The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

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Page 31 of 119

32 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2014/2015 { the gatekeepers } THE RUN-AWAY SUCCESS OF THE WINE program at luxury Silicon Valley retreat Rosewood Sand Hill and its Madera res - taurant was never anticipated. But with $4 million in sales annually between the 130-seat restaurant and 121-room hotel, a closer look at the best practices of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts Director of Wine Paul Mekis is warranted. As director of wine for one of the three luxury hotels brands under the umbrella of Hong Kong–based Rosewood Hotel Group, Mekis oversees the wine programs for 14 of the company's ever-expanding portfolio of 19 properties. By 2018, the hotel group, which opened a five-star property in Beijing in October, will have 30 resorts, including the Hotel Crillon in Paris and Dubai next year. When he took the helm at Sand Hill in 2009, Mekis was underwhelmed by the space allocated for the restaurant's cellar. In quick order he upgraded the original cellar, which now solely houses white wines, and promptly converted a large banquet storage room for the reds. Combined, they house upwards of 18,000 bottles that are managed by Mekis and his staff using BinWise software. With a team of four sommeliers and the hotel's food service staff, Mekis has developed what is, by all standards, a liq - uid jewel in the crown of the luxury chain's celebrated properties, which include The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas, the Carlyle in New York and Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, Mexico. Anecdotal evidence—and the program's bottom line—support the belief that Mekis has created the industry's single most profitable wine program for a property of its size. By tucking Domaine Drouhin Laurene and splits of Billecart-Salmon Rosé Champagne into the hotel's mini bars and offering highly-allocated wines including Kathryn Kennedy Estate, Nickel & Nickel, Turley, J.-L. Chave and Vietti by the glass, the success of Mekis's program has hinged on being in the right place with the right wine. "There's no question that our audi - ence is wine savvy," he said, "they're well- traveled, well-read and they're definitely well-versed in wine." The 16-acre California ranch–style property sits camouflaged among the gently rolling hills on the outskirts of Palo Alto and, on weekdays, draws a global business clientele from companies call - ing on nearby venture capital firms or visiting neighboring Stanford University. Weekends are the purview of locals, who make the restaurant terrace and bar an escape from urban chaos. When asked if savvy customers present a challenge particularly when it comes to upselling or bridging a table to an unfamil - iar wine, Mekis reflects, "We see a direct correlation between educating our staff and wine sales. The more we know, the better we can serve an informed clien - tele." He points to a higher level of expec- tation from his clientele around service, navigating vintages and recommending food pairings. Wood-fired cuisine at Madera gives the restaurant its name (which is Spanish for "wood"), and Mekis builds his list around the smoky, earthy, umami-driven flavors of Executive Chef Peter Rudolph's cui - sine. Pinot Noir tops the charts as the best-selling red at Madera; the list boasts 420 on any given day, and Mekis looks to Syrah, Tempranillo and Sangiovese for their affinities as well. "Wine style drives the selection, and I'm not losing sight of winemakers who have always made bal - anced wines." Mekis likes to keep close tabs on his producers and eschews dra- matic shifts in style. "We're tasting every vintage and making decisions based on what's in the glass; it's all about what's in the glass." Having built his career locally, Mekis has worked with legends like Master Sommeliers Nunzio Alioto, Ronn Wigant, Mike Bonacorsi and Reggie Narito. Prior to Rosewood, he directed the wine pro - gram at the Plumed Horse in Saratoga, CA for a decade. As he walks through the hotel's restaurant bar on a weekday after - noon, he greets regulars—customers he's known for years who have undoubtedly followed him to Rosewood Sand Hill—with genuine pleasure—the kind that comes from knowing your life's work is making people happy. A Jewel in the Crown THE WINE PROGRAM AT ROSEWOOD SAND HILL AND MADERA RESTAURANT SETS THE PACE FOR THIS LUXURY HOTEL GROUP story and photo Deborah Parker Wong Rosewood Hotels & Resorts Director of Wine Paul Mekis developed a wine program that hinged on being in the right place with the right wine.

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