Name: Jim Rollston
At the Moment: USA/California
Currently: Master Sommelier, Wine Director
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
I first discovered an interest in wine while working as a busboy in a neighborhood restaurant, where one of the servers was knowledgeable and made me realize that there was something to this wine stuff... I decided to pursue winemaking (being in California) and had the luck to work for Rod Berglund at Joseph Swan Vineyards. Rod had an extensive cellar of mature old-world classics, much of it acquired by Joe Swan, and I had the opportunity to taste mature Bordeaux from the 1970s and 1980s, Chave Hermitage, older Vieux Telegraphe, Raveneau, JJ Prum etc. I was extremely lucky at this time to be learning the mechanics of making wine in a small winery while also educating my palate, seeing the different level that mature classic wines can achieve when compared to the more work-a-day examples I had been able to taste to that point.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
For me the essential trait a sommelier must possess is the humility to be of service to the guest, before an extensive knowledge of the world of fermented beverages. Some of the sommeliers who really embody this to me are Bobby Stuckey MS and Matthew Mather of Frasca, Dustin Wilson MS of Eleven Madison Park, and Dominique DaCruz of Sierra Mar. All of them possess tremendous knowledge, but their service is what always amazes me.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad?
I always tell young aspiring sommeliers to look at positions with people that inspire them in charge, and then do anything to get any position in that restaurant. It can be very worthwhile when starting out to be around a great wine program, even if you are working in a non-wine position. Your interest in wine will shine through, and there is always something to learn when working around great wines in a great program.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what's in your opinion would be the best approach?
LISTEN to what they tell you - you should very quickly and easily be able to tell if the best pairing is what they want, or if they are more interested in staying within a style or type of wine they are comfortable with. Then give three suggestions from there based on what they tell you.
What's your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
Glassware is extremely important, and we are always looking at new options, with the aesthetic of look and feel of great importance, as well as the sensory properties of the wine in the glass. I do think "geeking out" on wine glasses can be overdone, as there are so many good glasses available today, and what's in the glass is more important!
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
You can pair to the guest, pair to the occasion, or pair to the dish. If pairing to the dish I look for flavor matches between the wine and the dish to link together to create harmony and energy.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markup?
For me the wine list should match the "feel" of the restaurant, and should ideally feature a few placements that most customers will recognize. Every restaurant will have different financial requirements for the wine program, and it is a crucial responsibility of the sommelier to be able to create an aesthetically interesting wine list while meeting the financial goals of the ownership. If ownership's expectation of the contribution of the wine program to the bottom line is excessive, you may see lower volume, though different restaurant cultures have different tolerances for higher mark ups. The higher volume price points in a restaurant's wine program needs to be marked up with great attention to the expected cost percentages, but at higher price points you should definitely have more flexible approaches to pricing. If the majority of the bottles sold are $90 at 33% cost, but you sell at table a $500 bottle at 50% cost, putting that $250 to the bottom line beats the $60 average by a fair bit. If your volume starts to move towards these higher end bottles, you better be sure that ownership understands contribution margins though!!
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
This is a never-ending responsibility for the sommelier. I read constantly: magazines, blogs, books. Tasting and travel are key as well. Mostly I feel it is essential for the sommelier to never lose the hunger to increase their knowledge, as there is always more to learn.
How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what's the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
For me, a new winery stands out when the quality of their efforts shines through everything I see: packaging, story, website, representation, wine quality. Especially if what I see is individual and not just a reflection of what is currently the hot "winespeak of the day" in the marketplace.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what's your desert island wine?
German Riesling, Loire Chenin Blanc, and Northern Rhone Syrah. My desert island wine would be Donnhoff Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Wine and Spirits and The World of Fine Wine for print, and to me the key online platform is the Guild of Sommeliers website, a great community and a tremendous collection of information, whether pursuing certifications or not.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – www.sommeliers.at