Saturday, June 6, 2009


Terry post:

Okay. I admit it.

I have not been pulling my weight as far as this Blog is concerned. My brother has posted some well thought-out opinion pieces recently and about all that I have done was to post comments which read something like, "yea...i agree."

Real deep.

I promise to do better.

Some of you know that I have been the Wine Director for Restaurant 213 for sometime. Well, that came to a conclusion last week at the mutual agreement of the Chef and myself and I have some mixed feelings which I'll discuss.

It has been an absolute honor to be the Wine Director for a fine dining restaurant such as "213". It has given me the opportunity to sharpen my tasting skills as well as my financial skills when it comes to making selections for the wine list. Since 2004 when I started working with the Chef I have helped the wine list grow from something that was good locally into a listing which has received honors from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Chesapeake Life Magazine and Coastal Living Magazine. We have grown from just under 80 selections to over 440 selections - many of which in the challenging $30 and below price point.

The breaking point for the Chef and I came a few weeks ago after I had spent considerable time updating the wine list to include adding new and deleting old wines. It is not an inconsequncial task: it had taken all of my Saturday morning. When I delivered the eight copies of the wine list (double sided, color, on card stock) he pointed out that he'd added some new wines since I'd been in the week before and that he wanted them added to the list. I was pissed: turned on my heel and walked out the door.

The issue, the real issue is that a great Chef is like any other artist in that they are so focused on doing that which is important to them that they are oblivious to others. That was the case here. The Chef was just passionate about his restaurant, and the fact that I'd spent over 5 hours preparing this set of menus was irrelevant to him: he wanted perfect and what I presented wasn't perfect.

In 2004 when I started working with the Chef I had a fair amount of spare time. I no longer have that spare time, in fact putting the wine list together took time away from my family. I expected appreciation - something I did not receive.

What does this mean? It means that I am now out of the business of sipping fine wine almost every Friday afternoon and I will miss that.

I vividly recall one wine rep bringing in my first-ever taste of a Yalumba Shiraz-Viognier from Australia: huge nose, smooth and loads of berries. If every I was shocked by a wine, it was with that Australian.

Here are some of the most important lessons which I learned and am comfortable with sharing:

1. If you like the wine it is a good wine. Don't get wrapped up in all the B.S. which sometimes surrounds a wine. Be particularly aware of drinking the current hot wine whatever it should be.

2. Price does not equal quality. This is the first deriviative of my initial point. You would be shocked at how much expense crap is on every restaurant's wine list.

3. Inverse rule. The Wine Director at a fine dining restaurant will spend an inordinate amount of time seeking out high-quality, low priced wines for the wine list. It is easier than falling off a log to fine a great wine to sell at $80 to $100 at a restaurant. It is a real challenge to find a great wine which can be sold, at a profit, at $30 or less. I estimate that I spent 80% of my time finding wines in the $30 and below segment.

4. A typical restaurant will sell their wines for 2.5 - 3.5 times the price they pay at wholesale. While the price sounds high, there are a lot of costs associated with buying, holding and serving wine which is invisible to most diners. A storage locker which holds 2400 bottles and costs just over $15,000 to install. The investment that restaurant owners take in the proper care of wine bottles ensure that you get what you pay for. Serving costs include broken and stolen stemware: you have no idea. The Chef once told me, "Everyone steals from me". Glassware is broken, and stolen as is some of the wine. Side story: we used to have very, very nice pepper grinders and salt grinders on each table. They were milled aluminum with a plunger to actuate the grinding. They cost $28 a piece and every single one was stolen out of the restaurant within 6 months. We replaced them with cheap $1 shakers which no one steals. You get the idea.

I still plan on discussing wine it will now be from the perspective of more of an outsider.

Drink up!

~ Terry

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back! Good to see your writings again but am sad to hear you're no longer doing the wine director gig! Completely understandable but too bad.

    I would love to hear about the most important lessons which you learned that you are UNcomfortable sharing. Makes me wonder. Maybe over beers/wine sometime, eh brother?

    Interesting information.