The SOMM Journal

October/November 2014

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62 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014 { soul of the sommelier } "IF YOU WANT TO BE A GREAT sommelier, be a great waiter, be a great food runner." Taylor Parsons isn't comfortable with titles—including his own. He says, "Me, I'm just a server." In his world, all these titles come down to one thing: Be great at what you do, whatever that is. And that will take you wherever you want to go. "The mission and excellence of the restaurant is more important that any one person," he says. "Hospitality has been undermined in favor of personality. The leaders in our industry, who are now veri - table brands of their own with 2000 fol- lowers and a 'name', didn't begin that way at all, and aren't that way as profession- als now. They put the wine first. Service first. Raj [Parr], Daniel [Johnnes] and Paul [Grieco] are examples of that. Michael Madrigale is a more recent example. The trouble is that, these days, the young people coming up want to skip all that and go right to the brand." From Jazz to Juice Until very recently, sommelier wasn't a career path; it was something that many discovered while on the way somewhere else. Parsons was no exception. He fol- lowed his first love, music, from his native Taylor Parsons THE WINE DIRECTOR AT RÉPUBLIQUE IN LOS ANGELES FOLLOWS HIS OWN INNER MUSIC by Ted Glennon / photo by Cal Bingham Los Angeles to Madrid before coming home, and eventually coming to wine. Parsons began a love affair with the piano at the age of four (he still plays every day). He will talk about music all day if he can. While impossible to nail down one influential piece of music—Parson's inter - ests and influences are many—he settles on "So What" from Miles Davis's 1959 epic Kind of Blue album. "It's only two chords and a very simple melody with very few notes. It's an open structure." The inherent freedom of the improvisation, he says, is where brilliance flourished. When the adventure of the European tour—small clubs and group gigs—eventu - ally ran its course, Parsons returned to the states. Feeling "aimless," he settled on Tahoe for the skiing and stayed for three years, working at a small local grocery his last season there. Here, he found wine. "I crushed hard," he said. Parsons even - tually moved from retail to wholesale, moving back to Los Angeles and working for a distributor. It was while visiting an account—the landmark of restaurateurs Nancy Silverton, Mark Peel and Manfred Krankl: Campanile—that he convinced manage - ment he could run the wine program. He worked there until 2008. After Campanile, it was a free run: first Spago Beverly Hills, working alongside Chris Miller, MS. Next Parsons reunited with Silverton, joining the team at Osteria Mozza. It was at Mozza that Taylor developed a philosophy of mentorship, working with younger professionals getting their start as sommeliers, focusing on values of hard work, skill, humility and hospitality. Taylor firmly believes that a restaurant is a team sport. While Mozza was a great experi - ence, Taylor had been longing for home. In late fall 2013, Parsons returned to that hallowed space on La Brea Avenue— originally the offices of Charlie Chaplin— assisting with the launch of République as Wine Director. This relatively new, appropriately celebrated restaurant led by Chef Walter Manzke, warms the build - ing that once housed Campanile. Here, Parsons found his ground, creat- ing a wine list driven by the best in the market. It lacks boundaries: wines from Sonoma Coast are next to wines from the Rhône Valley or the Brda (Slovenia), which are next to Sicily and Austria. The offering changes daily; Parsons doesn't list all of the wines available, allowing for the freedom of improvisation to find the right wine for each guest. You might say he's free to just play and let the music guide him. "Me, I'm just a server," says République Wine Director Taylor Parsons.

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