I took a job as a lead server or captain at Addison in San Diego. Working with someone who came from the French laundry in Napa and had the focus of creating the best wine program possible, was very important to my career development. I came in on my days off to do wine inventory, even when I wasn't being paid. I was there just to be able to sit with the bottles that would be so important in my understanding of the regions and important producers long into my future. There was nothing I could've paid to get that sort of exposure. It only came from putting in the hours, and the extra time with the right program and mentor which made it so important.
If someone has a special bottle of wine, never let your standards get in the way of their perfect memory. I had a couple bringing a bottle of 1983 Chateau Margaux, and as soon as I opened it I knew it was corked. I told them as much, and it ruined their night. From that moment forward, at the advice of my mentor, I never told the guest something that would ruin their perfect evening! Be there for the guest. Not for yourself.
No one will keep you employed, even if you make the most important guests happy, if you cannot keep their business solvent. I think the most important aspect is understanding what is the right Avenue to drive your wine business within the context of your restaurant or hotel. If you cannot understand this, you cannot be successful. What is your average check? You need to create a program which fits the above questions.
I constantly try to sell the most interesting and important bottles on our list. This lets me show the staff that I am trying to push our program forward, but at the same time trying to make sure that they are realistic about what our sales goals can be. Sometimes this means a bottle from the southern part of Italy, and sometimes this means a first growth Bordeaux. In either context, they make money for the restaurant, but more importantly, the staff continues to be passionate about the wines and in what our guests are enjoying.
I constantly look for people who are willing to put in time outside of their traditional eight hours of work. If this means that they go to a bar after work and order a bottle of wine, which they have never consumed before. When they come back on Monday, and share with me that special bottle, this makes me know that they are interested. But, if they are not sharing those experiences, I can't know that they aren't just here for a paycheck. This never bodes well for the long term.
I love Santa Maria Chardonnay. It's ALMOST better than Chablis. Everyone should drink Chablis; but those who can't should drink Santa Maria Chardonnay. That is all!
For me, the major import books are always important (Skurnik, Theis, Roenthal, etc) but if you want to learn about new wines and new opportunities which can fill your program with excitement and opportunity, I think visiting the countries that you focus on are the most important. For example Ferdinand Mayr makes incredible Grüner. If I could afford to import his wines, I would be a millionaire. Unfortunately, I am going to leave it up to someone else to showcase his brilliance!
I like to review trends. Because I never loved natural wine, until I met a few people who really showed me some incredible natural Wines. As soon as I had those natural Wines, I was hooked. And then I explored the rest of the category on my own. Understanding that there are million options in any category of wine, puts the onus on the buyer to educate themselves to be at the forefront of their industry.