To get where we want to go, we must first begin. In hospitality, even what may seem to be an obscure start can still lead to many exciting and different career destinations. Formerly at Daniel Boulud’s restaurants and Eleven Madison Park, Caleb Ganzer, the Wine Director and Managing Partner at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels as well as the creator of the mobile app, Vknow, gives us a glimpse of his journey and lessons learned along the way.
What was the catalyst for you to join the hospitality industry?
I started working in food service in high school as a delivery driver for Jimmy John's (sandwich shop). In college, I got into fine dining and fell in love with all aspects of the service, the food, but mostly the wine.
What has motivated you to stay the path?
Initially it was just a way to make some good spending money, but it quickly evolved into a full-fledged passion as I learned more about wine and wine service. I always wanted to travel and use my second language (French), and this was one conduit I envisioned to make this possible; it certainly has. I continue to meet inspirational artisans, farmers & winemakers, who fuel my passion to share their special gifts with our guests in our wine bar.
Based on your own experience, what have you found is the one area you needed to master to be a successful sommelier (and now a Wine Director)?
In order to be a great sommelier you need passion and a desire to work hard and share your expertise with others. It's important for the job, both on and off the floor, to be as knowledgeable as possible in all aspects of food, wine, & service. That doesn't mean you have to lecture each table on everything you know, but your knowledge will give you the confidence to effectively do the most important part of our job: take care of the guest in a personalized and genuine manner. As a wine director I unfortunately have less direct interaction with the guest, but my job now is to lead an entire team of sommeliers to do their best to deliver phenomenal guest experiences.
What rule of thumb can you share with other hospitality professionals (e.g., servers, cooks), about pairing wine with food?
The easiest, and likely the most widely known: what grows together goes together -- meaning dishes from classic food regions often pair nicely with the wines of that region. I would invite people to simply have confidence to try new pairings -- see what does and doesn't work. You may be surprised! Nothing is more powerful than personal experience.
As the industry starts to incorporate more and more technology into the service experience, are there any digital tools you can recommend?
Technology and dining aren't necessarily at odds with each other, but what I can say is that dining should be a time where you connect with your guests at the table. Despite the ability of technology to connect people over long distances, it seems to do the opposite at close proximity. Call me old fashioned, but I'm all for paper menus and good conversation.
With the constantly growing wine market, how do you stay current?
Travel is one of the most important ways to stay connected to what's happening and what's relevant. I love visiting winemakers who are well-traveled and picking their brains. I love visiting restaurants and wine bars in foreign markets and seeing what products they're excited about. I love a regional focus, but it's also important to see which ideas have global currency.
Interested in careers in Wine and Beverage? Start exploring opportunities nationwide today.