The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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30 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 { real somm stories } IN 2012, JULIE BERGER ASSUMED THE DUTIES OF Wine Director for the Honest Man Restaurants Group, which includes Nick & Toni's Café in New York, and Nick & Toni's, Rowdy Hall, and Townline BBQ in the Hamptons. A Certified Sommelier, who previously worked as floor somm at Jean Georges in Manhattan, Berger realizes full well that with such gigs come more responsi - bilities for wine's business side. "About 30 percent of my time now is office work and inventory," says Berger, with a hint of somberness in her voice. "This job has really exposed me to the business side of the wine industry, and I've grown to appreciate that world. Many things affect your costs. I can appreciate that concept a lot more now, where before, it was more about my personal taste and passion for wine." The majority of Berger's time, however, is spent training staff and working the floor, mostly at Nick & Toni's in East Hampton, as well as tasting wines for coveted spots on one of her lists. Such work in the Hamptons changes little throughout the year, with the obvious exception being the dramatic drop in the volume of diners after summer ends. This yearly low season provides opportunities for enrichment, and for Berger that means getting to know firsthand the world's great wine regions. Having previously toured Italy and Spain, her most recent excursion, in April, took her to Burgundy, the Northern Rhône, Provence, Corsica, and Bordeaux (with a stop in Paris, naturally). "I think travel is one of the most important things you can do as a somm," she says. "Before traveling to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for instance, I'd only heard about the rocky soil. When I actually saw the soil, put my own hands in it, that put things into perspective. The relationships you have with the winemakers—learning why they do the things they do—are very important. And when you can speak with them at their own place, that makes it more special." Upon returning from such trips, Berger conveys to her cus - tomers personal accounts of the people, the traditions and the land behind the wines on her list—on which, Corsican wines, especially Vermentino, have made their appearance. "Abbatucci is among my favorite producers right now. This Vermentino is mineral-driven, crisp and refreshing. Even though it's grown inland at a higher elevation, it still begs for shellfish," she says. Although Berger is already a seasoned traveler, such trips still help convey her out of her comfort zone—making her look at life differently and learning new things from other cultures. Such experiences also help with day-to-day life back home. "In this job, I tend to want to work things out right away, but there are times when impatience is not the answer," she says. "Sometimes the answer isn't ready. I've learned to be patient, sit back and sometimes let the answers come to me." The summer season is far from over, but Berger already has her eye (and her passport) set on a tour of Austria. Because when it comes to wine, she definitely prefers to go and get the answers she needs, rather than just let them come to her within a bottle. Julie Berger by Anthony Head WINE DIRECTOR, HONEST MAN RESTAURANTS GROUP, NEW YORK/THE HAMPTONS BEYOND THE BOTTLE: For Julie Berger's position, a passport isn't required, but it certainly helps. PHOTO: ALANA LELAND

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