Today we’d like to introduce you to Nemanja Pejcic.
Nemanja, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My journey to becoming a Wine Buyer & Sommelier is more unique than most. I was born in the small town of Kučevo near the capital of Serbia. Graduating from medical school in Belgrade, Serbia in 2006 with a degree in nursing, I initially pursued a career in nutrition with nursing experience in the ER and Oncology before embarking from Serbia on a new journey.
A proud San Diegan since 2011, I elected to pursue a career in hospitality, taking the leap from medicine to the unknown world of wine, first working on the cruise ship Queen Mary II as a server. Struck with a passion for wine while reading the articles of experts on a subway train in Manhattan, I had a moment where I decided not to pursue becoming a doctor.
The feeling of wanting to become a sommelier was so strong that the moment I got home, I sat my wife at the dining table and told her what I was planning. Her reaction is something I will never forget – she looked at me and said, “Well, go for it, but I hope you won’t change your mind when things get rocky.” From that point on, I never looked back on my medical career!
I began the arduous task of sommelier education and training while climbing the ranks of the wine world. After several jobs, I ultimately earned the position of Sommelier at the award-winning Greystone Prime Steakhouse & Seafood, where I took on the daunting task of working the floor in a fine dining restaurant.
Now, the Wine Buyer and Sommelier at both Greystone and our newly opened farm-to-table sister eatery Route 29, I have cultivated a sophisticated and well-balanced wine program for the ever-growing San Diego wine scene.
Has it been a smooth road?
Beginning my journey in this industry, like any other, was not easy. It was definitely not a smooth road, mainly because of two important factors. Firstly, I was born and raised in Serbia and came to the US at the age of 21.
Therefore, I had to overcome the language barrier in order to be taken seriously – I spoke very little English when I arrived, and it was a big challenge. Secondly, coming to the US independently, I faced many obstacles and would often learn things the hard way.
Consequently, one of the biggest drawbacks for me was the ability to see things from the opposing perspective and sympathize in order to advance and build something positive.
Learning from my past mistakes has given me the ability to more easily overcome obstacles that I face now, and my positive mental approach helps me deal with everyday curveballs.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Route 29 story. Tell us more about the business.
Route 29 is Napa Valley’s debut in the Gaslamp. We’re a newly opened farm-to-table concept that reflects the essence of wine country’s rustic-modern vibes. We invite our visitors to stop in and wind down with an open-kitchen design and a menu of artfully prepared, internationally-inspired California Wine Country cuisine.
Route 29 uses sustainable, local and organic ingredients to offer a fluctuating menu with the seasons, complemented by our impressive selection of around 150 wines. We allow you to experience the wonders of wine country without ever leaving home!
What sets Route 29 apart from the rest is warm, welcoming energy from the moment you walk through the door. Entering Route 29 feels like a home away from home – it has a relaxing yet intimate atmosphere, mixed in with friendly and knowledgeable staff and fantastic food.
One of the biggest things I am proud of is when I see our staff being genuine and outwardly excited when working on Route 29. I am a strong believer that in order to have a successful business, you have to make sure that the people working for you and with you are happy and excited in their workplace because it shines through in the service and it gives me the feeling that I’m a part of something significant.
I feel like I had the easiest job to do and make sure wine is simply an extension that complements this already great concept. Our wine selection is part of what makes us so special – we have a total of over 150 selections offering a diversity of both new and old-world wine appellations for a very well-balanced offering, with a focus on varieties from the Western Hemisphere, such as Oregon and California.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
If the buying power of the consumer remains as it is, we should expect growth in every area of every category of wine sales. Quality will continue to improve, there will be more industry professionals readily available, and these professionals will, as a result, continue to shape future wine sales.
Going forward, I predict that two parallel things will continue to develop: the first is the expansion of already established brands that apply their name to lesser-known wines under the umbrella. The second is the further growth of lesser-known regions and indigenous grape varieties.
With an opened mind from a consumer and properly trained industry professionals, we should expect to see growth in this sector, where indigenous varieties slowly continue to increase in popularity.