The SOMM Journal

February / March 2016

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Page 107 of 132

{ }  107 IT TAKES A LEAP OF FAITH AND A considerable amount of talent to taste barrel samples and envision a finished wine, one that's going to carry the name of your restaurant and be offered to a knowledgeable clientele alongside the cuisine of a Michelin-starred chef. For Paul Einbund, Beverage Director for San Francisco's recently-opened Octavia and wildly successful Frances, now in its sixth year, quality may be the driver behind his Next Level House Wine program, but access is the key to his success. While riding shotgun with Einbund on our way to St. Helena to taste bar- rel samples with Failla winemaker Ehren Jordan and his assistant winemaker Savanna Wright, he shed some light on the risks and rewards of developing a custom house- wine program. His first foray into creating house-wine blends began at Frances, where he opted for wine on tap, a style of service that suited Chef Melissa Perello's cuisine and the restaurant's footprint. "I started small and blind-tasted as many as 40 lots before deciding on the first two blends," he said. "When we blew through 30 cases of red in the first few months of offering the wines at Frances, I knew we had a hit." At Octavia, with more space devoted to bottle storage and a chef 's table that seats 12, he decided to take his program to the "next level" and forgo wine on tap for bottles. "Kegs require vigilant maintenance and the addition of more sulfur to the wines" he said. "We actually found the sweet spot to be 32 ppm free SO 2 ." With the hunt for house wine #8 underway, the task of evaluating a handful of single-vineyard Zinfandels and a Petite Sirah seemed particularly encouraging since winemaker Ehren Jordan's previous gig was sourcing and making wine with Helen Turley, one of the most sought-after Zinfandel names in the business. Failla is best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and while Jordan considers his Zinfandel lots to be experimental, his knowledge of the sites and his relationship with the growers is long-standing. Einbund who prefers to taste blind leaves the note taking to me but of the four vineyards – Gore in Alexander Valley, Sommer and El Diablo in Dry Creek Valley and Grist in Russian River – Grist is the site he's most familiar with. "Zinfandel has been the red-headed stepchild of the industry," said Jordan who pays particular attention to picking deci- sions and treats it more like Pinot Noir in the cellar. "There's a need for more artisanal Zinfandel production." The wines are dry or very close to it, and their pri- mary fruit is showing unrestrained with little or no secondary influence apparent from neutral barrels. Sommer is old-vine material as is El Diablo, a field blend of its own with varieties that include Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Carignan and the Spanish white variety Palomino, which shows markers of nutmeg and white pepper. "When I'm tasting, I'm thinking of a menu," said Einbund. "And if I decide to blend, I blend for the seasons with the intention of having a versatile white and red for the menu." With alcohols hover- ing around 14, crisp acidity and medium tannins, even in their infancy these wines are seemingly complete. Their finishing touches will be derived from six months of undisturbed rest. "The harder you push them, the less interesting they are," observed Jordan. Although Einbund will taste again in June prior to bottling, he's already zeroed in on a blend of the Grist and Gore lots with a percentage of El Diablo for Octavia's fall/ winter menu. Never one to rest on his laurels, Einbund seems to have even more enthusiasm for his craft than the first time I saw him work- ing the floor at Coi. He made headlines when he sold his interest to Chef Daniel Patterson to open Frances, one of the City's first neighborhood restaurants to emphasize locally-sourced ingredients, with Perello. Frances quickly won the hearts and appetites of the neighborhood clientele and soon became a Michelin-starred des- tination of its own. Perello didn't rush to expand, she opened Octavia with Einbund's expertise in 2015 and was awarded a Michelin 2016 star for her efforts. His track record littered with stars, Einbund is closing in on his next venture, The Morris, slated for the site of the long-running Slow Club. Keys will soon be jingling in his hand and he's envisioning a carefully curated bar program built on rare spirits and 20 different Chartreuse-style liqueurs, quite possibly the country's larg- est selection. "I developed a mild obses- sion with them while traveling in France with my wife Vanessa." As we part ways, Einbund puts a bottle of his own label, Seam, a dry-farmed Barbera from the Barnum vineyard in El Dorado, in my hands. "2013 was a spec- tacular vintage, I'm really quite proud of it." And rightly so. Einbund has a nose for quality but points to access as the key to the success of his program. Failla winemaker Ehren Jordan treats Zinfandel more like Pinot Noir in the cellar.

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