Meet The Board Couple — Monica Nino and Bryan Gonzales — whose business is thriving thanks in part to their educational journey with Napa Valley Wine Academy.
When the pandemic struck, Monica Nino and Bryan Gonzales didn’t hit the panic button. They could have. After all, they’d built a business selling lavish charcuterie boards — a business that relied heavily on hospitality and in-person events. Instead, they looked in the mirror and realized they could keep their business alive by making one big pivot.
The big pivot was to devise a way to ship their food creations around the U.S. Meanwhile, they could leverage the knowledge they gained through WSET classes with Napa Valley Wine Academy, to enhance their offerings and zero in on each customer — to ensure that the wines they were selecting for their offerings and pairings were not just classic pairings, but unique ones stamped with the kind of WSET-fueled pedigree that guarantees balance and joy in every experience.
We talked to Bryan and Monica about their experiences with wine education and asked how going through the WSET enhanced their business.
We also thought that because Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, tipping you off to one of the best charcuterie board delivery sites in the US was a pretty good idea — especially if you’re searching for that super unique gift this year. Or next year. Or next month, or next week. Enjoy.
NVWA: You’re obviously big food and wine fans. You might be the biggest fans in all of Texas, which is saying a lot. So, give us the elevator-pitch story about how you developed a passion for wine. You must each have a moment that “flipped the switch” and got you into wine. So what was it?
Bryan Gonzales (Bryan): Monica and I have known each other most of our lives but when we started dating, we were both in very demanding jobs, and short on time. One of our best date nights was just creating a charcuterie board together and sharing a bottle of wine. It inspired a lot of great conversation, and we enjoyed many different wines. At the time, we didn’t have as much knowledge about wine, but it was a deep-rooted passion, a common interest we shared. I think what flipped the switch for me was a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the history of that area of France, and after that — it’s been off to the races.
Monica Nino (Monica): Food and wine are soulmates. You can’t have one without the other and hope for a deeper culinary experience without enjoying them in tandem. After all, movie night would be so dull without the stealthy combo of popcorn and Champagne. How can you truly enjoy that barbecued brisket without Amarone? Especially one of Bryan’s legendary briskets!
In a nutshell, our flirtation with wine started at the beginning of our relationship and grew as we grew to appreciate and understand it. A deeper love came as we started studying wine and understood how to pair it with some of our favorite meals. We always say “life is meant to be celebrated” and we try to live by that motto, even on a rainy Tuesday. Wine sparks conversation, conversation sparks joy and joy is the spark of life.
NVWA: You established your business—The Board Couple—in 2018. But you began taking classes at NVWA when?
Bryan: I think it was around the same time if not about a year after we really wanted to take our knowledge of pairings and the relationship between food and wine to the next level. We had always taken food and wine classes where possible, but the Napa Valley Wine Academy made it even more convenient and straightforward.
Monica: I was a fan girl of NWVA for quite a while before enrolling. I’d see their online courses and thought about how much fun it would be to dabble deeper into something I already enjoyed. Bryan started taking courses first. I promised myself I’d enroll after the business was up and running to reward myself. Then one thing led to another and it was 2020 [and the start of the pandemic]. When the world as we knew it shut down, we opened up to the world of wine. We enrolled in multiple online courses and then went all in with WSET Level II. It was a fun way to connect when traditional date nights were put on hold. The pandemic took away traditional social scenes, but we created our own little world with wine-tasting kits and we were built-in study buddies to each other. That was the single best use of downtime and we created some really fun moments in between.
NVWA: How did taking WSET classes at NVWA inform your business decisions?
Bryan: It definitely gave me more confidence in the food pairings that we were curating for our charcuterie boards. It also helped in my conversations with clients and helping them discover their future favorite wines.
Monica: Taking WSET classes at NWVA facilitated a new world of ideas for our business. It made us think about how we parlayed what we learned into a sustainable business idea. We already had a great product with our charcuterie boards, and now we had the tools to enhance it. We were now armed with knowledge when it comes to wine buying from distributors. We can hone in on interesting wines no one else in town is bringing in, and really strive to create a unique experience.
NVWA: Have the study abroad trips through NVWA also aided your business?
Bryan: Yes, by wanting to honor stories and culture that we have been fortunate enough to witness. From simple delicious recipes to what a winemaker mentioned while climbing his steep vineyard. All that affected our outlook on the business back home.
Monica: Now, when we speak about a wine, there’s a connection. There will forever be an indelible wine stain on my heart for German and Italian wines. The passion and confidence I have to highlight a wine for a client that I have a personal connection to because of one of these trips is indescribable. I know they must see the excitement on my face and feel my passion when I pick out one of these bottles for them.
