THE POWER IS IN THE COLLECTIVE
Komé Collective’s portfolio of expertly curated craft Japanese sake and spirits spans experiences rooted in tradition up to the forefront of innovation.
What We Stand For
Leaders in Craft Japanese Sake & Spirits
- We’re a collection of traditional and cutting edge thought leaders, producers, and brands with a commitment to the culture of Japan. We showcase diverse categories, grades, and flavor profiles.
- Komé Collective is led by Sake Samurai Monica Samuels, one of the leading authorities on Japanese sake and spirits in the United States. We represent a collective power that others cannot match, and we make it easy to work with our portfolio even if you aren’t a sake expert.
What Komé Means
- Komé 米, or rice , is the essence of Japanese culture. It is not only ceremonial but holds a special connotation than other terms for rice. Centuries of emperors have revered rice and offered blessings to its harvests.
- Rice historically represented wealth and was even used as a form of currency to pay Samurai warriors. Folklore, festivals, and family rituals now give way to celebration through Japanese sake and spirits.
- We have the most comprehensive and diverse sake portfolio in the US and can service any retailer or restaurant, big or small, niche or mass appeal. And our Japanese spirits are both unique and inspirational.
- We’re very critical in the curation of our portfolio - for over 20 years, Vine Connections, has introduced and created brands and experiences that speak of the Japanese fine craft experience.
The Komé Collective Team
Monica Samuels is the VP of Sake & Spirits for Vine Connections. Monica has worked in the sake business for over ten years, at the restaurant, distributor, and importer level. Monica grew up bilingual and bi-cultural, speaking Japanese at home while living in Los Angeles, and spending every summer in Tokyo with her grandparents. With a grandfather who was a sake brewer Monica has been around sake from a young age, but the turning point was working for the Japanese-Peruvian-Brazilian inspired SushiSamba, her first job after moving to NYC. Monica’s insane love for eating, drinking, and meeting new people match perfectly with the demands of her travel schedule. When at home in NYC she loves cooking, yoga, and making people laugh.
Born and raised in Turkey, Dila moved to the United States after receiving her master’s degree in Japanese. Since moving to the US, she has worked in some of the most prestigious Japanese restaurants across the country (Ozumo, Alexander’s, Katana) and most recently worked as the Beverage Director for TAO in Chicago. Dila’s passion for sake & Japanese culture is contagious and she brings an extensive knowledge of sake, spirits & Japanese cuisine to the Vine Connections team.
Dila is currently based in the Chicago area and manages the VC sake & spirits portfolio in IL, FL, MA, GA, and NC. In her spare time you can find Dila cooking for friends or blasting music in her car & singing along with her son.
Jesse Brawner is the Sake & Spirits Specialist for the Vine Connections portfolio. Jesse is based in Los Angeles and oversees the sales of the Vine Connections sake & spirits portfolio throughout Southern California and represents the full wine and sake offerings in the state of Hawaii.
He excels in creating dynamic account offerings including virtual and in-person events, as well as original digital content that has translated into increased sales. He has a knack for tailoring placements that consumers seek.
Jesse has over 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, including working as a sommelier in some of California’s most critically acclaimed restaurants (Bestia, Nomad LA), as well as helping to develop the growing sake culture in LA’s more sake-dedicated establishments (Shibumi, Tsubaki). Having a father with a long history as a wine rep, it is a bit fortuitous that his career trajectory has brought him back to his roots. Jesse also credits his uncle, who spent years living in Japan, for cultivating his initial passion for Japanese sake and food culture. He has a wide range of experience in many sides of our industry, from helping niche brands get established in the US market to curating unique pop up events to expose neophytes to sake through their other common interests.
Nick is the co-founder of Vine Connections and has an extraordinary enthusiasm for championing unknown regions. The “VC Visionary,” Nick leads portfolio development, supplier relations, and sales strategy. His wine career started as a wine buyer at Vintage Berkeley while attending UC Berkeley. Upon graduation, Nick moved to France for a year to explore its wine country and later began working in wholesale distribution when he returned to the US. He and Ed started Vine Connections in 1999. Based in Jackson, WY, Nick can often be found on the mountain, skiing with his wife and two daughters.
