To understand sommelier Femi Oyediran’s approach to wine, you must first understand his love of LL Cool J.
“I don’t want to get too deep into it — I can get real into it — but seriously LLCool J to me is your rapper’s favorite rapper. He’s like your iconic image of the rapper. He had it all. In an era where he’d have massive crowds of girls running after him in the mall, the time he came out, that idea of a young rapper was at the forefront of this new genre. He was the first artist signed at Def Jam. We’re talking about fashion and the ’80s in itself. That was the greatest era and he was the greatest rapper. Literally huge. LL, for sure,” Oyediran says with a smack of finality on a Harbinger Cafe table.
Oyediran’s compulsive desire to enlighten any willing listener about hip-hop’s true OG, is what makes him such a great somm. Whether it’s a new playlist he’s pumped about or a great rose, the music and wine maven is ready to proselytize. And that open, upbeat approach is going to be the M.O. of Oyediran and Napa CIA-trained somm Miles White’s forthcoming King Street wine shop, Graft.
“By design you can say the wine industry has failed,” says Oyediran. “What other consumer product do people say, ‘I’d love to do this but I don’t know a lot about it’? I have friends who would never go to a wine bar or wine-focused restaurant but have spent countless evenings drinking in my living room and loved it. These people are not oppossed to wine, but they don’t like the situation. That’s always been really funny to me. I feel like I understand the situation.”
Oyediran understands it because he was raised to believe that wine, and alcohol altogether, was off limits.
“My parents don’t drink,” says Oyediran who was born in Nigeria but moved to the states after his aerospace engineer father got a job with NASA. In fact, the first time his mother found out he did drink was in 2013 when Oyediran passed the Court of Master Sommelier’s certified sommelier exam and got the highest score.
“You gotta realize, our generation of African parents, there are memes dedicated to this. I can imagine the anxiety just thinking about my mother’s reaction. To then tell her to her face that I’m working in the wine industry, that’s like a whole other level,” says Oyediran, but he knew he had to. He was in too deep. With his passion for wine becoming a career thanks to the tutelage of Charleston Grill’s Rick Rubel, Oyediran had to break the news to his mom eventually.
“I called her and I said ‘I took this test and did really well and I want to do this.’ My mom is super cool and her response was completely not what I expected. She was just like, ‘I don’t know what that is, but if you’re happy I’m very proud of you,'” says Oyediran. Even more amazing, for her 60th birthday, his mom agreed to have a glass of wine with him. How’s that for his powers of persuasion?
Of course, Oyediran’s wine knowledge and skill for sharing it all began at Charleston Grill,a job he may never have taken had it not been for Grammy-nominated drummer Quentin Baxter.
At the time, the renowned drummer played there weekly with his band Gradual Lean and as a saxophonist and DJ himself, Oyediran was star struck.
“My friends had hyped up the restaurant because of him. I was thinking, he’s this god. He’d walk in the room it was like ‘Shhh.'” After moving to the Holy City in 2005 to attend College of Charleston, Oyediran’s goal was to make music his career. In fact, if you’ve lived here for more than a decade, you may have heard him play. He immediately started DJing when he arrived. He was still playing in 2012 with Mike Quinn in a group called Thank God It’s Funky at Juanita Greenberg’s.
But, as any musician in Charleston will tell you, playing music doesn’t always pay the bills which is how Oyediran ended up at the Grill.
“I liked it but if you talked to Mickey [Bakst] he’d probably tell you we had conversations like ‘This is not for you. You’re welcome to hang out, but you don’t want to be here,'” says Oyediran laughing. While making ends meet at the Grill, the future somm continued to pursue music, working on a grand plan to bring new artists to town. And he did. In fact, it was Oyediran who brought Big Gigantic to town. But what he learned was the production end of live music took a toll on the old pocketbook.
“I got to Charleston Grill, and was like OK,” he says. “I was trying to figure out what’s next.” Enter: Rick Rubel. Thanks to Oyediran’s own curiousity about wine, Rubel, the Grill’s head somm sensei took the eager Oyediran under his wing and trained him to be a real deal oenophile.
“He said, ‘Get a couple people together and let’s all taste together.’ There was me, Nathan Wheeler, another girl in the original group, and Andrew Marshall who is still at the Grill.” Every Saturday they’d meet and analyze wines and what was just a hobby became a passion. And any day now the one time DJ, saxophonist, and music maven, will unlock the doors on his very own wine shop. But don’t think for a minute it’ll be like the stuffy shops you’re used to. Expect sick beats to match the libations. Something Oyediran plans to share with Charleston Wine + Food Pecha Kucha audiences, during his co-performance with business partner White. The two will have 6 minutes and 40 seconds to share their story from wine nubes to experts. Suffice it to say, expect to hear some LL too.
Pecha Kucha is Fri. March 2 at the Charleston Music Hall. Tickets are $45.