The SOMM Journal

February/March 2015

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90 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015 MARIKA VIDA-ARNOLD, WINE DIRECTOR AT THE RITZ-CARLTON ON Central Park South, is uniquely positioned in many ways. First, she's the first female sommelier and wine director at the venerable Ritz- Carlton. Second, a marathoner, her place of employ is directly across the street from the city's most famed 6.2K running loop. And, finally she is the first person to uniquely shape the wine program at the Ritz, dusting off the old guard and creating women-centric wine programs that bring women and men alike into the restaurant. "It was 1,200 bottles when I took it on and now we're at 450," she says. "I inher- ited a very large list of 'auction juice'—every DRC, Chablis, everything in Burgundy and older Rhônes, and a lot of new Pinot. They weren't going to be wines I was ever going to replenish." A former wine auction expert at Sotheby's and Morrell & Co., she has sold off most of the Ritz's wines ten years and older during her seven-year tenure and brought in smaller producers, and has introduced both a by-the-glass program and a dinner series featuring wines made by women. "I need to have high-end and I need to mix it up. I could have the tiniest producer from Terra Alta that makes Garnacha Blanca next to a very big producer—that mix is part of my core," she says. "Now the good deals on my lists are the older wines; we already made our money on them and they're on there for people who love wine and want to understand those wines and they can enjoy them at a better price." But she also has to buy with a mind toward corporate policy (the Ritz-Carlton chain has certain compliance standards for its beverage programs), and the type of clientele predisposed to staying at the legacy hotel. "You don't buy for a hotel the way you buy for Pearl & Ash," she says, referring to the popular downtown restaurant with an acclaimed wine list. "You have to think about more than the restaurant—I could have a prince in town and sell $50K in one night to him in his room." So, for that reason, Vida says "I don't poo-poo the larger Champagne houses, because I think they and [others] can live harmoniously together." Her "Phenomenal Femmes" dinner series taps big names like Laura Catena, Merry Edwards and Véronique Drouhin for tastings and roundtable discussions. "My approach is not to sell out a big room but to have everyone at that table engage with people and feel like they know a château owner and six to eight vintages of wine." Mixing It Up by Lana Bortolot / photo by Doug Young In pursuit of balance: A mother of two, Vida says her life is "from Elmo to enophile. I am the quintes- sential 'mom somm,' and mom comes first." On her personal list: I am a white Burgundy nut . . . from Chablis to the Mâconnais. Love it! Alternate path: I don't get the Jura fascination, but I am crazy for Corsica! Business motto: "Don't ask for permission; beg for forgiveness." Personal motto: As a Canadian with Hungarian ancestry, "weaned on Tokaji" and "What's life without Canadian bacon?" closing time THE SIDE BAR MARIKA VIDA-ARNOLD, WINE DIRECTOR AT THE RITZ-CARLTON NEW YORK, CENTRAL PARK, REFRESHES THE LEGACY HOTEL'S WINE PROGRAM

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