Name: Chris McPherson
At the moment: USA-New York
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry?
At age 15 I worked in a wine store after school sweeping floors, restocking shelves – just being a store hand. I really got involved when working as a laborer for a bricklayer. We were building a new winery complex at Yering Station in the Yarra Valley and I needed more than the three days a week work so we organized for me to work in the cellar door of the winery for three days too. It was great exposure to wine.
Any particular mentors at that time?
The winemaker at the time was Tom Carson, a great resource to answer every question I had no matter how small it was. He makes pretty decent wine too!
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?
Communication is key to determine where your customer wants to go in the short amount of time you have at the table. Listen to their needs and take them on the path they want to go. Sometimes it’s exciting other times they want to be safe.
I had the pleasure of working alongside Ruben Sanz Ramiro in New York for a few years. His passion and dedication to wine is amazing and such a great person all round.
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?
Get your hands dirty and be prepared to do anything to get your foot in the door. The current economy has meant more Somms need to take on a dual role of manager and sommelier. It’s the behind the scenes motivation that gets you places. Take the deliveries, clean the cellar, lug boxes up the stairs. Learn to serve tables so you get to know the timing required when the Somm should approach the table and make the most of the guests experience. Taste, network and be humble.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
Ascertain what direction they want to go – do they want a wine to pair with their meal, just a great wine, something fun and new they haven’t tried before or a wine that’s more classic and safe for them. Once you have this information you can offer three selections of an appropriate style of wine at various price points to leave the final deduction to the guest.
What’s your philosophy about glasses?
Use reputable stems and keep them clean! You don’t need every shape offered but it’s nice to have a different glass for the more premium wines. A beautiful glass adds to the occasion.
Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
We work with Rona – you need to take into account your customer demographic, budget for breakages, style of list you’re working with and the feel of the restaurant. For example, Riedel Sommelier range glasses in an a east village dive bar would look out of place.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Be creative and have fun. Think outside the box.
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?
Keep it in line with the style of restaurant, food being served and appeals to your clientele. Keep the list manageable – don’t have a huge list if you don’t have time to reprint 86’s daily. Price wise your perceived value of the wine goes a long way. Taste the wine, look at your list and judge what you would feel comfortable paying for this wine in the restaurant environment. If your profit margin to quality quality perception is too slim it’s probably not a good for for the list. As a Sommelier you are responsible to meet financial expectations of the restaurant. As long as you feel guests are getting the true value of drinking the wine then mark ups are subjective. I have always used a sliding scale with lower percentage mark up on premium wines.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Taste, read, talk and mingle.
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?
Leave a bottle to drink with staff after work.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Pinot Noir – Complex yet rewarding 😉
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?
Australian Riesling – dessert island for sure!
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommeliers.at