The Fragrance Sommelier

How breaking the cardinal oenophile rule of no perfume at wine tastings led entrepreneur Kelly Jones to marry two of the world’s oldest pleasures: wine and fragrance

By Jana Soeldner Danger

Kelly Jones

Never, ever wear perfume to a wine tasting. Unless, of course, it’s one of the Notes of Wine collection by Kelly Jones.

Jones learned the hard way about the rule of not wearing scent in a wine tasting room. She was swirling chardonnay at a California vineyard when the winemaker demanded to know who was wearing perfume. Sheepishly, Jones realized that she was the guilty one. She had inadvertently broken one of the cardinal laws of wine etiquette – at least for true oenophiles. Wearing scent is anathema, because it can interfere with the delicate nose of the vintage.

“But as the perfume wafted from my skin, something curious happened,” she said. “The fragrance notes were perfectly mingling with the wine, enhancing all of the nuances of the bouquet in the glass.”

Was it possible to create scents that paired with wines, much as the tastes of foods do? “I wondered if I could break the rules and use perfumes to make the nose better appreciate the notes of the wine,” said Jones, a scent sommelier and fragrance designer who now lives in New York City.

Conjuring Beautiful Blends
With five bottles of wine in hand, she headed back to her studio. Sipping and sniffing while mixing oils and other fragrance ingredients, she conjured blends that seemed to capture the notes of each of the varietals. She was certain she had created a way to marry two of the world’s oldest pleasures, wine and perfume, in ways that enhanced each of them. “When you put your nose into your glass, the matching perfume has the same notes,” she said.

At first, she encountered plenty of skepticism. “When I launched the line, a lot of people in the wine world were apprehensive about it,” she recalled. “They said, ‘you can’t do that!’ But then they saw that the two worlds were coming together. Now I work with winemakers on both the West Coast and in New York City, and several tasting rooms in California sell my perfumes.”

One of those winemakers is Clarissa Nagy of Nagy Wines in Orcutt, California. “Kelly is a master of her trade,” Nagy said. She hand selects each component to create a perfect, aromatic pairing with wine. The synergy is amazing. I’m pleased to carry such a beautiful product. It’s a wonderful addition to my lineup.”

The Aroma Wheel
Knowing that most wine aficionados are familiar with the wine aroma wheel, a tool used in wine tastings to help identify various scents and tastes in the vintages, Jones created her own version using words that describe not only wine varietals, but also the complexities of perfumes. “It helps people discover the bouquet of a wine’s aroma through the words of a perfumer,” she said.

An Unexpected Career Path
Jones’ path to her career as a fragrance designer was a circuitous one, although her love for scents began as a child. “All I wanted for my eighth birthday was perfume,” she recalled. She grew up in Detroit, and often visited her grandparents’ nearby farm. “I loved playing in the woods there because there were so many flowers and trees to smell,” she said.

As she got older, her fascination with scents continued to grow. “I started building my own library of fragrances and buying individual oils,” she said.

After graduating from high school, she attended Michigan State University, where she received a BA in International Relations. Later, she earned an MBA at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona. With diploma in hand, she moved to Southern California to take a job in corporate planning at Toyota’s North American headquarters. “I grew up around cars, and I love them,” she said. “But I’d work all day at an executive job and then go home and be creative with scents and study perfumes and oils.”

When she was offered an opportunity to join the marketing department at a fragrance house in New York City, she jumped at it. There she learned about every aspect of the business, from where the flowers and fruits grow to the creation of new scents to selling a finished product. “It exposed me to the magic behind the world of perfume,” she said. “I found out about everything that happens between the field and the bottle.”

Like A Chef
A single fragrance can have as many as 100 ingredients. “A perfume designer is like a chef creating a new recipe,” she said. “You have to get the ingredients and the scent just right before it’s ready for the marketplace.”

She believes her Notes of Wine perfumes encourage wine novices to experiment. “Someone will say, ‘I never drink red wine,’ but then they smell the perfume and say, ‘maybe I’ll try it again.’”

Complex Blends
Perfumes in the Notes of Wine collection are complex blends of tantalizing scents. The first one she created was paired with chardonnay. “It’s what I was drinking at the time I had the idea, so that’s what I started with,” she said.  The sultry scent has notes of honeydew, toasted oak, vanilla blossom and crème brulee.

Bright, refreshing pinot grigio has the citrusy smell of grapefruit and aromas of starfruit, green apple and camellia. Ethereal riesling awakens thoughts of white peach, Anjou pear, bergamot and raspberry leaf. Contemporary merlot teases the nose with scents of rhubarb, red currant, mission fig and candied violet, while spicy cabernet brings notes of pink peppercorn, black cherry, tobacco flower and vintage leather. A recently introduced rosé features sheer, seductive scents of pink currant, osmanthus, Provencal herbs and wood.

Enhancing Experience
While she realizes that true oenophiles may never be onboard, she believes her perfumes make learning about and experiencing wines more enjoyable. “The world of wine tasting can be really intimidating,” she said. “But after you smell the perfumes and the wines and learn about what some of the descriptive words really mean, you can smell them in different ways. The perfumes are great for when you’re spending a day in the vineyards having fun.”

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The Fragrance Sommelier