Mastering the Art of Wine: An Interview with Aldo Sohm
Can you discuss your journey from Austria to America and how it has influenced your career and personal growth?
I came to America for basically one reason. I was in the midst of competing as a sommelier, and I won, several times, the best sommelier in Austria. But I saw all the top people in the industry living in a foreign country, and fluent in English for international competitions. My English was okay, but not good enough. So obviously that added another layer of complexity and challenge into the already very complicated topic. I recognized that and I thought, I can do that, too. At age 33, the opportunity came up, and I was invited to a wine tasting in Philadelphia called Star Wine. They invited many of the best sommeliers of each country in Europe to go to this blind tasting contest. So I went and luckily enough, my return flight was from JFK, not from Philadelphia.
I went to interview at the restaurant, Wallsé, which a winemaker friend put me in touch with. Funny enough, the chef who interviewed me, said, yeah, but you have a very safe job in Austria, why do you want this? I responded and said, “but what is safe in life if you're bored? I’m 33. If I'm bored for another 30 more years until I retire, that's a long time to be bored. I like the risk.” He offered me the job! It was a small Austrian restaurant in the West Village, which I knew was good. Taking the step from rural Austria to New York was a very big one and I learned a lot about topics I never thought of before. My eyes were opened to the very challenging and interesting topic of immigration. It was a difficult process for me, even as a European, to get a student exchange visa. I had to wait until my passport was stamped with the visa. The first available flight was July 4! I moved to New York City on July 4, 2004, and that's when the tough part started.
I learned right away that everybody who moves to New York City – whether you’re American or not - has a hard time at first…no matter what. I was actually shocked by how hard it was because, again, what did I know? I came from Europe, and I thought, there should be no problem here, right? I was proven wrong…I was told wrong! It was tough because I didn’t have a Social Security number. Even though I came legally, it took a couple of days until I actually got my card. Until then, I felt like I didn't exist. Actually, even with it, I still felt like I didn't exist…because I didn’t have a credit history. I felt like a hamster in a wheel. The faster I ran, the faster that wheel turned. I didn’t go anywhere or do anything. After a long while (weeks and weeks and weeks), I collected my first paycheck at the restaurant, but then I couldn't cash it because I didn't have a bank account! And I couldn't get a bank account. I went to Williamsburg because the cooks I worked with knew a landlord who didn't care about having a social security number. There I made my first key mistake, and I was confronted with crimes from the past. I met with the wife of the [Jewish] landlord and had a sweet conversation in my broken English. But then her daughter and son came in and asked me where I'm from. I said proudly, I'm from Austria! The tone of the conversation changed immediately and it totally blew up in my face. Then, I couldn't pay my first electricity bill. I remember it was $16. And as naive as I was, I went to the bank and tried to do a bank transaction, which was very common in Europe. The teller looked at me, confused and said, “we cash checks here.” But I didn’t have checks because I didn’t have a bank account, and therefore I couldn’t pay my bill. I went to the chef at the restaurant and asked for a favor to write me a check for the $16. In retrospect, it was actually cute… I wish my electric bill was still $16!
What was more important than all of the logistics was how quickly I could pull the switch in my brain and integrate into American culture. Because Americans are different. They have different needs to satisfy. They express themselves differently. My jokes were not funny. Of course, at first, I didn't realize that everything was so foreign. I felt completely unrooted because everyone was so different. I hung out only with Austrians and Germans, even though there's a huge rivalry between us. For reference, it's like Americans and Canadians. I realized I had to integrate, so I started shaping up American friendships, which was not easy!
I eventually started training with the American Sommelier Association for the competitions again. And that actually pushed me further. I was asked to compete, which was a humbling thing because we Europeans taste different than Americans. European sommeliers taste more towards soil, and American sommeliers taste more towards fruit. It’s a totally different technique. Then I was asked to teach. One of my earlier trainers told me the best way to study was to teach because when you teach, you receive questions you've never even thought of. I learned the most with teaching because the questions were often so basic that it was painful… it completely unhinged me and shaped me.
Of course, adapting to a new culture, exploring different foods through friends with different ethnicities (Chinese, Korean, etc). It’s basic stuff for Americans, right? But for me as a European fresh from Austria, it wasn't. I would study the menus of different cultures when I went out. I had no idea what to order, so I would discover so much from my friends. And with wine, you exchange. I learned through the influences of others and got more and more into different cultures. I was shocked by how many “rights” really can exist on any one topic. Multiple people can be correct depending on the different angles people come from.
