American Wine School was founded in 2001 by Marianne Frantz.

Since then, more than 15,000 wine enthusiasts have attended American Wine School classes, educational events and tastings across seven states.

Whether you know a little or a lot about wine, American Wine School provides a systematic approach that can help you build your wine knowledge. For consumers and professionals alike, American Wine School offers an internationally recognized program of study through its affiliation with the prestigious Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Currently, Levels 1, 2 & 3 of this program are offered in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Chicago. WSET level 4 in Wines & Spirits is only offered in Chicago.

Additionally, AWS offers a series of consumer classes designed to help wine lovers and novice sippers alike understand the styles of wines they like and how best to select those wines from a retail shelf. Our programs help wine-savvy consumers build better cellars case by case.

Our Staff

Marianne Frantz, CWE, DipWSET, FWS, Advanced Sommelier
Founder & President of American Wine School

After several years of producing wine events across the country and leading wine tours in Bordeaux, France for American Express, Marianne founded the American Wine School in 2001. A Certified Wine Educator, Marianne holds a Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) of London, and has also earned the Advanced Sommelier qualification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. After successfully participating in an educational competition sponsored by the Wines of Australia in the spring of 2008, Marianne became an educational Ambassador for Wine Australia USA. She is also a Certified Spanish Wine Educator, a Certified Rioja Educator, and a Certified Bourgogne Educator. She launched the Wine Scholar Guild courses in Chicago and is a French Wine Scholar.

Marianne has always been drawn to education. Prior to discovering her passion for wine, she taught high school chemistry after graduating with a Bachelor of Science from Wright State University. Most recently, Marianne completed a 2-year graduate program resulting in a Master of Education in Instructional Design for Digital Learning and is currently developing digital wine modules for online learning. In addition to teaching, she has produced culinary events across the U.S. with the world’s top chefs and winemakers. Outside of the classroom, Marianne contributes to various wine publications and conducts speaking engagements for corporate clients.

Shannon Crowley-Avella
WSET Coordinator

A graduate of Dominican University with a degree in Nutrition (2009), Shannon works with our team of educators and hundreds of American Wine School students each year to keep registration and bookings running smoothly. Shannon has an extensive background in restaurant accounting and over 15 years of food and beverage experience working at 312 Chicago in the Hotel Allegro. She is extremely passionate about wine and has completed both Level 1 & 2 of the WSET. When Shannon is not enjoying wine, she is enjoying time with her two young children, Rose and Luke.

Kristy Wenz
Communication Consultant

A wine and travel writer, influencer, and events & communications consultant based in Chicago, Kristy spent 20-years in public relations and marketing before combining her communications skills with her passion and expertise for wine, travel and culture. She is a published author with numerous digital publications including Winetraveler, Wine Tourist Magazine, and the Finger Lakes Wine Country as well as for her own blog of eight years.

A WSET Level 3 graduate, Kristy is currently pursuing the WSET Level 4 Diploma through the American Wine School. She has explored wineries across the USA and throughout Canada, and in 2016, she lived abroad with her husband and children exploring the wine regions of Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Austria. In addition to writing, Kristy has worked in the vineyards of the Finger Lakes, crush in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA, and as brand ambassador for numerous wineries and wine associations.



Alicia Barrett
Wine Educator

After studying political science at the University of Maryland and spending two years in Washington, Alicia and her husband packed their bags to fulfill a dream of living in Europe. While working at an economic think tank in London, Alicia took a trip to Burgundy and returned so inspired that she began her wine education journey at WSET’s London School. She holds her WSET Level 3 and is pursuing her WSET Level 4 Diploma in Chicago. In addition to teaching for the American Wine School, Alicia heads up education for Binny’s Beverage Depot, and serves as the Director of Education and Events for the American Wine Society-Chicago Chapter.

Eamon Byrne
Wine Educator

Originally from Ireland, Eamon moved to Chicago in the summer of 2013. His passion for wine developed over 10 years ago while studying for his undergraduate degree and working part-time for Ireland’s largest wine retailer. There, the manager took him under her wing, passed on her enthusiasm for wine, and pointed him towards the WSET qualification. In 2009, Eamon moved to New Zealand where he worked and conducted tastings in Central Otago. Having spent almost 4 years as a corporate trainer in financial services in Dublin, Eamon is thrilled to share his trainer skills by teaching for the American Wine School. Eamon currently works as Area Manager for Taub Family Selections. He holds the WSET Level 3 and is undertaking the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines & Spirits.

