A bottle of Veranillo Del Monte Chino. That’s the wine, above all others, that Indigo Road Wine Director Vonda Freeman would pair with the experience of being in Charleston for the first time. “Veranillo is something that’s definitely got a rusticity to it, it’s got a lot of history to it. It’s often known to be a powerful, big wine, when it’s truly got a lot of finesse, a lot of elegance to it.”. Both Charleston + Vonda’s wine selections have one thing in common – they both exude a sense of deep, rich history. Whether you’re talking a walk down to the market, or enjoying a bottle of La Pietra Cabreo at Indaco, it’s likely you’ll feel the sense of history that has always kept Vonda attached to the Lowcountry.
Vonda, like many other sommeliers, got her start in the food + beverage industry. With a chuckle, the master sommelier explained: “Quite frankly, it’s because it’s where I found I could make the most money and at the end of the day, I really just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the people, of course I loved food and I grew to really love wine.” As soon as Vonda got her first authentic taste of the wine industry, she never looked back.
After spending 27 years in Charleston, Vonda left the restaurant side of the industry, with her sights set on wine sales. This decision to leave her safe space is one that Vonda describes as the most pivotal moment of her career. She found herself in a dilemma, stay in the place she knows and loves, or depart to Florida for the chance to move up in the industry? Vonda credits a mentor she had at the time for her making the right decision. “I was on the phone, so distraught. He said are you not taking the job because you dont think its the right thing? Or are you not taking this step out of fear?,” she recalls. “I had never had anyone ask me a question like that before. So I had to sit back and think about it, and I had to be honest with myself, and I said ‘I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’m gonna fail, I’m afraid I’m not gonna like it.’ So I ended up taking the decision[sic].” So Vonda took the leap, and departed for Florida, where her career took that crucial next step.
After 3 years, Vonda felt her love for Charleston pulling at her heartstrings – she needed to come home. And so she found herself on the ground floor of Indigo Road, where she really began making her mark as a sommelier. It was with Indigo Road, 9 years ago, that Vonda first became involved with the Charleston Wine + Food festival. “I had literally just gotten the promotion and taken this position at the end of February, and a week later, I was thrown into the festival and I had no idea what I was doing.” Since that first day , Vonda has seen the festival grow + morph over the years. She’s seen it go from a celebration of just wine + food, to, ultimately, a celebration of “our history, our culture, and all of our talents we have here in Charleston.” Vonda describes the festival as “really dialed into” that acknowledgment of tradition.
This year, the Indigo Road Wine Director is especially excited for festival season. Not just to see all the food writers, sommeliers, chefs, brewmasters and distillers that she says “create a influx of talent” into Charleston, but also for personal reasons. “I’m pretty excited, because Saturday I don’t have any events planned, so I actually get to go out and experience. This will be the first Saturday in my history with the company that we have not had an event, so I’m quite excited to go out and immerse myself in everything.”
During this year’s Wine + Food festival, you’ll find Vonda celebrating her long-lived love affair with the city of Charleston — either at one of Indigo Road’s Signature Dinner events, or in the Culinary Village, where she’ll be enjoy being a part of the masses for once.