Another interesting topic in the industry is how flat the hierarchy system here is. In my job, I have access to the greatest and smartest minds in the world based on who comes to my table - bankers, lawyers, military personnel, you name it. Funny enough, they all drink wine and they want to talk! So, the crazy thing about New York is how you end up building this insane network. Even though you're on an island, you can build a network that goes all around the globe. For example, I’ll meet people in Rome, and then coincidentally see them again in New York, so I end up scheduling dinner with them. It's an incredible, powerful feeling. Power may not be the right word, but it's an incredible feeling. I see this only in New York. And at first it might seem very shallow, but it's not. It's New York. Networking has shaped me quite a bit. I build relationships, connect people to other people, and then my circle gets stronger and stronger. I’ve learned that it is important to treat everyone nicely and get along with them. You never know whether the person you meet today could be your boss in two years!
New York City welcomes you with open arms if you bring it, but if you don't bring it, it's a merciless city. It literally sucks you dry and spits you out and then you're OUT. It's not like Sex in the City. Europeans watch that show and they have this fantasy. That's not the case here. It's a tough battle. It's constant competition. And it's a little bit like you're constantly sharpening your knife, no matter how old you are. Seniority is an interesting term, and not applicable here. You're only as good as your last choice. If you screw up, you're out. I’ve lived here now for 19 years, but there's always someone who is better and faster than me. That has really shaped me as a human because I started to love the competition. I need the competition in order to stay on top of my game. When you don't have competition, the show is over. It’s hard work, which can be a little bit of a challenge for private relationships because they clearly suffer. But that's just what it is…you have to tuck your head down, keep going and make smart decisions.
How has your Austrian heritage shaped your approach to wine and your appreciation of nature?
This is an interesting question. Austria in general is a very green country - - organic, biodynamic farming. It's now a catchy term in terms of PR as well, but it's something which is rather normal in Austria. We protect our environment. For me as an Austrian, I come with the mindset of longevity. I don't necessarily look for the short-term gain, which is very different than in New York. It can be a blessing and it can be a curse. You have to have a certain flexibility and well, appreciation for nature here in New York. There's not much nature here except in Central Park and a couple of trees when you walk down on the sidewalk. But it just makes you appreciate it more. When I go back to Austria now, I can really appreciate nature it in full bloom. I look for that when I travel. New Yorkers work a lot because we are “machines” that have to perform. It’s important to put the right fuel into your machine - a healthy fuel. I’ve seen when I travel through rural America how many fast-food restaurants and how many obese people there are. When I look at it from a nutritional aspect, these people are starving, which is actually the shocking part. I'm not saying this from a judgmental point of view, just an observation. I always travel with the mindset of a five-year-old, rather than judging and constantly comparing, which is completely pointless. I take everything in and just experience. I share this point of view with Europeans quite a bit who come to New York, I tell them to stop constantly comparing black with white because it never works. There are so many different cultures in America that it it’s impossible to keep up. You need to adapt and feel it. Not everything will be good, but you cherry-pick what works and you learn. I always look at how others approach problems and how they celebrate certain things because it's very different from me. To tell a little story for example: I travelled to Montana with my best friend, and we met someone who carried a gun with him. My Austrian friend asked him if he carried it for protection from the bears. The guy said no, if you shoot a bear, you go to jail. This led to massive confusion and I could literally see the two cultures clashing and them each not understanding one another. I ended up stepping in and sort of translating between them. Those are the situations where I learn the most. We were up in Glacier National Park, and while the nature looks similar to Austria, I know an American feels very differently about a bear than a European, so for us, this was the most majestic thing. Needless to say, you don't want to have a grizzly encounter on close proximity. The same thing about integrating into new cultures applies with bears – when you’re in bear territory, you're in their home, not the other way around.
As a successful entrepreneur in the wine industry, what key factors have contributed to your achievements, and what advice do you have for aspiring wine entrepreneurs?
You need to train nonstop and must be very passionate about what you do. You need to be very dedicated and you need to be very thorough. But in another sense, you need to have also certain flexibility in your mind. You need to be able to readjust very quickly and constantly have to recognize your market value. I never looked at the comfortable position. I always liked challenging positions. I was never good at easy jobs. I always liked the challenging jobs. I was happy when the easy jobs were gone, and I'm pretty sure the easy jobs were happy when I was gone, for sure. Because I don't like to be bored. I like to be challenged. That's why I live in NYC too, and I do this day by day and I find it exhilarating. Other people might be exhausted by it, but for me, this is fun. It’s an absolute cyclist mindset. The harder it gets, the better it is.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of working with a Michelin-starred restaurant like Le Bernardin, and how has it shaped your career?
