Hello. Let's Change the World - Starting with Ann Arbor
People often wonder what leads sommeliers to become sommeliers. I think it’s fitting that I introduce my self on AnnArbor.com by telling that story. I'm thirty-one years old, a devoted husband to the most amazing woman on the planet, a proud father of two lovely girls, and I'm very thankfully still carded on occasion. So, often people are surprised by how much I have to say on this subject given my age. I occasionally joke, saying I'm 55 years old and my anti-aging secret is a glass of pinot noir with every meal (two with breakfast on the days that I ride my bike 50 miles to work for extra fuel). Seriously, I don't really drink in the morning, save for a mimosa at Sunday brunches. I am a novice cyclist, but my ride to work is only 6 miles each way. I have however worked in the restaurant industry for 17 years and began intensive study of the juice before I could legally drink it. As a server paying my own way at U of M, I knew wine was my bread and butter in regards to more tips. I guess it was around 2000, while working at The Gandy Dancer, when I realized I was the person everyone else in the restaurant would come to with a wine question. I never planned for it, but wine was becoming my expertise whether I wanted it to be or not. I pursued the possibility of a greater role with wine in CA Muer (former owners of The Gandy Dancer), but it reached a dead end. That was okay because I had other plans. Entrepreneurial plans.
I loved the outdoors and I had ambitions to start an adventure guiding company and eventually take it west. I started a company called Climb On, leading rock climbing groups in Grand Ledge, Michigan and selling outdoor gear over my website (I was a Mechanical Engineering Major my first two years at the U and I admittedly have a techy side to me that needs constant feeding). It was around this time that the career Gods spoke to me, and after realizing my youthful ambitions did not make much sense from a family-man perspective, I began moonlighting as a web designer while serving at The Chop House. As my list of website clients grew via word of mouth, it seemed I had inadvertently chosen another entrepreneurial venture. I had just registered another LLC and began thinking my calling was in web design when the career Gods spoke again. Actually they weren’t Gods this time, they were the heads of Mainstreet Ventures, owners of The Chop House, Gratzi, The Real Seafood Company, Palio and a collection of other distinctive eateries in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Florida. Somehow I was the person people brought their wine questions too again and they were looking for a new Sommelier. That was a little over three years ago and things have been no less dynamic. I still work the floor as the Sommelier at The Chop House, but my role has expended as The Director of Wine and Spirits for Mainstreet Ventures, overseeing the beverage programs for our 15 restaurants in five states. Suffice to say, between my daughters and my workload I’m getting carded less frequently as of late. My wife pulled my first gray hair a few weeks back and I may actually have a wrinkle or two by the time you finish reading this lengthy first blog entry.
Most would think the best part of my job has something to do with the endless tasting of wines on a regular basis. While that is certainly a task that I courageously and dutifully commit myself to with great sacrifice for the betterment of all, it is not the best part. What has been the most interesting, challenging, and ultimately satisfying all at the same time has been the work I’ve done to evolve the way we educate our service teams on wine. Over the years I have developed some unique perspective on what people know, do not know, or think they know about wine. That perspective has become the foundation of my passion for educating people about wine. A few months back, I held a seminar on this topic at the Michigan Restaurant Association’s annual trade event. At times I’m frustrated by how many people still don’t get it when it comes to wine - how a great wine can cement the memory of a great experience for a lifetime. I’ve studied European cultures, where wine is far more prevalent than in our own, compared and contrasted them, and I have strong convictions about what is needed to move our culture, even if one community at time, in a direction that is positively forward. With the humblest intention of using this blog as the vehicle to do just that in Ann Arbor, I say Hello and Please check back for more.