Daniel Johnnes has spent his entire career in the world of food and wine and is an avid francophile. Upon visiting France for the first time in 1974, he immediately fell in love with the language, cuisine, wine and culture. After graduating from college with a BA in French, he returned to France to work in the kitchens of Guy Savoy in Paris followed by a stint in the Landes region of Southwestern France. Back in New York, Daniel decided he was better suited to service in the front of house, and worked as a waiter at Le Regence, where a young Daniel Boulud had recently assumed the position of Executive Chef.
In 1985, Daniel joined the team opening Montrachet in Tribeca, which won a Wine Spectator Grand Award and quickly became “New York’s finest wine restaurant” according to that same publication. During that time, he began to curate wine dinners, hosting great winemakers from Burgundy and beyond. These dinners led Daniel to create La Paulée de New York - a week-long fine wine event which promotes the wines and winemakers of Burgundy through a series of specialized seminars, tastings and dinners. La Paulée has since been described as “the world’s greatest wine event” by Slate magazine. In addition to enjoying exceptional wines and superb food prepared by some of the world’s finest chefs, the celebrants have pledged over $2,000,000 for charity.
During his twenty years as the Wine Director at Montrachet and the Myriad Restaurant Group, Daniel also started an import company featuring a curated selection of French wines, some never before imported to the United States. His first discoveries were from little known appellations including Gaillac and Saint Pourçain. Today, he represents some of the most famous estates in Burgundy and beyond, including, among others, Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaine Roulot, Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg, Domaine Clusel-Roch, and Domaine de la Grange des Pères.
In 2005, Johnnes reunited with Daniel Boulud to become the corporate Wine Director for Chef Boulud’s Dinex Group. Their restaurant empire includes DANIEL, DB Bistro, Café Boulud, Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud, DBGB, and Epicerie Boulud in New York as well as locations in Florida, Las Vegas, Boston, Washington DC, London, Montreal, Toronto and Singapore.
Daniel received the highest honor awarded to a wine professional in the United States when the James Beard Foundation named him ‘2006 Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year’. He was also named the ‘Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year’ by Santé in 2000 and was honored as the nation's top sommelier by the James Beard Foundation in May of 1995, receiving the ‘Outstanding Wine Service Award’. In 2016, Daniel was honored by the French Republic by being named a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole. This award recognizes people who have rendered outstanding services to the sector of agriculture, and is one of the tiers of national merit along with the French Légion d’Honneur.
Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay, in Secrets of the Sommeliers, describe the “career paths of America’s four pioneering sommeliers (Larry Stone, Kevin Zraly, Daniel Johnnes and Fred Dame): “Stone, the wine genius; Zraly, the wine teacher; Johnnes, the inspirer; and Dame, the administrator and motivator: together they mentored a generation.”
Johnnes’ most recent endeavor is La Fête du Champagne, created alongside Peter Liem, wine-writer and Champagne expert, to educate consumers and promote the wines of Champagne.
Dubbed “the dean of American Sommeliers” by Jay McInerney in the The Wall Street Journal, Johnnes continues to mentor a new generation of sommeliers. He recently created the La Paulée and La Fête du Champagne Sommelier Scholarships, whose sole purpose is to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to France for young sommeliers to learn first –hand about the people, culture, winemaking, and terroir that so inspired Daniel during his first trips to France.