WineInk: Going to the source
Aspen-based restaurateur and bar impresario Jimmy Yeager gazed at the prolific collection of bottles behind his bar at Jimmy’s, An American Restaurant and Bar and said, “I think it would be cool if I could have a bar and a restaurant that only poured spirits and wines from places that I have been to.”
Fun indeed, but to even consider such a project takes extreme imagination and commitment. For some spots, the concept would be pure folly.
Who in the hospitality business closes shop and takes the time to travel the world to places where whisky, rum, or mezcal are made? Not to mention going on the road to hopscotch wine regions in places like Napa, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Australia’s Barossa or the Mendoza in Argentina.
But for many high-end, specialty eateries, it is important to go to the source. To meet the people who make the wines and spirits, to walk the vineyards, or taste the grains and smell the “angel’s share” in the distilleries, is a critical part of the hospitality experience.
More and more you’re finding sommeliers, bartenders, even servers who are booking their vacation time and taking trips to the high temples and sacred grounds of cuisine and wine.
“It’s hugely important for theoretical knowledge to actually see the cross at Romanée-Conti (a premier AOC region in Burgundy) for example,” said Greg Van Wagner, the beverage director at Jimmy’s, who took a group trip to France and Italy with Yeager and his staff last October. “It just gives you a sense of place that you can communicate to your guests. It helps tell the story.”
FRASCA HITS THE ROAD
In Boulder, Colorado, Frasca Food and Wine specializes in the cuisine and wines from one region, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in northeastern Italy. When partners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson opened in 2004, it was a relatively obscure place for most American consumers, even confirmed food and wine aficionados. But over the last decade the beauty of the region and the joys of its rustic, yet elegant wines and food have become loved by Italia-philes, in part because the Frasca staff has spread the word.
“Originally at Frasca, when we had a smaller team, we would close the restaurant and take the entire team to Friuli-Venezia Giulia,” Stuckey explained when he was asked why it was important for his staff get an up close and personal appreciation of the region. “It was a great time for our staff to see, taste and experience firsthand what we meditated so much on in the restaurant.”
The knowledge gained helps not just the staff, but transfers to Frasca’s customers as well. “It is so great for staff who go there. They can better articulate what the region is, who the people are and why we’re inspired by it, to our guests,” said Stuckey.
While the once yearly treks have been reduced in number, the staff still heads east. “Having since outgrown the ability to take the entire staff at once, now when Lachlan and I go over to work on Scarpetta and other projects, we will try and take an employee with us.”
TRAVELS WITH JIMMY
Last fall, Jimmy Yeager took seven members of his team on a wine trip to some of the most hallowed vineyards in Europe. “We had some construction going on and so we closed down and hopped on a plane to France,” Yeager said. “It’s pretty much the best class you can have. But it is much more than education. Basically, you can turn people on to what they really enjoy drinking and tasting.”
“It was amazing,” said Van Wagner. “We flew to Paris, picked up a car and the next morning we were standing atop a hill overlooking Les Clos vineyard in Chablis with Frédéric Drouhin.”
Over the next 23 days, they perused 2.4 miles of underground caves and tunnels in Champagne, dined in Bordeaux among the biodynamic vines of Château Palmer with winemaker Thomas Duroux and climbed the hilly vineyard lands in Piemonte.
Oh, and they took a balloon trip over Burgundy before visiting the cellars they saw from on high.
Each of the wineries they visited has wines on the list at Jimmy’s, and each of the seven travelers can tell guests stories about those wines and the people who make them. “Pretty much, if we carry it you’ll find a bartender or server who has been there,” chuckles Yeager.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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