Le Bernadin is like the Formula One. If you don't bring it, you're out - simple as that. You have to perform every day at 110% - 99 is not good enough because you'll receive a complaint. So that changes you as a human, because every weak spot of a restaurant is the consistency, and we humans are everything but consistent. It becomes almost like a robotic mindset where you literally shut off your personal feelings. For example, if I had an argument in the morning with my wife, or I had a headache because I drank too much the night before, it’s not the client’s problem. If I can’t shut it off, then I can’t perform in the way I need to perform. If I perform poorly, my team will perform that way as well, and that is something that I cannot afford. So that shapes me nonstop.
On another note, I like good food, and I have become very picky and spoiled by Le Bernadin. Eating fish elsewhere is becoming a challenge, which is obviously a first world problem to have!
What’s unique about Le Bernadin is we have very high-profile clients, clients from all different cultures and backgrounds, and we have also clients who had to save a year to afford their special meal. And that's actually what I love. Every table, every situation is different. And as a result, it changed my attitude towards clients because I have to try to live every day like it has is a reset button. I enjoy routine because it can be perfected and tuned. I have my routine, which I know I can run down, but on the same token, every situation is different. Every client is different. There are certain clients who are a little bit more demanding and they have a funny nickname at Le Bernadin… they’re called “Friends of Aldo.” I tell my team all the time, “Guys, just because one person is a little bit more challenging, demanding, you don't have to show them that because they're very well aware of that themselves.” For example, I recently had four young people, and I knew their father. They tortured their sommelier for ten minutes to get a wine order. The sommelier came back to me and was ready to tear out his hair. He said, “I don't know. I have nothing. Can you go there? Because they're just asking for you now.” I went to the table and after 1 minute, I went back and I told him I was sorry it took so long, they wanted a selfie too! He was completely perplexed. I said, look, you have to read the client. Listen, I am here to service the client, and as long as they are not happy, I do not give up. I am relentless and open up all my heart and give it to them. When you consider that, it's easy, right? It's easy. The challenging clients are my most loyal clients. I just look at it from a different perspective. And that's what I love, to just cater to people - - all people. Every situation is different, and that shapes you as a person because you go into different personal interactions
Another thing I've learned, is that when people get better and better and better and better at something, the only thing they can talk about is the profession of their field. If they talk to a regular civilian, they are unable to have a ten-sentence conversation. I think that's a new sign of poverty. You have to be able to talk to everyone, and that's exactly what my profession shapes. One of the advantages of working in a Michelin starred restaurant is the possibility to build an incredible network among CEO's and people at the top of their industry around the globe and from all different backgrounds. My advantage here is I get to get to connect with them and they reach out to me for wine advice. I have access to the smartest minds in the world and I often receive free advice from them.
How do you perceive the new generation of winemakers and vineyards embracing sustainable practices, such as focusing on soil health, biodynamics, and organic farming? How do you think these approaches will shape the future of the wine industry?
The world of wine is ever-evolving, and winemakers are often seeking the next trend to strategically position themselves. I approach this with caution as trends come and go. Needless to say, I must stay on top of my game, constantly researching. I genuinely enjoy discovering new producers, exploring different regions, or delving into producers who have reinvented themselves. While we frequently explore new producers, it is crucial to emphasize that in places, for instance, in Spain, many are delving into history, revisiting and revitalizing old vineyards and grape varietals. They are crafting wines in the same manner as their ancestors, and I find this aspect almost more fascinating than simply searching for the next new wine. One thing that is abundantly clear in the realm of wine is experience is one of the most crucial elements. It allows you to connect your existing knowledge and continually expand it with new information or updates. Over time, there has been an evolution from conventional farming practices, which sometimes involved excessive use of pesticides and chemicals in the vineyard. Despite these historical practices, today's vineyards, where such practices are not permitted, thrive and produce beautiful results. I've turned everything off, so there's no interference coming through. But to answer your question, of course I'm in favor of sustainable farming, or organic farming or biodynamic farming. However, I don't solely concentrate on that aspect and avoid adopting a purely tribal attitude towards it. Producing wine involves a complexity that goes beyond a singular focus. In the industry, I’ve observed an emerging dichotomy between conventional wines and natural wines. This movement is gaining traction, and although natural wines, in particular, can be a divisive topic, they are continually improving. This trend is especially noticeable in the post-pandemic world, evident in the evolving price dynamics, increasing rarity, and growing demand for these wines. Consequently, this results in higher prices.
