionado with articles, tasting notes and quotes that have appeared in local, regional and national publications over the past 20 years. His bestselling book, The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine, was released by Texas Tech Press in 2012. His newly completed book, Texas Hill Country Wineries – a wine trail guide and pictorial history of the Texas Hill Country Wineries, was released January 2015 by Arcadia Publications.

Dr. Kane has served as the executive director of the Wine Society of Texas, as a board member of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA), and a member of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Wine Industry Development Advisory Committee. He is a two-time awardee of the TWGGA Press Award for media coverage of the Texas wine industry. He currently contributes articles for Edible Austin and Edible Houston, provides Texas wine recommendations in the Houston Chronicle and blogs at

Dr. Kane received his first level certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2002. He is also Ph.D. and an experienced and awarded technical researcher and writer with over 250 technical publications as author or co-author, and editor on five technical books. In 2015, Dr. Kane received his certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.

Walden Pemantle

Walden caught the wine bug while working through the kitchens of Philadelphia and it followed him all the way to Houston. While studying at Rice University, Walden taught a 15-week wine basics course, ran the school paper’s Arts & Entertainment section, and co-enrolled in Rutgers University’s food science department to study the microbiology of cheese and wine. After leaving Rice, he went to work in wine distribution, meeting with the city’s sommeliers and traveling to Italy to source new wines as a representative for Vino Vero Wine Company. He now serves as Manager of The Texas Wine School.

Since 2018, Walden has passed the Wine and Spirits Education Trust’s Diploma certification with merit and earned the Walter Clore Scholarship for top score at his Certified Sommelier examination. He is thrilled to be a part of the Texas Wine School and continue turning his love of food and wine into a full-time gig.

Chris Ruhland


Chris Ruhland produces original content about wine every week through his YouTube channel, podcast, and newsletter.  He is the author of the award-winning book “Press for Champagne: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Greatest Sparkling Wine.”

Chris holds the Diploma in Wines & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.  He also passed the French Wine Scholar, Bordeaux Master-Level, and Rhône Master-Level examinations given by the Wine Scholar Guild, all with Highest Honors.

Chris is running out of room for his ever-expanding stacks of wine books, but he’s pretty good at finding space for new bottles of wine by drinking from his collection.

Fred Salumunek


Fred Salumunek is a Houston native, retired from a 33 year career with Exxon-Mobil in 2013.  He developed a passion for wine during tours of California wine country in the 1990s.

A few years before retiring he began formal study about wine, and has earned a variety of professional certifications: Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Specialist of Wine, Wine and Spirits Education Trust level 3 (advanced), and French Wine Scholar.

Since his retirement, Fred has worked for a wine distributor, consulted with retail wine shops and restaurants, hosted wine dinners, and judged wine for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Wine Competition.  His favorite activity is teaching consumer wine classes, which gives him the opportunity to share his passion, so he’s excited to have joined the team at the Texas Wine School!

Woodie Stephenson


Woodie Stephenson is a graduate of the Burgundy School of Business in Dijon, France where he mastered in Wine Business. He was awarded the WSET Diploma in Wine & Spirits in 2019 after studying the WSET program through course providers in London, Philadelphia and Houston’s very own Texas Wine School. He is also a Certified Wine Educator with the Society of Wine Educators in Washington DC, and has completed the French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Scholar and Spanish Wine Scholar study programs with the Wine Scholar Guild. He is currently participating in the beta version of the Capstone California, the first international California wine certification program in partnership with the Wine Institute and hopes to help bring the program to Texas in the future. Woodie has a background in technical writing and communication with the University of Houston and Rice University, and began his career in the wine business working in restaurants and has experience in wine retail management, wholesale distribution; he currently works with the Boisset Collection as a Regional Account Manager and on the National Accounts team. He enjoys enotourism, billiards, cycling, and is a volunteer judge with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s International Wine Competition. Woodie is most passionate about the classical wines of Europe and emerging wine regions in the United States and enjoys teaching all levels of the WSET program.