Kelley is the VP of People & Marketing at Vine Connections. Originally from Texas, she is a graduate of TCU, and spent the first half of her career working for award-winning advertising agencies that brought great creative to life before moving to California. She worked for Vine Connections for several years before leaving to work at Instagram, where she led the global business marketing brand strategy. Her heart couldn’t stay away from the wine and sake world, and she rejoined Vine Connections in 2017. She marries her knowledge of alcohol and technology together by overseeing the company’s national marketing efforts across digital, insights, PR, partnerships, and events; as well as leading new business strategies and activation of major sales initiatives. In her spare time she can be found planning her next trip abroad and enjoying the California lifestyle – hiking, camping, enjoying good wine and sake, and Instagramming, of course!
Jonas is a 22 year veteran in the wine industry and joined Vine Connections in 2004. He oversees all manners of Financial and Operational functions for the company as well as collaborating on long term strategy. Outside of work he enjoys the trails of Southern Marin, and throwing a ball to his rescue dog. His introduction to wine came from working as a youth/teenager in his family’s bustling college town gourmet food store where wine was barely marked up over wholesale to draw customers in for baked goods and cheese.
Born into a family of airline pilots, Kristian lucked into a childhood of travel that’s kept him seduced by life on the road. His relationship with Vine Connections started during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics when he added Rihaku Wandering Poet and Dreamy Clouds to the sake list at Ichiban Sushi. His love of snowboarding, wine, and sake have led to countless trips across South America, Japan, and Europe chasing snowstorms and a deep understanding of what makes the beverages from these places so captivating. Kristian has worked in all tiers and channels of the industry and is based in San Francisco, California.
Adrienne is the Director of Operations at Vine Connections based in the San Diego, California. Before Vine Connections, Adrienne was working in the footwear and apparel industry. She has a passion for ERP systems, purchasing, and operations. When she isn’t working, she is exploring all that SLO has to offer while chasing around her two kids.
As the Senior Design & Marketing Manager at Vine Connections, Aisha works closely with the Marketing and Sales teams to design materials ranging from sales materials to store displays. Aisha is a Northern California native that grew up in the Napa Valley and graduated from CSU Chico. Growing up in Napa definitely had an influence on her interest in wine; however working in the hospitality industry sparked her love for wine. Aside from graphic design, Aisha is passionate about traveling, photography and exploring the outdoors. She loves enjoying VC wines and sake with friends, and can often be found with a bottle of Graffito Malbec or Bushido cans.
Valeria’s work at Vine Connections combines her vast experience as a designer, an undeniable understanding of business and logistics in Argentina, and originality in planning and coordinating groups of people. She graduated from the prestigious Arts and Design School of National University of Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina and, even as a student, excelled in her creativity and originality in designing wine labels. With the expansion of the wine growing business in Mendoza, the need for an indigenous artistic expression became obvious and Valeria was asked to transform her paintings into labels. Soon after, more of her illustrations and sculptures were adapted for use in the rapidly booming winemaking business that has brought overnight prosperity to the Mendoza region of Argentina. Valeria’s passion is to be a key contributor to the artistic side of this growing commerce and she stands out as one of the only artists who have successfully combined art with graphic design and communication. Her knowledge of the terroir as well as her fluency in communication with entrepreneurs willing to start marketing a product and trademark in Mendoza has distinguished her as not just a good communicator, but together with her creative talent and knowledge of the graphic arts has made of her a dependable and visionary designer.
As Vine Connections’ Business Development Manager, Zach works across departments on a wide range of initiatives, utilizing his deep industry experience to ensure streamlined execution of chain programs and further company objectives. A native of Texas, Zach got his start in the restaurant industry in Minneapolis, where he first developed his interest in fine wine. This eventually led him to the Bay Area, now his adopted home. He spent several years in wine retail before landing at VC, and also spent time at a national distributor, but ultimately decided to bring his knowledge and experience back to imports. He is passionate about people, art, culture, food, the outdoors, traveling, and seeking out new experiences. He lives in San Francisco.
Jaime is the Digital Content Specialist for Kome Collective. After graduating with a degree in both Digital Arts and Journalism, from Sierra Nevada University in North Lake Tahoe, her passion for creating grew deep. She started her journey as a photographer and videographer creating content for a variety of businesses in the Bay Area. After continuing her craft out in the field she searched for a career in the beverage industry that would allow her creativity to flow within a team and Vine Connections was the perfect fit. When she is not creating for work, she lives an on-the-go lifestyle – a true outdoor adventurer, road warrior and lover of nature.