Can you discuss the role of cycling in your life and how it connects to your passion for wine and nature?
Cycling became a very important role in my life because it helps to contribute to my health and to a very peaceful mindset. I started cycling in 2014 mainly because I was getting sick every five to six weeks and my doctor told me to find a hobby. I started spinning in the gym until I looked outside on one of those rare New York spring days - - the sun was shining, the weather was just picture perfect and there I was sitting in a dark room with a guy yelling at me. The next day I went to a local bike store in Brooklyn and purchased the bike. Funny enough, the store manager's name was Aldo and I thought this had to be a higher sign somehow. After my second ride I was completely hooked and I discovered a new passion. I immediately saw the changes reflected on my health and now nine years and five bikes later, I’ve only been sick a couple of times. There is a direct correlation between taking care of your body and your health. As my boss, Eric Ripert says, “if you take care of yourself, you are able to take care of others…but if you don't take care of yourself you cannot take care of others.” I often cycle to work which is 15 kilometers there and 15 kilometers back. We have a perfect setup at the restaurant where I can safely park my bike, and visit a gym one floor up to refresh. Then I go to the restaurant excited! Another element I discovered with age that you can't just indulge in eating and drinking without consequences. Incorporating some physical exercise into the mix not only keeps things in check but surprisingly enhances the enjoyment of both food and wine. I also take pleasure in cycling across Europe, whether it's conquering the Stelvio Pass or exploring the Dolomites. This year, I undertook the Ötztaler Cycling Marathon, a significant challenge that required thorough preparation. I enlisted the expertise of Helmut Dolinger, a professional cycling trainer from Team Bora Hansgrohe, and collaborated with a trainer from my gym to ensure I was well-prepared for this adventure. Throughout this training, you naturally become more attuned to the finer details and in sync with your body. You pay closer attention to what you eat and drink, striving for better choices. I must admit, as a sommelier, I've noticed many people opting to cut out alcohol entirely. While I harbor no illusions about becoming a pro cyclist – that ship has sailed – I still relish a glass of wine with my meal, no matter what. Life isn't about extremes for me; it's about finding a healthy balance. Even though tackling a cycling marathon isn't extreme in itself, I always seek that equilibrium and ensure I never lose the joy of it. Cycling in the Alps is just something truly magical and I became so in tune with the elements whether it was the sun with the heat or with the rain and cold. Don’t get me wrong, it can be miserable and you can suffer and it can hurt, but it motivates you to connect with other riders. Somehow it always works. To me it serves as a type of yoga or meditation because it’s all about focusing on breathing. On top of that, when I cycle the whole day, I don't feel guilty when I have a 5-course tasting menu with some wine!
For those new to the world of wine, what are some essential tips for learning about and experiencing wine in a meaningful way?
That's such a great question. You know, everyone has to kind of find their own way…their own rhythm and their own pace. In New York everything is so fast moving and intense that sometimes people just try to impress. Ultimately to me, the most important thing is to enjoy, have a great time and feel good. Less is often more. I enjoy just connecting with people from different backgrounds and learning from them over a glass of wine. You always learn from different opinions whether you agree with them or not. I think the one or two glasses of wine takes off the edge of that kind of barrier between people! It’s so much better than just going to a market and buying the products to explore on your own. This past August, for instance, when tomatoes came into season, I found myself already contemplating the perfect wine to pair with them. Whether I'm engrossed in my passion for cycling or navigating through long working days, I expend a significant amount of energy. Eventually, I recognize the need to replenish that energy, and for me, this is a key aspect of the quality of life—enjoying a good meal accompanied by a fine glass of wine.
What qualities do you believe make someone a true wine expert, and how has your own journey in the industry informed this perspective?
A true wine expert has an understanding about fine wine. But more importantly they have an ability to taste analytically. What I mean by that is the ability to pull a switch in your brain and turn personal preferences off and just taste the quality of the wine. As a professional, this is key because personally, I don't like every wine! For example, I don't creamy, buttery, heavy oaked Chardonnay, but I have a lot of clients who love that and I can’t discriminate….so I still buy them. As I so often say, the fish has to like the bait, not the fishermen. This is actually a topic which becomes increasingly difficult when you switch back and forth between conventional wine and natural wine. The reason why I say this is because they are two totally different worlds and I still tried to connect them. The only way for me to do this is to follow my mood. I'm not always in the mood for a steak every day; sometimes, I just crave simple sushi. The same goes for wine; I like to mix it up. I play this back and forth as well. I try to maintain an open mindset, putting myself in the position of a 5-year-old—avoiding constant judgment and focusing on experiencing things instead.
