The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2014

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 37 of 117

36  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2014 BEHIND THE SCENES WITH FRED DAME Fred Dame: Chris, you came to California as the Vintern at The French Laundry and now you are the Wine Director at Gary Danko. How time flies when you are having fun! This is an icon: spectacular cuisine, a history of talented sommeliers. What really makes it special for you? Chris Gaither: Everybody on the team cares. They care about every aspect of a great hospitality experience. The kitchen, the waitstaff and, of course, Gary are highly committed to excel- lence. We have a very talented and experienced crew. You came in here following some great somm talent, Jeff Anderson, Christie Dufault, Jason Alexander, Renee- Nicole Kubin. So what is the mark that Chris Gaither is going to put on the wine program at Gary Danko? I want to make sure guests feel empowered when they are handed our wine list, instead of feeling discouraged and afraid. One way to do this is to make the list of over 3,000 wines more approachable. The other step involves mentoring my sommelier team as well as the other mem- bers of the staff who are expressing an interest in learning more about wine. OK, I agree with you. But how many of the wines on the list could the average person identify? A fair amount. I would venture that at least a third of the wines on the list are recognizable to the experienced diner. That's a big number for a wine list of this caliber. I appreciate that about what you have created. While I love the discourse in the service of wine, some don't. I think they want a comfort zone. The eclectic and wild are a lot of fun, but they are hand-sell items. Exactly; we want our guests never to feel intimidated or oversold. There is a group of wine directors out there that feel that their mission is to educate the consumer. I think this is a dangerous philosophy. If people want to ask questions, fine; but if you're going to stand there and proselytize, well, check please. I totally agree. While I always want people to learn more about what they are drinking I also understand that wine is something to simply be enjoyed. For some, that enjoyment involves not talking about it. In an ideal situation, my team and I would inspire people to reach out for information. So training must be of the utmost importance. I can imagine the standard here is very high. Do the somme- liers serve all the wine ordered? No, the staff serves the wine. We have a very intricate and thorough online training program. They'll know all the wines by the glass and there are descriptors for the wines on the list. So how many wine orders a night? Do the sommeliers take all the orders? The sommeliers serve the majority of the wine; however, many of our servers are also certified sommeliers. If we are busy, and someone needs help, they are happy to step up and test their skills. Everyone benefits from this—our guests feel their needs have been met without having to wait for a sommelier; the servers have a chance to learn and experi- ence something new. Well, let's have a glass of wine to celebrate. We are drinking of one the loveliest Cabernet Sauvignons from Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, the 2009 Schweiger. Delicious, and what a wonderful family! I love the flavor and profile of this wine. It has outstanding depth and balance, and what a finish! I agree, Fred. Schweiger represents to me a very important ideal: that you can still have a small family operation produc- ing excellent wines and enjoying great success. What is one of your top goals? My real passion is to make service, if you will, ridiculously enjoyable for every patron that walks through that door. A Conversation with Christopher Gaither Wine Director, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco Fred Dame, Master Sommelier, VP of Prestige Accounts, American Wine & Spirits of California (a division of SW&S) (right), with Chris Gaither. photos by John Curley

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - August 2014