NVWA: You are a one-stop shop for everything cheese, charcuterie, wine, beer, and artisan foods—and you are certified to teach WSET Level 1 classes on behalf of NVWA. How does the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting factor into your wine and beer selections? Are you intentionally looking for classic examples of varieties to pair with your foods?
Bryan: It’s super helpful when trying to get a consensus of what people like. To create a common language.
Monica: The WSET Systematic Approach is the gold standard on how we taste a wine that we look to bring into our shop, educate a student, or train our staff. We are constantly seeking out new wines to pair with our boards. We have to dissect everything about it to see if it’ll be the right pairing and a perfect fit. Our clients trust that we know the wines inside and out and that our recommendations are the result of a detailed process of tasting, judging, and assessing a wine. It’s something we don’t take lightly.
NVWA: What was your favorite study-abroad trip and what did you learn that you now apply to your work?
Bryan: My favorite study abroad moment was seeing the different elevations that Nebbiolo was grown at in Piemonte, Italy and then attempting to recognize the different styles that result from different elevations in tastings. That and seeing biodynamic farming in practice, and Geisenheim University. Seeing everything first-hand makes it so much easier to comprehend and to then translate to others.
Monica: I want to touch on two amazing women — Romana and Anna — who were incredible guides we had the pleasure of spending time with on our last two trips. They really knew the regions, and their passion and knowledge excited me. They had a deep connection to their respective areas. The winemakers truly were their dear friends. The care, detail, and planning that went into every part of the day was mind-blowing. I want to create an experience like that for our guests on a much smaller scale. I want them to feel our love, passion and knowledge every time they come in for wine and charcuterie.
NVWA: You create impressively complex charcuterie boards. Is the idea to create the kind of balance that exists in a glass of wine? Are you looking for the right play of salt, acid, fat?
Bryan: Balance is always at the forefront. The only way you can enjoy a board is the same way you can go through a wine tasting. We develop a flavor spectrum from sweet to savory. All the offerings are traditional with a few nods to Texas.
Monica: Salt, acid, fat and love are the main ingredients to any worthy charcuterie board. You need a little balance and a lot of heart to create edible art. That philosophy is one I’d imagine winemakers must feel, too. So, yes, that balance does exist in a glass of wine and on a wooden board full of charcuterie and cheeses.
NVWA: If you could deliver a charcuterie board to anyone in the world – who would it be, and what wine would you bring along?
Bryan: The wine is probably Champagne, I feel like the answer is always Champagne. Or at least it should be. However, I think we get to deliver the boards to our favorite people weekly. We’ve had the pleasure of delivering boards to rock musicians all the way to politicians in the White House. Those just gave me butter, but being the best part of some stranger’s day never gets old.
Monica: Tough question! There are so many people I’d like to watch experience our boards, so, I’m going to give you a top three, in no particular order — but really, every board we get to create and watch someone enjoy is so much fun.
I’ve set up a board for a woman turning 100, and the happiness our board brought her was incredible. It was amazing. Someone had just poured her a glass of Prosecco, and I thought everything about her and that party was fabulous. It was something special to witness. Or the many brides who are enjoying it on their wedding day. The bubbles are flowing and it’s their last meal as a single gal with their bridesmaids, sisters, mom and special ladies in their lives before walking down the aisle. And we are a part of it. How magical to be a small part of such a big day.
Here’s a quick list of the pairings and people I’d like to see experience our boards who have yet to experience it though: Oprah seems like she would enjoy sparkling, so I’d bring along one of our charcuterie boards with a Brut Nature and have her start with our Manchego and Brie for this particular pairing. I’d want to highlight our specialty pepperoni and abruzzi with a Barolo for foodie and actor, Stanley Tucci. I think he’d really love it, especially with his Italian roots. Last, but not least, I’d like to have our prosciutto rosettes and a Sangiovese pairing created off our board for actress, Emily Blunt. It’s a congruent and conversational pairing, which would be fun to discuss with her.
NVWA: For anyone thinking about getting an education in wine with you — give us a sense of what you bring to your WSET Level 1 classes.
Bryan: We bring the party, and wine! But really, I think that we bring a lot of high energy and are very relatable. This all stemmed on trying to make wine more approachable for us, so that’s what we try to do with our classes.
Monica: We enjoy seeing our students make a connection with wine. It’s a whole language all on its own and when you can speak it, that opens so many doors and opportunities.
NVWA: How did you survive the pandemic and thrive?
Bryan: We were able to make an amazing pivot, and develop our shipping and packaging to be able to deliver all over the nation. Nationwide shipping became a thing and was a pivotal part of how we grew our business.
To learn more about Bryan and Monica and to get in on their awesome creations, head to www.theboardcouple.com.