In the world of wine, what are some clichés or misconceptions that you would like to dispel?
The world of wine is full of misconceptions, especially in a post-pandemic world where people have started drinking more brands and look specifically for brands. I often observe a common perception: when a wine is expensive, consumers tend to assume it's of high quality. Conversely, when I offer a relatively inexpensive wine, I frequently encounter questions questioning its quality due to its affordability. This phenomenon is not unlike what occurs in the realms of fashion and luxury goods. However, one has to look beyond the bottle and the label itself and taste just to taste. Considering the current value of Amazon stock in 2023, I reflect on its stock from 2010. I'm certain that back in 2010, some investors posed similar questions that are no longer relevant today. It's relatively straightforward to invest in high-value stocks or purchase expensive wines. However, the real challenge lies in identifying an affordable wine with substantial value, one that is undervalued yet delicious.
Aside from the more common misconceptions or myths, such as cork versus screw cap wine, light bottle versus heavy bottle, or a good-looking label versus a regular-looking label, we should never forget that wine is an agricultural product. A fun fact is that during the pandemic, we had a lot of time to learn, leading to an improvement in our drinking habits. Now, wine has transitioned into a lifestyle product.
What drives your passion for wine and your work, and what motivates you to get up every morning and continue on this journey?
I'm a very fortunate person that I fell in love with wine in a very early stage of my life managed to turn it into my job. I enjoy experiencing and discovering new wines and I work with a great chef who became my partner now. I'm surrounded by the best people in this industry who push me daily to improve on my shortcomings. All of this doesn’t let me fall into a “routine”. However, I want to point out that having a routine can be an absolutely fabulous thing when you know how to master it in your mind. This is somewhat like with Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers book with his 10,000-hour rule. Although I may not entirely agree with the concept of spending exactly 10,000 hours to master success in a field, the underlying principle holds merit. What appears easy is often the result of considerable effort invested to make it seem effortless. It's crucial to recognize that a routine can simplify your life, allowing you to focus on the essential elements of your work. Instead of being preoccupied with every small detail, it's more effective to concentrate on the specific requirements of each day and what the client seeks in various situations. In a restaurant setting, adherence to a single rule is impractical, as each situation and client is unique—ranging from a business meeting one day to a personal visit with a spouse the next.
I find joy in the perpetual challenge that not only motivates and excites me but also pushes me to explore the world of wine continually. I'm always on the lookout for new wines, evaluating which ones are currently at their peak, identifying those experiencing a lull, and discerning the value of each. I am intrigued by the interplay of wines—some potentially overvalued, others undervalued—and how each complements specific dishes. This curiosity propels me daily.
Moreover, witnessing fellow sommeliers striving for excellence when I'm out and about humbles me. Observing the skill and expertise of others motivates me to work even harder. This appreciation for competition serves as a constant sharpening of my skills, akin to honing a knife, ensuring that I continue to refine and elevate my craft.
How do you stay connected to your roots and maintain a sense of rootedness while working in a global industry like wine?
I'm originally from Austria, but managed to establish myself in in New York, which has become my second home. As we all know, there is no place like home and in my case I have two very different homes which I enjoy both tremendously. I stay connected to both countries daily. Every day I read Austrian and German news to stay connected with my original home. Of course, I also read US news and I love watching late night TV! I love the way it brings witty humor into current events.
Something I learned in New York very quickly was that saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ pretty much opens every door. A rule I always follow personally is to never forget where I came from. No matter in which part of the world you live in, you have to integrate into the local culture. I love that I can still comfortably think like a European and an American. I have always found joy in studying cultures, deciphering their nuances to better understand the clients before me. This ability allows me to connect effortlessly, particularly in the context of the wine industry, enabling me to cater to each client with precision and offer them the perfect experience.
Can you share some insights about your book, "Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide from a World-Class Sommelier," and what inspired you to write it?
