Name: Evan Workman
Nationality: USA-New York
At the moment: Maldives
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
My first real encounter with the wine industry was when I was waiting tables and just starting out my service career (I have been working in restaurants for 18 years) This was Baltimore, MD, USA and it was very early for us with wine. Wines like Bogle, Frei Brothers, Cavit, Torresella, Trinchero, Casa Lapostolle were running rampant and were on every wine list out there. I worked with Gerardo, an excellent GM who was more a hospitality mentor than a wine mentor at that time. He was a true professional and was the definition of hospitality at that point in my career. He acted in multiple capacities and really had a firm grasp on what was happening at all times in the dining room, the bar and the kitchen.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
First and foremost, you have to be a great listener. A Sommelier is there for the guest to listen to their words, make a selection for the guest within those confines and present the wine they feel is best suited for the table. I also feel that storytelling plays a big role in this industry. Not every guest wants to know about the terroir, the vineyards, the wine making practices, but the ones who do if you can narrate a seamless story for them that they can relish and appreciate, then you’ve really done it. Short and concise is usually what we rely on, but having the knowledge to paint a broader picture is a great skill to have. Lynn Proctor (Brand Ambassador: Penfolds-Americas) is someone who embodies the role of an educator, a great storyteller and a consummate professional. He is someone who makes you feel like you’re sitting in their living room sharing a glass with an old friend while he’s speaking.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
Don’t think that a job is beneath you. Most of us do not run a beverage program or a wine program right off the bat. Whether you work as a Captain, Junior Somm or a Cellar Attendant, all of these jobs are equally important with giving hands on experience. Working for a retail wine shop, an auction house or a brokerage are also great jobs, as you have a great exposure to wine. One of the most important things though is to always ask questions to anyone more knowledgeable than yourself. When you are starting out, showing genuine willingness to learn and interest goes a long way when you are starting out without having much experience. I have hired people before that had a great drive and eagerness to learn, but minimal experience.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
Determine what the guest is looking for (red, white, rosé or sparkling), flavor profile and weight of the wine. Suggest wines in 2-3 different price points if the guest doesn’t give you a price range. I personally feel there are much better ways to handle things than asking “how much would you like to spend”, or “what price range are you looking for”
What’s your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
There are hundreds of different producers of stemware. I’m a Riedel purist at heart, however I’ve also used glassware from Zalto and Gabriel-Glas and Spiegelau. I’m not as obsessed with glassware as some of my counterparts. I look at what is cost effective while still maintaining quality and what we can store, wash, use with the least breakage. Different style glasses showcase different flavors of the wine. Taste the same 2-3 wines in glasses from 2-3 different producers and go from there.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Taste, taste, taste. Read up on the subject. Read Perfect Pairings by Evan Goldstein MS, talk with your Chef about the dishes you’re going to be pairing with from your list. I have a 45 minute pre shift every day. 15 mins GM, 15 mins Chef, 15 mins to me. We taste a wine, or 2, taste a dish and go over service points, etc. Knowing what flavor profiles a dish has and pairing wine with it, is a skill that we’re constantly playing around with and evolving.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?
I want a list that has a variety of regions, varieties, prices for each one of your guests, yet is still interesting. In NYC, we have places that have lists that focus on a particular country only, but it’s nice to see a glass of Suertes de Marques “7 Fuentes” (listen negro/tintilla) from Tenerife or Musar Jeune (Cinsault/Syrah/Cab) from Lebanon to add something from an interesting country on the list. Steakhouses have some of the most remarkable markups I have seen in terms of sheer dollar value, for unremarkable product. I’m pretty straight across the board for pricing. Look at your front line pricing. If you’ve ordered a 5 case drop and the frontline was $13 but it comes down to $10/btl, base it on your frontline price. In that case I would have the BTG at $13 the a 4x markup to $52 for BTB pricing. BTB pricing works in much the same format, you look at your frontline and decide what a reasonable markup should be in terms of percentage/dollar value.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
You’re constantly tasting, talking with your peers in the industry, checking out the new spots (on your limited time off). You’re reading online publications (Eater, 1winedude,) Listening to podcasts (I’ll drink to that, GuildSomm) both in your city, nationally and hopefully internationally. Also checking out print material, is huge, though make sure it’s up to date. There are also so many websites to visit.
How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what’s the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
Talking to me about a specific varietal, vineyard site is a good way to grab my attention. What makes your wine different than the other 50 chardonnay producers that want me to buy from them? Everyone has different reasoning behind who gets put on a list and who doesn’t. It’s primarily based on our food, clientele and price point. Also extremely important, is building a good relationship with your reps and vice versa.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Chardonnay. I’m a neutral grape, but dependent upon people, place, time, and condition, I can show flashes of brilliance and really shine.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?
In my home wine collection you’ll always find a bottle of Cremant (usually Jura), Pinot Gris (Alsace), Nebbiolo (Valle d’Aoste). My desert island wine would be Port. You’re on a desert island and worried about storage conditions (right after worrying about how to get off the island, shelter and food). I’m going with something that can last for decades, in case I’m really screwed.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – www.sommeliers.at