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How an Oregon sommelier’s roots led to a robust career with a celebrated restaurant

How an Oregon sommelier’s roots led to a robust career with a celebrated restaurant

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The wine and beverage director for an Oregon spot that was crowned one of the best restaurants of 2023 has a Filipino background that has enriched his time as a sommelier.

Fifty-year-old Ronald Acierto leads the wine and beverage program for McMinnville’s Tributary Hotel and its eatery Ōkta, which the New York Times listed among the top restaurants of last year. And earlier this year, Chef Matthew Lightner was named a semifinalist in the James Beard Award for best chefs in the northwest.

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The Phillipines-born-and-raised Acierto started his role with the celebrated restaurant as it planned its 2022 opening, but he asserted he’s “been around the block a few times” in his career.

Indiana was the first place Acierto called home after moving to the U.S. as a teenager. For one of his first jobs, he worked as an assistant to a woman who led the food and beverage program at a retirement home.

He later pursued nursing before realizing the restaurant industry — a field that still allows him to take care of people, minus the medical training — could be his calling. But unlike some other sommeliers, he told KOIN 6 News he didn’t grow up knowing how certain flavors or aromas taste or smell.

“I had a… disadvantage when it comes to tasting blind or when it comes to knowing and understanding what specific flavor, so I kind of had to immerse myself and keep training myself — and the only way you learn that is practice,” Acierto said.

He referred to when Ōkta’s chef noted the best athletes may have been born great, but they’re also able to win championships because they train alongside their teammates.

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That’s what Acierto did. Since relocating to Oregon in 2005, he’s held several roles with businesses including Cherry Hill Winery, Departure and The Allison Inn and Spa.

“It kind of made me work harder because, of course, there’s always going to be someone that looks at you, like, “How would you know about wine? You’re brown,’” he said. “I accepted that from the beginning and that gives me the motivation.”

But as he gained more experience, the sommelier said his background also worked as an advantage in some spaces. For example, he told KOIN 6 News he could smell a mango — the national fruit of the Phillipines — from several feet away.

Acierto brought his expertise to the inaugural Oregon Asian American Pacific Islander Food and Wine Fest in 2023, and he will contribute once again this year, with Ōkta as an event sponsor.

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The festival celebrates the AAPI community’s contribution to the culinary scene by bringing some of the best talent to Oregon’s wine country.

The event will be held at the Stoller Family Estate in Dayton on Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19.

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