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Although few people expected world-class dining and wine options at a family theme park, John Blazon ’82 was determined to make Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort a food and wine destination. The park’s wine director from 2000 to 2009, Blazon developed wine concepts and standards that were innovative, entrepreneurial and ultimately elevated the guest experience. 

“We did themes that were aligned in Disney’s overarching mission to make every guest feel special,” says Blazon. “We created collections that would excite and delight, made sure that price points were stratified, brought in styles from around the world and built a platform for education unlike any other company in the world.”

Having attained the title master sommelier from the International Court of Master Sommeliers in 2004—the highest level of distinction within the wine and beverage service industry— increasing wine knowledge and service standards at Disney were of primary importance to Blazon.

“In partnership with the Court of Master Sommeliers, we channeled 750 cast members to take the introductory level training and pass the level one sommelier certification exam. That was more than any other company had done in the world. We created a culture around education and our success flowed from that,” notes Blazon who is the 59th master sommelier out of 140 in North America.

Creating this new culture also required a shift in business philosophy, which was challenging within such a large matrix organization according to Blazon. “We were disciplined and made sure that we always kept the bottom line and the metrics of the business in mind. We started with the food and the beverage came alongside. Then we showed what we could contribute by bringing revenue and growth to an area that was unrealized.”

Blazon also participated in coordinating the Epcot Food and Wine Festival for many years, bringing in world-class chefs and vintners and further raising the bar for tourism in central Florida.

Moving to a new position in 2010, Blazon became the vice president of sales for the Spire Collection, a luxury division representing the artisan brands from the Jackson Family Wines. In this role, he travels across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean as an ambassador to the brand.

Throughout these travels, Blazon is constantly struck by the homegrown creativity and desire to be fresh and new within the food and beverage space. “It can be very risky, but there is a tremendous interest and enthusiasm for elevating food and wine pairings along with wine education and accreditation. There are a lot of fledgling wine servers and bartenders who have devoted time to their craft and to being accredited. I believe that they are helping wine to be more than just for special occasions, but an everyday beverage to be fully enjoyed.”

Blazon received his bachelor’s degree in 1982 from the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at the Isenberg School of Management. He was recognized by The STARWINE International Wine Competition as their “Sommelier of the Year” in 2006. In 2008 and 2013, he was elected to serve on the board for the Court of Master Sommeliers and was appointed as an inaugural board member to the American Guild of Sommeliers.

Do you know of another interesting alumni story? Let us know about it at alumni@admin.umass.edu.

By Elena Lamontagne