Wine can be awfully intimidating and I see this on a daily basis at the restaurant and at the wine bar. Both are very different worlds. At Le Bernardin I often feel a little bit like Alice in Wonderland because I get to try the craziest rarest and most expensive wine in the world on a daily basis and then I walk over to the wine bar and get to try also the simple chianti or muscadet. I enjoy tiptoeing back and forth because it gives me the entire picture as a sommelier. I am not a writer. I am a sommelier who works on the floor with clients on a daily basis. As a result, I see people’s fears and their intimidation surrounding wine. Being an old, white, sommelier dressed in a tuxedo with the tastevin doesn't really help the intimidation factor! People often just ask for what they know - a simple glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s my job to work with these victims of intimidation. That’s why I wrote the book to be one simple reference guide to reach people and help demystified the world of wine and break it down into simple “bites” of information, while adding a bit of my personal story in. People see me as a top sommelier who is constantly drinking fancy wine, but it started with a simple Bacardi cola. If I can do it, everybody can do it! It just takes a little bit of passion, interest, curiosity and the ability to surround yourself with people who are better than you in the field. Wine Simple is a crazy success story - it's one of the two bestselling wine books in the United states and it has been translated into six other languages- English, German, Korean, Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese, and Polish(coming this year). For a little guy growing up in rural Austria, this is quite humbling!
How do you see the role of a sommelier as similar to that of an investor, particularly in terms of serving founders and guests in the service industry?
This is a newer phenomenon. I actually just looked at an excel sheet for a client of mine who will buy wine for folks in the finance industry. I looked at the performance of the wines I chose for him in the last six years and told him, “Darn it, I should have charged you more money - my stock portfolio didn't perform like this!” What’s worse is he gave me a hard time when I told him to buy inexpensive wines… isn't that ironic? For me, there's the craftsmanship side, but also thinking about wine as an agricultural product and I still struggle a little bit to see this as an investment purpose. I have many clients who often come to me and ask me to buy wine for them. I told someone recently that I don't really like to do this. I have friends who are much better at it because they are just more passionate about it. I want to stay focused at the restaurant and the wine bar. He kept insisting that he only wanted me because other people look at him, see that he is successful and only give him the most expensive thing they can offer. He said that with me, he gets wines that he has never heard of that appeal to his palette instead of his wallet. Ultimately, it’s about trust. I don’t focus on trying to sell the most expensive thing. Instead, I look for at the individual person what and try to meet their needs. Clients see that I don't take advantage them and that builds trust.
What are some commonalities between being a founder in a startup and producing wine, and how do these shared aspects influence your approach to both fields?
This is a tricky question! To build a business you have to stay on top of it constantly.
The challenging aspect of working with wine is that nature doesn't always align with business preferences, requiring constant adaptation to what is presented. Nevertheless, you meet various individuals, share daily challenges, consider how wines also present challenges. Contemplate the taste of a freshly opened bottle, how it evolves after 10 minutes, and then after an hour, with the final sip often proving to be the most enjoyable. Similar to human experiences, the context matters—whether I'm in a good or bad mood influences how I perceive the same wine. It's essential to acknowledge as a business owner that, like us, wines are greatly influenced by emotions, and understanding this is crucial for success.
As you look to the future, what are your personal and professional goals, and how do you envision the wine industry evolving over the next decade?
That is the $1,000,000 question! I don't know. Especially in the post pandemic world wherever we are in a transitional time it is tricky to answer. I will remain a Sommelier, as well as the ambassador for Zalto glasses in the US. I’ll build up my winery, Sohm & Kracher, which is a joint venture between me and the Kracher winery. I'll also continue to build out my social media platform. Every Wednesday is #winefactswednesday where I produce content for Wine Simple to help people feel less intimidated with wine.
In a previous podcast, you mentioned that a good sommelier serves what makes people happy, like providing Veuve Clicquot if that's what the customer prefers, and that it's essential to combine comfort and education in a collaborative way rather than taking a top-down approach. Can you discuss how this mindset helps to engage people, enhance learning experiences, and build a strong sense of community within the world of wine?
This comment got quite some attention! I was in a group of 10 top sommeliers in America and they all gave me a hard time for saying Veuve Clicquot instead of something on Le Bernardin’s menu. I explained that it is important to first establish a relationship by giving the client what they ask for instead of burning a bridge by not listening and offering something they are unfamiliar with and did not ask for. I would rather happily serve them Veuve Clicquot and make sure they have a great time and come back to the restaurant 2-3 times. On the next trip, when we have a relationship, I would then introduce something new and adventurous. Like I said earlier, the fish has to like the bait not the fishermen. It is key that you read the client, take your own ego back and give them what they want. I like to put myself in the client’s shoes. I don’t always want to have an 8 course tasting menu with the wine pairing. Sometimes I just look for a simple beer and I'm happy!