The man behind the Washington Wine Academy is President and Founder Jim Barker, whose fascination with wine is as extensive as his experience in staging interesting events- both extend to his college days nearly 20 years ago. Originally from Michigan where he attended Business College, Jim initially relocated to DC for a government job before realizing he was meant to pursue something entirely different: Education and Event Planning in the wine industry. “Our organization and faculty focus on ensuring that you have a pleasurable, enriching experience,” says Barker. “It’s great to give people an opportunity to have a wonderful evening and know that it’s due to our efforts.”
Tom Finigan DWS, CSW is the principal of VineCrush Consulting LLC, an education and consulting service on wine, beer and spirits. He came to Washington D.C. in 2005 after two years as Wine Director and Manager of James Beard Award winning celebrity Chef Ming Tsai’s original restaurant, Blue Ginger. During his time there he also served as the wine and beverage consultant for seasons 2 and 3 of Ming’s acclaimed PBS cooking series “Simply Ming” as well as the companion cookbook “Ming’s Master Recipes”. While in D.C. Tom was the Wine Director of the award winning Butterfield 9 restaurant downtown. He is currently a Senior Sales Consultant with Washburn Wine Company of Baltimore, Maryland managing Washington, D.C. and an Instructor with the Washington Wine Academy. Tom has the prestigious Diploma in Wines and Spirits (DWS) from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is a WSET Certified Educator and Assessor. In addition, Tom holds the WSET Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits, the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) with the Society of Wine Educators, The Rhone Valley Master with the French Wine Society and has completed the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association’s “Napa Rocks” program. He also has extensive knowledge of Belgian beers and breweries and has toured through Belgium tasting and learning.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in music, he is also a member of the Wine Century Club and holds a Black Belt in Enshin Kai-Kan Karate. Locally, he has appeared as a wine expert on Federal News Radio and the Fox 5 Morning Show. Tom has contributed articles to the American Culinary Federation and the International Wine Review and speaks regularly at food and wine events in both public and private settings throughout the D.C. Metro Area. He is also experienced in cellar appraisal.
A software engineer by day, Mike discovered a love for all things beer while studying engineering at Cornell University. Understanding Wine & Beer, an elective class in Cornell’s food science department, spurred an interest in homebrewing post-graduation, and Mike dived into the world of beer head-first. Mike is a Certified Cicerone® and a BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Certified Judge. He is a member of the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association, as well as the DC area’s local homebrew club, BURP, or Brewers United for Real Potables. In addition to being part of the staff of 3 Stars Brewing’s Homebrew Shop and running the Washington Craft Beer Enthusiasts, a local craft beer group on Meetup, Mike also helps bars & restaurants with their beer programs through Reinitzgebot Consulting (www.reinitzgebot.com). He frequently travels the country as well as the world seeking out great beer, and he’s particularly excited about the burgeoning craft beer scene in the D.C. Metro Area. Mike is thrilled to be working with the Washington Wine Academy/DC School of Beer to help promote beer education and give beer the respect it deserves!
Thad Parsons is a historian, a teacher, and a malt maniac. Having been exposed to fine beverages at a young age, his alcoholic knowledge matured in the pubs, breweries, and distilleries of Europe while pursuing his doctorate at Oxford and managing the city’s largest whisky selection at the St Cross College Bar.
As a professional historian and experienced teacher, Thad has expanded his enjoyment of whisky and beer beyond simple consumption! From beautiful bourbons to single malt scotch, Dr. Thad has tasted many of the world’s best whiskies and has been sharing his expertise through tasting classes since 2007.
Ray O’Mara is Sales Consultant with Washburn Wine Company of Baltimore, Maryland. Ray O’Mara previously was the Marriott General Manager at the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Wye River Conference Center on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he joined Marriott Hotels and ascended through various Food and Beverage positions prior to being appointed General Manager.
A member of the Society of Wine Educators, he is a Certified Wine Educator. Ray has also earned, Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Sommelier, WSET Advanced Certificate, CIVB, International Bordeaux Tutor, BIVB, Certified Burgundy Instructor, Spanish Wine Academy, Spanish Wine Educator, and French Wine Academy, French Wine Scholar.
Ray was a founding member and past president of the Texas Sommelier Society, and has judged in numerous wine competitions including the Dallas International Wine Festival, the Sonoma County Fair and the Virginia Governors Cup. A passionate wine enthusiast, student and educator, Ray is presently enrolled in the WSET diploma program and is a member of Tasters Guild International, and the Eastern Shore Wine Tasters.
Despite initial training as a doctor-to-be, Thor decided to follow his passion for beer which has led him to be one of Washington’s DC’s preeminent beer experts. He built the beer list at Pizzeria Paradisio into a beer bar recognized by beeradvocate.com as one of the best in the world. After further cultivating his Belgian beer knowledge and experience in Philadelphia, Thor returned to DC to assist Chef Robert Wiedmaier latest DC venture, Brasserie Beck. Starting as a bartender, within two years Thor had worked his way to General Manager and in 2010, he partnered with Wiedmaier to open Mussel Bar, a Bethesda destination for Belgian food and beer lovers.
On September 4, 2009 Thor was given the honor of being inducted into the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mashstaff in Brussels, Belgium. The Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mashstaff (Belgian Brewers’ Guild) is an organization that is a direct descendent of the secular guild of Belgian brewers that works to perpetuate the traditions and nobility of the brewers’ trade.
In September of 2011, Thor left Wiedmaier to open his own brew pub, details coming soon.
Washington Wine Academy is Washington's DC leader in professional wine, beer and spirits education.
In addition, we also host nearly 100 special events in the area (DC and Northern VA). Check our calendar for latest events.