Valentina grew up in Mendoza, surrounded by vineyards, mountains, wine, and art. She has been familiar with Vine Connections since she was ten years old, and as a natural observer, Valentina discovered her genuine passion for packaging design and social media early on. She graduated with honors from the prestigious Graphic Design School of the National University of Cuyo in Argentina. Along with her role as the Design & Marketing Associate at Vine Connections, Valentina also works for a distinguished local photography studio in Mendoza. In her free time she enjoys Mendoza’s landscapes and trekking the mountains with her family.
Richard joined Vine Connections over a decade ago. He finished a two year run as an independent national wholesale wine broker and joined Ed and Nick as their first sales ambassador, helping Nick to open new markets across the United States for Vine Connections as the company expanded its distribution network. Prior to getting on board with Vine Connections he worked as a supplier for Cartlidge and Browne in 18 states after completing a 9 year stint as an Account Manager at Associated Wine Distributors in San Francisco. The Hotel and restaurant trade were the main influence on Richard’s passion for wine. Starting at the original Ritz-Carlton in Boston, then later moving to San Francisco to work at the Clift Hotel and numerous Bay Area restaurants in varied front of the house positions created the foundation for a career in the fine wine business. A New Englander by birth, growing up in Connecticut, Richard later attended Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, lived in MA and briefly in FL before permanently relocating to San Francisco in 1976.
Darryl Vennard began his career in the wine business over 35 years ago, first working in a research lab at Michigan State University, then as an assistant winemaker/cellar rat at a boutique winery. He spent three years as state-wide manager for a large California winery, and has logged almost 20 years of distributor experience. Darryl is a certified sommelier with training in enology and wine production as well as a contributing wine columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Representing Vine Connections for nearly 20 years, first as a distributor, later as a broker when 9 years ago he was brought on board as the Midwest Regional Sales Manager. It was then he discovered his love of Alpaca and Llama Ponchos. A certified Sake Specialist, Ponchosan loves to introduce this special beverage to his friends and customers in the Midwest. In his spare time he spends time in his “chemical free” flower garden listening to music, gardening and creating art (his Corked Tree project was the only one of its kind in the world until he began working on two others). An avid concert goer ranging from bar bands to the Symphony, he is also an activist for the unhoused and has organized local restaurants in feeding the people in his city of Saint Louis.
Originally from Boston, Matt went to college at what is now McDaniel College in MD. After school he moved to Florida where he started getting into wine and mixology through bartending in West Palm Beach. He continued to work and grow in Hampton Bays, Long Island and eventually met and teamed up with some people opening a small restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village and went on to bartend then run various operations for the high profile Sant Ambroeus group. In 2007 he made his most important hire, Molly, who would eventually become his wife in 2017. They now reside in Baltimore, MD with their two cats, Wilson and Hamilton. Matt is an avid golfer and huge Boston sports fan as well as a music fanatic.
Janiz has been a long-time champion for Vine Connections and joined the team in January 2020. She was awarded top sales rep at Prestige Wine Cellars before moving to Pioneer Wine Company where she received her Professional Sake Certification with John Gauntner at TexSom 2014. In 2015, she became the District Manager, and later Southwest Regional Manager with Terroir Selections. Southern Glazers stole her away as a Regional Sales Specialist due to her long-term & tight relationships with key account on-premise buyers in Houston, and now we are lucky to have this powerhouse on the Vine Connections team! A native Texan, Janiz graduated from the University of Houston.
Originally from southern California, Kristen graduated from UCLA in 2008 with a degree in English and had plans to become a high school teacher until she moved across the country to Virginia. Thanks to a bit of luck and good timing, she found herself managing a boutique wine shop in Virginia Beach, and it was there that she discovered a passion for the industry. She loved meeting with winemakers and hearing their stories, so when she and her husband moved to Houston in 2017 she began searching for a position in distribution. She quickly started with Victory Wine Group, first as a sales rep, then as a Chain Account Manager. She joined the Vine Connections team in 2022 as South Central Business Manager, helping her team dominate in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In her spare time she can be found exploring new restaurants, playing a board game with her husband, or chasing after her two children.