Kristen Ellis, FWS
Wine Educator

Kristen knew from a young age she wanted to be an educator. She graduated with a degree in Social Studies Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She then took her passion for teaching to Italy where she began to work as a Historical Tour Guide in Rome and the Italian Peninsula. During her more than five year tenure in Europe, Kristen studied Italian and French. Inspired by a few close friends who are sommeliers, she began her wine journey with WSET in Tuscany and quickly became a Wine Guide, showcasing Italian wines. Kristen has completed the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines, and she is also a French Wine Scholar. Kristen is happy to begin her career as a Wine Educator with the American Wine School.

Silvia Ortega Franco
Wine Educator

Silvia came from Barcelona in 2015, changing the vineyard views of the cava country in her homeland for Lake Michigan in Chicago. In Spain, Silvia developed a career in the European environmental industry for 14 years, getting a vegetal biology and ecology science degree and an MBA, but it was after a wine trip when she decided to change her path, joining a 101 wine class in La Rioja in 2013. After that, there was no way out: she studied Oenology and Pairing in Granada and began to develop her passion for wine over her previous career. In 2016 she decided that WSET was the best way to build solid and critical knowledge about wine. Silvia is very excited to join WSET educators in the American Wine School. She holds the WSET Level 3 and is undertaking the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines & Spirits.

G. Anthony “Tony” Gatti, CS, FWS
Wine Educator

Tony took a circuitous path to his wine career. Originally from Cincinnati, he left at 17 to serve four years in the US Army as an Arctic infantryman and survival specialist in Alaska. In the years after, he lost track of time in the Caribbean, got a degree from the University of Arizona in Latin American Studies and Creative Writing, and traveled abroad with a wild abandon while working for adventure travel companies. He eventually settled down on St. Croix in the USVI, got married and had children. Wine came into the picture when Tony was offered the chance to run an all-Italian import company. Soon he built and managed an import/distribution business with global wine, spirit and beer products. In 2012, Tony left St. Croix for Chicago. Tony is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), Certified Sommelier as authorized by the Court of Master Sommeliers, a French Wine Scholar, and holds a WSET Level 4 in Wines & Spirits. Currently, Tony is the Midwest/Great Lakes Regional Sales Manager for Hall Winery.

Vernon Jackson
Wine Educator

Vernon found wine in his passion for the French language. After completing his undergraduate studies in Economics and French, he wanted to learn more about the wine industry. Vernon passed his WSET L1, just before traveling to France in pursuit of an MBA in Wine Marketing & Management in Bordeaux. Since returning from France, he has continued to study wine (WSET L3) and exploring the world of wine. He currently works in fine dining, finding ways to bring diversity and inclusion to an industry that needs more representation.


Mark Maruszak, J.D., CS
Wine Educator

Mark, a native of Cleveland, Ohio moved to Toledo, Ohio graduated from the University of Toledo College of Law in 2013. During his last year of law school, Mark found his true passion in the world of wine. He is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and holds a WSET Level 4 in Wines & Spirits. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Beer Server through the Cicerone Program. With the goal of continuous education in mind, Mark has traveled extensively throughout the United Kingdoms and Paris, while also partaking in sommelier outreach programs such as the Napa Valley Vintner’s Somm Napa Valley, Oregon’s Pinot Camp, the Russian River Valley Pinot Forum, and Washington’s Walla Walla Vintner’s W2U.  Currently, Mark is a sales representative for Connoisseur Wines in Chicago.

Jill Zimorski, Master Sommelier
Wine & Spirits Educator

Born and raised in Charlottesville, VA, Jill Zimorski got her start in the hospitality industry while in studying sociology and biology at the University of Virginia. After graduating, she served in management roles in two local restaurants before moving to Washington, D.C. to work for several nationally-recognized chefs; notably Charlie Palmer & José Andrés. After two years at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill, Zimorski left to work as a Sommelier for Andrés at his Penn Quarter restaurant, Café Atlantico, ultimately becoming the first beverage director for his company. As Beverage Director, she oversaw the award-winning wine and cocktail programs at José Andrés’ popular Washington, D.C. restaurants, including Café Atlantico which, under her direction, was named one of the most innovative in the country by The New York Times.

