2020 Participating Wineries & Mixologists
Gourmet & Grain | Thursday, January 30
If Drew were a whiskey he would be Willett Family Estate Rye. The elegant exterior honors a long storied family history marked by courage and generosity while the liquid inside has a fresh forward flavor that is youthful yet mature. Drew is a native of Bardstown, KY and graduate of Western Kentucky University where he exemplified a commitment to school spirit by wooing the star of the dance team to marry him. After graduating with degrees in marketing and economics, Drew returned home for a complete education in the family business. Initially, Drew spent much of his time studying the careful precision of co-mingling whiskey but soon Drew’s knack for all things engineering would land him in the distillery. Over the years, Drew has developed additional mash bills to expand the company’s bourbon and rye portfolio earning him three nominations for James Beard Awards in the outstanding spirits professional category. When he is not making whiskey, Drew travels the country sharing his passion with bourbon newcomers and seasoned enthusiasts alike. Drew and Janelle live in Bardstown, KY with their endearing children Baron and Bridjette. They are known to welcome guests with the most generous and authentic variety of southern hospitality.
Vice President of Operations – The Neighborhood Dining Group
Kenny Lyons is the Vice President of Operations of the Neighborhood Dining group, where he oversees the success of the company’s eight restaurants across the Southeast. He works closely with all aspects of service, including managing and training staff, as well as operational controls and finances. Lyons first joined Neighborhood Dining Group in 2013 as the Senior Manager and Beverage Director of Husk Nashville, and was quickly promoted to General Manager before relocating to Charleston, SC to fill his current role.
Growing up as a traveling athlete with parents who often worked late, Lyons spent many of his childhood dinners eating out, and, without realizing it at the time, developed an appreciation for the hospitality that came with a restaurant meal. Lyons went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, having double majored in finance and real estate. It was there in Oxford, Miss. that Kenny entered into the restaurant world, first at Bottletree Bakery as a server and then as a server and bar manager at L & M’s Kitchen and Salumeria.
Realizing that both his business degrees and restaurant experience gave him the foundation for a career in hospitality, Lyons took on leadership roles with renowned restaurants across the South. Lyons gained further experience under chefs like Dan Latham in Oxford, and Bob Waggoner and Louis Osteen at Watermark in Nashville. While serving as Beverage Director and Front of House Manager at Watermark, he learned the importance of cultivating strong relationships with guests, local purveyors, and distributors, as well as the skills required to lead a restaurant team internally.
Joining Husk Nashville and The Neighborhood Dining Group in 2013, Lyons helped Husk achieve national acclaim including GQ’s “Most Outstanding Restaurants” and Esquire’s “Best New Restaurants” in 2014. Lyons worked closely with his team to develop Husk Nashville’s acclaimed bourbon list and wine program before moving up the ranks of the Neighborhood Dining Group and relocating to Charleston.
Now based in the Lowcountry, Lyons has his hand in all facets of the eight NDG restaurants around the Southeast. He works closely with both the business and creative sides of the company, conceptualizing new restaurants and improving the infrastructure and sustainability of the current restaurants and brands.
In his free time, you can find Lyons on the golf course, expanding his bourbon and wine collection, and cheering on the Ole Miss Rebels.
An Epicurean Affair | Friday, January 31
Neil and Maria Empson’s foray into Italian wine seemed predestined. Neil is a Kiwi whose family cultivated some of the first vineyards in Marlborough, and Maria is an artist that studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. Both were mesmerized by the beauty and craftmanship found in Italy’s art and cars. During a trip to Milan the couple realized this passion for craftmanship extended to the country’s winemaking.
Maria and Neil Empson were mesmerized by the rich agriculture of this unspoiled land. At the time, the Italian wine market was self-sustaining, and producers did not look beyond their borders for new markets or customers. These producers focused on embracing new technology and furthering a revolution in quality. It became the Empson’s mission to expose the world to the unique wines that Italy had been crafting for centuries.
Neil and Maria were pioneers when they began importing Italian wines into the United States in 1971. They spent countless hours driving the Italian countryside in search of producers that could share in their vision of quality, consistency, and remarkability.
The Empsons focused on creating relationships with boutique producers that emphasized excellence and value. It was a leap of faith that became a relationship of mutual esteem and trust, which with time, blossomed into friendship. Over 45 years later, Neil and Maria, along with their daughter Tara, are still at the forefront of the wine industry and have since expanded their reach, bringing Italian wines to countries across the globe.
Today, Tara is now eager to live up to her parents’ legacy by investing in better ways to strengthen the Empson business model while expanding the company’s global footprint. Tara is honored to represent the wineries and her personal goal is to ensure that the Empson business evolves with the market by meeting its expectations and by bringing back the value in tradition.
Caviar & Champagne Brunch | Saturday, February 1
Moët Hennessey | Moët & Chandon | Belvedere
Wine Odyssey Gala | Saturday, February 1