Martin Riese is the only certified water sommelier in the United States and according to Wine Spectator, the world's foremost water sommelier in the world. I was first introduced to the concept of differences in water tastes by a client for whom I have a deep respect. He had found a particular water that promotes a superior health profile.

I also noticed the attractive blue bottle that he carried and, tongue in cheek, mentioned the high-end product. His glowing recommendation, along with the idea of a water sommelier, piqued my interest.

This conversation eventually led me to Riese and his fascinating story. I reached out to Riese and true to his gentlemanly nature, he responded personally. As an etiquette expert, I found his prompt reply an impressive indicator of the dedication to his craft. After our interview, it was easy to understand how he'd became such a huge success as a water tasting educator, author, and General Manager of Michelin starred Patina restaurant.

The Gift

By the time he was four years old, Riese's parents realized he had a special palate and could make clear distinctions between different types of water. He emphatically explains, "Water is not just water" as he could taste the differences from an early age.

Riese strongly believes that each person has a special gift; some people are wonderful artists, some can create music, and his gift, he believes, is a special relationship with taste. He can identify different qualities in water that influence taste and feel. He recalls his first "mind blowing" epiphany where he realized his ability was an unusual gift. As a child, he could not understand when people said water tastes like water. It was all so different for him. For him, water was not about quenching thirst, it was about the variety of flavors.

In 2005, He was working in a German restaurant when a customer approached him and said "Riese, you have so many different wines in this restaurant, but just one water brand, and I don't like it. Do you have anything else?" Suddenly, he realized the potential and things became clear. In the restaurant business, everything is all about options: "Wine menus, liquor menus, different beers on tap... but when it comes to water, the most important beverage on the planet, we act as if it's not important."

In a restaurant, the only question typically asked is "Do you prefer sparkling, flat or tap water?" Inspired, he created the first water menu in Germany in 2005. Then in 2008, he wrote a book about water that was certified by the German water trade association in 2011.

His gift - now a recognized talent - was granted a special visa in 2011 to come to the United States, available only to people who have "extraordinary abilities." In the states, he quickly began to make a name for himself in the restaurant business.

Vision Becomes Action

Riese's strongest desire is to "create a healthy beverage for America to enjoy." The process is exhaustive. When he was approached by Beverly Hills Drink Company president, Jon Gluck, to craft the perfect water, he was enthusiastic about the project. The vision was to start with natural spring water and add minerals to make it healthy and unique in composition. To create a recipe for refreshment. Riese created 90H20, and owns the rights to the American patent.

He readily admits the price is steeper than other bottled waters. There's a reason. Average bottled waters are filtered to remove impurities, which include the components that provide taste. He's encountered people who felt water had no value and had issue with the price. Riese's response is to smile, be respectful, listen thoughtfully, and continue to educate. When creating something special, there will always be backlash.

To meet his standards, every bottle must taste exactly the same, which isn't easy. If the taste and composition are off, he will not release the product, even though he is one of only a handful of people in the world who can tell the difference.

Water for Everyone

Riese is deeply moved by those who don't have ready access to water. The California drought is of grave concern, and he's involved in advocating for clean water in Flint, Michigan and other sources affected by chemicals and politics. Recently, he appeared in critically acclaimed independent film "What Lies Upstream," an investigative documentary about the collusion between chemical corporations and the highest levels of government.

Water should be accessible to everyone. Sadly, this is not always the case. Riese is committed to raising awareness of the problem and helping to find solutions.

On Being a Successful Entrepreneur

You may be wondering how fancy water could pertain to your own business. There is no doubt that Riese and his product stand out, even in a $15 billion dollar market. Every person I have spoken to has an opinion and is fascinated by the story, whether they drink bottled water or not. The topic definitely promotes conversation and people remember it. After all, a water sommelier is not a common title.

Ask yourself what it is about you and your product that sets you apart from the competition. As the brand manager, it's your responsibility to add value. Your brand may stand out for a variety of reasons; from competitive price, exceptional personal service, or an unforgettable story. And don't underestimate the value of packaging and your dedication to the service or product.

Riese's secret to success lies in constant forward movement.

His top three tips:

1. Be creative. Think outside the box, and keep pushing the envelope. Never let your dreams become stagnate.

2. Stay attentive. When you create a product, you must stay hands on and not drop the ball. You mustn't put something on the market and let it go. You won't succeed in the long run.

3. Whatever business you are in, make your customer feel special.

Riese makes a point of "creating moments," giving his customers a special experience each and every time. "It's how you treat others: your guests, your coworkers, even how you treat yourself."

He is energized and delighted to surprise his clients, who he refers to as "guests," with what they don't expect. It doesn't matter if it's a celebrity or someone he has never met. There are "no VIPs in my life." He treats everyone with equal respect. He says the greatest feeling he gets is when he can touch people and educate them on the different value and properties of water and see them start to think differently about water, often for the first time. It's his ultimate goal to give water value.

In his restaurant, the world's foremost water expert still greets his guests at the door. He creates an experience designed with happiness as the primary objective. "You must believe in your product or service," he says. "Only your true excitement can sell it."

Published on: Feb 8, 2017