Born in British Columbia, Canada to a family of great cooks, Steve was immediately attracted to the food and wine business. After attending college in Boston, he became a veteran of some of the nations top dining rooms, creating critically acclaimed beverage programs in New York City and eventually opening his own restaurant and catering company. After spending six years in the Manhattan market selling the portfolio of Lauber Imports, the fine wine division of Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, Steve went on to manage the North East market for a premium Napa Valley winery, head a French wine importing and distribution house as General Sales Manager and most recently lead a London based craft spirits company as Director of National Sales. Steve is thrilled to be working with Vine Connections, the clear leader in fine South American wine and premium Japanese sake. Steve’s insatiable love for eating, drinking and making people smile is why he can’t ever see himself doing anything else. While not working he enjoys cooking with the Oakwood crew, watching movies and planning the next vacation. Steve lives in New Jersey with his two boxers, Lady & Rudy.
Brittany is the California & Hawaii Field Sales Manager for the Vine Connections & Kome Collective portfolios. She comes to us after working as District Manager for The Estates Group (RNDC), San Francisco territory. Brittany started her career in food & wine 20 years ago and has since received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management, attended The Culinary Institute of America for Culinary Arts, became a Certified Sommelier and received with distinction the WSET III Sake certification. Her professional career began working in Michelin starred restaurants in San Francisco & Napa in both front and back-of-house, managing, cooking and of course, popping corks! She later moved into distribution and is now very happy to be working closer to the source. Vine Connections & Kome Collective represent to Brittany, exactly how dynamic and exciting the world of beverage and hospitality can be! Since relocating from NY in 2011, Brittany has spent her time studying wine and cooking her way through Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. In her free time Brittany can be found in a headstand, hiking mountains, or hosting fabulous dinner parties.
Operations Manager at Vine Connections. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she moved to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly, where she studied Business Administration and Graphic Communication. Post-graduation, she moved to Guatemala to complete an internship and study Spanish, before returning to the Central Coast to put down roots. She spent nearly 8 years in the specialty coffee industry working as the Head Roaster and Operations Manager for a small-batch roastery, where she developed a fascination with the global supply chain. Steph now helps to monitor and communicate shipping timelines for all Vine Connections product coming from Japan and South America. In her free time, you can find her ticking off climbing objectives in the mountains, exploring new trails on her gravel bike, or taking a beach stroll with her dog and partner.
Mary is the Data & Insights Manager at Vine Connections and a recent MBA graduate from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She was first introduced to the wine industry through her mother's love of Makgeolli, a Korean rice wine. Though she was exposed to wine at an early age, her passion truly began to form after spending time in Paso Robles wine country during college. When she's not creating data-driven narratives, you can find her exploring the bay area food scene, at a spin class or painting portraits.
As a recent graduate from the University of Florida, Samantha is excited to begin her professional career as the new associate sales analyst at Vine Connections. Growing up with Korean culture introduced her to different types and aspects of alcohol. Sam loves the social aspect of meeting new and old friends over food and drinks, and can't wait to learn more about the beverage industry. When not dealing with data, Sam enjoys hanging out with her cat, going for bike rides and traveling around the US.
Born and raised in Northern California, Ryan has a degree in Accounting from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and an MBA from CSU, Chico. Before Vine Connections, Ryan was working in Silicon Valley, consulting with early-stage startups on all matters accounting and finance. Outside the office, you’ll find Ryan out on a hiking trail, in a record store sifting through dusty old vinyls, at the ballpark cheering on the Giants, or reading a book at his favorite coffee shop.
Danika is the Order Entry Specialist at Vine Connections. She is a California native raising her son in sunny Arizona. Her interest in wine developed when her parents, who are wine enthusiasts, followed their dream and moved to Paso Robles. She visits as often as she can and loves all that wine country has to offer. Danika has a degree in Communications from Azusa Pacific University and loves the customer service aspect of her role. She is also organized and detail-oriented. When she is not working, Danika enjoys being with her son, exercising, and hanging out with her friends.
It all begins with the rice...
Simple. Elemental. As long-toothed as time.
Yet in the hands of the artisan, the toji, it becomes something more.
A sacred tradition born from scarcity.
Transformed from the ordinary.
A single grain of rice.
Like a human – on its own – can only do so much.
But the many grains, the kuras, the families, the collective, fill the cup of the world over.
So raise your glass.
After 21 years, we’re just getting started.