You know that feeling after you’ve bought a new car and suddenly you see it everywhere you go? After meeting Paul Ozbirn, sommelier and beverage/wine director of Parkside Projects, I run into him all around town and I’m definitely not complaining about it. He’s a self-proclaimed former skater kid with full tattoo sleeves that hide under his button up and slacks. It’s such a sight to see the man outside of work clothes, to be honest.
Ozbirn has always found himself in food & beverage, starting at 15 while working at a sandwich shop in Hunstville, Alabama. After college, he made the move to Austin in 2006 with a finance degree under his belt. Realizing that finance wasn’t his calling, he found himself back in the service industry, working at Vin Bistro and Botticelli’s. He worked his way up from various serving and bartending gigs, learning that wine could potentially turn into a career. After accepting a wine buyer position at wink, he became a certified sommelier in 2011.
A quick stint at now defunct Paggi House was followed by accepting a job at Parkside Projects in 2013. Paul spent a year managing Olive & June before becoming their beverage director in June 2014. He’s now at the helm of the wine and beverage programs for some of the most recognizable restaurants in Austin, including Bullfight, backspace, & parkside. In 2015, he passed the Advanced Sommelier Exam, which is a feat in of itself since only 18 people passed this rigorous test at the time.
“I latched on to Amarone”, Paul explained as he began to tell me of when he first started to fall in love with wine. On a recent trip to New Orleans, he came to mind when I stood in the middle of Bacchanal Wine (best spot for a bottle and live music, by the way!), staring at a lovely bottle of the same wine he told me about. The man is so knowledgeable in an industry that can be overwhelmingly intimidating. It’s fascinating hearing him talk about the different nuances in one glass of wine. He was gracious enough to give me a quick tasting of a couple wines on parkside’s wine list and I was intrigued with his ability to thoroughly explain the distinctions between grapes, regions, and the science behind it all."Doesn't that have a puke-y kind smell? It should and that's how you'll recognize a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc", he told me as I sniffed. Surprisingly, I agreed. Wine can smell like puke (I know it sounds absurd but I promise it's the case!) along with so many different aromas that Paul can easily delve into. Even in a short tasting with the man, I've learned volumes than I would have on my own.