The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

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Page 99 of 140

april 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  99 Fred Dame: Courtney, we just finished our MS Tasting Group. How did it go today? Courtney Humiston: It was a great challenge today. I'm always the weak link! Weak link? There's no sympathy vote here. You did just fine. It's always a learning experience tasting blind. Speaking of which, let's celebrate with the lovely bottle of Schlumberger Pinot Gris "Les Princes Abbes" 2012. I just love Alsatian wines and this one is a gem! This was a fun wine to taste blind. It's kind of neutral, but also very nuanced: stone fruits, white flowers . . . we argued about the acidity. It seemed very soft to me. It's so delicious; you don't want to analyze it, you just want to drink it! I feel better already! So, how long have you been with the legendary Charlie Palmer here in beautiful Healdsburg? I've been here just over a year, 14 months. I absolutely love what I do. What percentage of the wine on your list are Sonoma Appellation? One hundred percent. It's a great opportunity to dig deep into the region. We have the largest collection of Sonoma County wines in the world, I'm sure: over 600 selections. However, some local winemakers asked me to bring in some other wines . . . Aha! So the "Super Secret Not Sonoma" Reserve List! (Laughing) Sort of. But when I told Charlie what I wanted to do his comment was, "Oh, like the In-N-Out Burger Animal Style Menu." So we call it the Animal Style Selections. What percentage of your clientele is local? It's really difficult to say. It very much depends on the season. But overall, I would say 25 percent. We also have a large number of what we call "local tourists." These are people from California that want the wine country experi- ence without the gridlock of Napa Valley. How is the cuisine? Anything new? We have a new Chef! His name is Andrew Wilson. The new menu rolled out March 1. His style is fresh, simple and vibrant—fully embracing Sonoma County flavors. How many covers a night? Give me the high and the low. Again, it depends on the season. A cold winter night, let's say 40 diners. On a busy night, I would venture 140. We have a great patio that overlooks the Plaza, so that is popular when the weather is nice. Wine list changes? I am changing the wines by the glass to better reflect Andrew's style, and in particular the seasonal flavors of his dishes. Also, I've been working for the past year to grow our single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay selections. I pick a vineyard I love and feature a handful of producers who make wine from that vineyard. It's a great way to explore the region. I'm also building some older verticals. Interesting. It almost sounds like Burgundy. But no Napa wines? No, no Napa wines. Do your servers have a lot of tenure? We have a great team right now. I'm very pleased. They all love wine and many are really interested in different varietals. So I let them be assistant buyers. They're always coming up with new wines and ideas. We spend a lot of time tasting. Wine is a conversation at this restaurant. Not only for the team, but our guests as well. Do you do wine and food pairing menus? Of course. Chef and I talk about it every night. We also involve the staff. We do all of our wine service tableside, which gives us the flexibility to cater pairings to guest's preferences . . . and pour fun, random things I happen to have open. Pigs and Pinot is coming up next weekend. A lot of tickets available? Right, Fred. It sells out in under five minutes. A great charity event and the celebrity chefs and somms that join us bring a lot of energy to the restaurant and the town. I see a lot of large format bottles surrounding us. Are they for show? Absolutely not. In fact, every week we do something I call Large Format Friday: A local winemaker brings in special big bottles from his or her library and we pour it by the glass. It's really fun and a great way for the staff and guests to meet the winemakers. What keeps Courtney awake at night? Is there something in the world of wine we need to change? Fred, I sleep just fine. But I have a real problem with mass produced wines that are just beverages . . . Wine should have a soul.

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