Profiles in wine: Chris McFall, wine director, SingleThread

Chris McFall said “a happy accident” lured him to wine.|

Chris McFall said “a happy accident” lured him to wine. The “accident” was a bottle of 1967 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella, which had been gifted to a college roommate years ago.

“The hair still stands up on the back of my neck when I remember that wine,” said McFall, wine director at the Michelin-starred SingleThread restaurant in Healdsburg. “I’d never smelled anything so complex and couldn’t take my nose out of the glass. The world stopped. It was love at first sight.”

Recently promoted to wine director at SingleThread, McFall has worked at the high-end restaurant since 2020 but spent the better part of 2019 trying to get a foot in the door, “figuring out how to work or eat there,” he said with a laugh.

Before joining SingleThread, McFall had moved to California from Austin, Texas, to work as a sommelier at Lazy Bear, a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco. But when the pandemic hit, he was out of a job.

McFall had his eye on SingleThread for a long time, so when his friend Rusty Rustello (SingleThread’s former wine director) told him the restaurant was looking for a sommelier, McFall jumped at the chance.

The first time he walked into the restaurant, he said, he was struck by every thoughtful detail and a compelling sense of place.

“What completely stopped me in my tracks was the sheer beauty of the floral centerpiece that (co-owner) Katina had put together with flowers from the farm,” McFall said. “It was a perfectly imperfect snapshot of what was happening in Sonoma County that day. Seeing that centerpiece was a haunting, magical moment for me.”

Getting to that pivotal moment at SingleThread was not a straight path, however.

Born and raised in Austin, McFall decided to pursue a career in wine after college and eventually earned his Advanced Sommelier Certification. Driven by his zest for challenge, he went to work for notable restaurants throughout his home state, including Paggi House, a renowned (now-closed) Austin restaurant where he transformed the limited wine list into a high-profile wine program.

After garnering attention for his talent as a young sommelier, McFall was named Best New Sommelier by Wine & Spirits Magazine in 2012, an honor chosen by his peers throughout the wine industry.

From there, he worked extensively in Austin, Houston and Chicago before making his way west to California, and eventually, to SingleThread.

“Rusty promoted me pretty quickly after I arrived at SingleThread,” said McFall, who quickly rose from sommelier to head sommelier and now wine director.

“In my role, team dynamics is something I really try to focus on. I am extremely lucky to work with such brilliant, talented people, and any time I get a chance to spark their passion or curiosity about something I know they’re interested in, I’m all for it.”

The restaurant’s current wine list includes about 3,400 wines, with many from Sonoma County but also from around the world, plus around 75 sakes.

“I like to think of the wine list as a spice cabinet — I’m always looking for holes to fill,” McFall said. “One of my main goals is to keep the wine and food pairings as fresh as possible.”

McFall also talked about his favorite wines and what he’s learned at SingleThread.

Question: What are two of your favorite wine varietals?

Answer: I have always been a champion for riesling and syrah. They are both so delicious, yet so misunderstood. With the right hand, syrah can be one of the most exciting, food-friendly wines on the planet. And dry, aged riesling can be so thought-provoking, especially with subtle cuisines like Japanese.

Q: Is there a particular winemaker you really admire right now?

A: I am truly fascinated by Scott and Jenny Schulz of Jolie-Laide. I love their winemaking style, and their trousseau gris is delicious.

Q: What is something important you’ve learned during your time at SingleThread?

A: There is no such thing as a mistake. It’s all about how you learn from it and do better next time.

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or

Sarah Doyle

Wine & Lifestyle Reporter

Wine is the indelible heartbeat of Sonoma County. As the wine industry continues to evolve, my job is to share the triumphs, challenges and trends that affect our local wine region, while highlighting the people — past and present — who have contributed to its success. In addition, I cover spirits, beer and on occasion, other lifestyle topics.

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