In 2013, Jill assumed the role of Wine Director at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. Once in the Windy City, Zimorski accepted a position as Sommelier at Chicago’s culinary gem and Michelin-starred, Alinea Restaurant. Within six months, she was promoted to Wine Director of the Alinea Group (Alinea, Next, Aviary & Roister). In 2016, Zimorski left the restaurant world to take an education-focused position of Champagne Specialist representing the Champagnes of the Moët Hennessy portfolio (Krug, Ruinart, Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot & Moët & Chandon). Outside of work, Zimorski enjoys baking, gardening and entertaining and in September 2018, passed the Master Sommelier Exam. Jill is one of 273 professionals in the world (and one of 29 women in the United States) to earn this prestigious accreditation.  Jill successfully completed the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines & Spirits in 2019.


Kathy Merchant
Wine Educator

An Italian Wine Scholar, Kathy holds a WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines & Spirits and the Society of Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist of Wine. Kathy is also a wine blogger and writes Vino Ventures (Facebook or In addition to her blog, Kathy has written about food and wine for Cincinnati’s Venue Magazine online and a print feature about Monteverdi Tuscany, and published a blog series on Burgundy for travel company French Wine Explorers. She previously served as a resident wine educator for 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab, where she is also an investor, and in 2013 partnered with The Painted Chef to host a “Perfect Pairings” series exploring food and wine. Consultations have included The Grotto Wine Bar, US Bank Ascent Private Capital Management, and custom wine education and events. Kathy recently retired as president/CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.


Tuli Banerjee
Wine Educator

Tuli has been affiliated with the American Wine School since volunteering at the 2006 Fabulous Food Show. She has participated as a captain regularly since then. Tuli passed the Advanced WSET certification exam and is preparing to become a Certified Specialist of Wine in 2013.Tuli grew up in Mumbai India and moved to Sumter, South Carolina in 1990 as a Rotary International exchange student. She received her Bachelors of Science in Pre-Med from Wofford College, South Carolina and her Masters in Healthcare Administration from University of South Carolina. Tuli currently works for Cleveland Clinic as a Senior Contract Manager.Besides wine appreciation, she loves to paint and read about health, fitness & nutrition. She also is a fan of rock and roll music.

Paul Giudici
Wine Educator

Paul started his thirst for wine knowledge by virtue of studying his Italian and French heritage. Inevitably, this led to attending “Wine 101,” his first wine class with AWS during the fall of 2006. In Paul’s words, “Marianne’s infectious teaching and our first trip to Napa pretty much sealed my fate. I’ve been here ever since!” Paul is now a Certified Specialist of Wine from the Society of Wine Educator, a Spanish Wine Educator from the Wine Academy of Spain, and holds the Level 3 WSET Certificate. More recently, Paul is studying for the Bourgogne Master Level Certificate from the French Wine Society. By day, Paul works as an IT Architect. Wine has provided him that artistry & expression that the other side of his brain craves. Outside of wine Paul enjoys playing guitar, traveling and watching lots of movies. He also considers himself a bit of a stock market geek.

Deborah Myers
Wine Educator

For Deborah, her career as a Travel Agent eventually sparked her passion for wine. She says it all started in New Zealand after visiting many wineries and falling in love with Sauvignon Blanc. After that trip, her pursuit for wine knowledge began. Shortly after she returned home from her trip, Deborah attended Wines of New Zealand hosted by Marianne Frantz. She was hooked. “Marianne was so terrific. I took the (WSET) Intermediate Immersion class the following month.” Deborah now holds the Level 3 WSET Certificate, is a Certified Specialist of Wine from the Society of Wine Educator, a Spanish Wine Educator offered by the Wine Academy of Spain and a French Wine Scholar. Currently, She is a WSET level 4 Diploma candidate. Outside of wine and travel, Deborah is a book worm who enjoys cooking!


Giordana Sobel
Wine Educator

Giordana is a Detroit-based wine educator and marketer that has lived, worked, and tasted around in the world. With a Masters in Wine Marketing from Bordeaux, she has worked for a winery in Tuscany, has completed wine harvests in Australia and Napa, and done consulting and wine exporting everywhere else in between! She is a Certified Specialist in Wine (CSW), holds her WSET Level III certificate, and is going for her Certified Wine Educator’s certification. Champagne is her favorite wine and she always has a bottle chilled, ready to make the occasion!

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