The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 64 of 108

64 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2016 { making it happen } IT'S ONE THING FOR THE OWNER OF A RESTAURANT CALLED Barolo Grill to give his staff a thorough grounding in the wine that inspired the name. It's a whole other thing for him to immerse them in it on a field trip to northern Italy. But that's just what Ryan Fletter does, maintaining an annual tradition begun 20 years ago by his mentor Blair Taylor, the founder of this longtime Denver, Colorado dining destination. An Advanced Sommelier and CWE, Fletter served as the GM/Wine Director of the restaurant—which boasts a bottle list of about 1,800 selec - tions, including numerous verticals of not only Barolo but also Barbaresco and Brunello—for years before taking ownership in 2015. Back in 1995 when the inaugural staff expedition was organized, however, he was a still-green server. It turned out to be a watershed. "When we came back, we all went, 'I get it now. I've been to the wineries, I've seen the vineyards,'" Fletter recalls. "Our two-dimensional knowledge of the list had become three-dimensional, and our service became that much more authentic." Now that he's in charge of the ten-day program, he has the arrangements down to a science. For instance, to acclimate the group to back-to-back tast - ings, he'll start the tour in a "lower-octane" region like Alto Adige—where the wines won't "immediately knock us off our feet"—before moving on to Piedmont and, often, Tuscany. His daily itinerary rarely includes more than two stops so that everyone has a chance to process what they've encoun - tered, be it "a very historic property or a hugely profound personality who's changing the wine w orld." And he's learned to choose lodging based on its convenience; as he points out, "When you've got 15 people who need to do 15 things," easy access to laundromats, pharmacies and so on is key to staying on schedule. Even then, Fletter admits, such an undertaking has its risks. Although staff members purchase their own plane tickets on the theory that "they get more out of it if they contribute, it's still a huge financial investment, with expenses from not only closing down the restaurant but moving everybody through Italy." And while Barolo Grill has managed to establish a culture of passionate employees "who are willing to follow through," there was no guarantee at the outset what the return on its investment would be. Still, Fletter assures, "what we've found for the most part is that this trip invigorates people. They come back genuinely inspired to explore wine with their guests on the floor and sell what they like. Everything naturally falls into place." Ryan Fletter didn't christen Barolo Grill, but he's dedi- cated his life to ensuring that it lives up to its good name. His wine cellar offers 1,800 selections acquired mostly on original release—a quarter of them Barolos, though of course Barbarescos, Brunellos and Super Tuscans abound as well. Verticals stretch back years and even decades. Three-Dimensional Wine Education RYAN FLETTER, OWNER AND WINE DIRECTOR OF BAROLO GRILL IN DENVER, GIVES HIS STAFF A WAY TO MAKE SERVICE "MUCH MORE AUTHENTIC" by Ruth Tobias / photo by Jennifer Olson

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - April / May 2016