The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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Page 75 of 112

{ }  75 { meet the wine director } IT'S ONE THING FOR A SOMM TO INHERIT A LIST AT A LONG-STANDING restaurant, but quite another to design a wine program from the ground up. That's just what Greg Majors tackled recently when he returned to San Diego (where he was in school at UCSD from 2001 to 2003, majoring in international relations and Spanish literature) to join restaurateur David Spatafore's sleek new Stake Chophouse + Bar as Wine Director. This polished and sophisticated venue on San Diego's Coronado Island, just a block from the famous Hotel Coronado, has been open for only five months, but the wine and spirits program is clicking like a well-oiled machine thanks to Majors's expertise. The Bay Area native had spent nearly a decade in New York City, work- ing closely with industry heavyweights including Chef Marco Canora and renowned somms Paul Grieco and Robert Bohr. In 2010, he became Wine Director for Tom Colicchio's flagship Manhattan restaurant, Craft, where his esoteric wine pairings garnered him a shout-out in The New York Times. But despite his myriad successes in the Big Apple, Majors was looking to leave New York. "I felt that I had proved myself and achieved a level of profes- sional experience that I wanted to apply somewhere else," he says. On a visit back to San Diego, a close friend who sells wine for Young's Market Company told him about the impending opening of Stake. A few phone calls and an interview later, he was hired. "When I first saw Stake, it was still a construction site," recalls Majors. "The wine cellar [which forms a prominent part of the dining room] hadn't been built yet and in the back hallway were about 150 wine boxes that had to be inventoried." Majors refers to building the list as "a long but rewarding process—a labor of love." Building a new list takes method, not madness. "I take a comprehensive approach to organizing a list," Majors explains. "I try to hit all price points and styles, and to have breadth above all." He admits that, Stake being a steak- house, the 1,000-label ("and growing") list is indeed heavy on Cabernet, but the Wine Director himself loves Nebbiolo or Grenache ("whether from the Rhône or Central California") with this cuisine, and he enjoys engaging with guests, whether locals or tourists, during their decision- making process. In fact, he geared the list to make sure this happens. "The list has a level of intimidation that requires my presence," he says. "I encourage guests to put themselves into my hands—the list is designed to hand-sell." There are currently staff members who hold Level I and Level II certifications and who may eventually assume more sommelier duties, but for now Majors is running the show—not only in the wine department but also at the bar, where he has refocused the cocktail programto be "classics-driven" in selection and technique. For now, Manhattans and Martinis are far more called for than after-dinner sippers, although with a wide selection of refined spirits from Scotch and bourbon to Armagnac, Majors is well prepared for post-prandial occasions. Majors also prides himself on the by-the-glass program at Stake, which he calls "a microcosm of the list" that, again, touches on all price points. "I like wines that are true to themselves," he says. "These should be wines that, when you taste them—a Rioja, for example—you immediately know what they are. The by-the-glass list really represents what we're doing here." Greg Majors manages both the wine list and the bar program at Stake Chophouse + Bar in San Diego. "A Labor of Love" GREG MAJORS RETURNS TO CALIFORNIA TO IMPLEMENT A PASSIONATE WINE PROGRAM PHOTO COUTESY OF BLUEBRIDGE HOSPITALITY by David Gadd

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