Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Vintnerview with Michelle Gueydan

Michelle Gueydan left New Orleans after high school for college in New York. After college she worked for then gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner and then a job as a private event manager eased her into the wine world. She returned to New Orleans where she is in an integral member in three wine related businesses. At Swirl, she is a "wino" helping customers choose a wine to take home. As the principal in VinoSolutions she outsources sommelier expertise to restaurants and home collectors to organize and build their wine holdings. Recently, Gueydan partnered with Brian Dias to start NOLAWineSpeak, a wine education company. Twentyish questions on the clock....

I was in college in upstate New York. Had done most my partying in high school so when I got to college found partying sort of boring and focused more on studying. Close to college was the Finger Lakes region which makes a lot of wines, so one day I just volunteered to help pull leaves at a vineyard. It was there I first learned wine could be art and not just pink stuff that got you drunk.

I had been working for a few years as the event planner for a guy who owned a real estate asset management company. My boss also did a lot of philanthropic work with Quincy Jones so we were always planning dinners of some sort. Or we were flying to a dinner and talking about wine while reading food and wine magazines. So originally pairing was something of a foray into an unknown world, but I still knew very little about wine. After a series of events on the Mediterranean, I hadn't slept in a week. I was sitting on a yacht and the steward came over and asked if I'd like a glass of wine. I said sure, whatever you have. She brought a white wine that was so perfumey and unctuous that I asked what is this. She said Chardonnay and I didn't believe her. From then on, wine became a side passion and then an obsession.

Well, that bottle of Meursault on the yacht. But I don't remember the producer or vintage or anything like that. The other bottle I chase and will never catch again was a 1905 Chateau La Tour. I was in Colorado helping my boss organize his cellar before leaving to start a job in a tasting room in Alexe Corton when I got a call that the French government would not allow an American girl such a prestigious job. So I was pretty despondent and my boss cheered me up by asking, "What should we open?" I told him the 1905 La Tour was leaking a bit. So he pulled down that bottle, a 1929 Mouton, a 1950 Haut Brion, and a 1961 Petrus. Of all those bottles, the 1905 was far and away the best with the fruit still prominent after over 100 years.

I never thought I wanted to come back to New Orleans. All of my family here has died, so there was nothing to come back to, until Katrina. And then I felt a really strong urge to come home. At the time, I was the sommelier at the Inn at Little Washington. Came down here and got a job with John Besh as sommelier at August. In general the position of sommelier in New Orleans is not as supported as a free standing position in a restaurant as in other cities. In other cities, if you are the sommelier on the floor, it is your job to help guests select wine and manage the wine list of the restaurant. As a sommelier in New Orleans you are expected to be a manager as well. So I've had this idea of a sommelier education program to make more sommeliers truly sommeliers in New Orleans. But it was just an idea until I met Brian. The goal is to see be progressing with our wine thought in New Orleans. And that is what we want to do with NOLAWineSpeak.

I can't stand formulated wine descriptions. The one I hate the most is gooseberry. I didn't have the slightest clue what a gooseberry tasted like when I started learning about Sauvignon Blanc as tasting of gooseberry. I still dont know what a gooseberry tastes like. But people use that term as if everyone is eating gooseberries all the time. Other thing I hate is wine descriptors that are awful images but used in a positive context like "wet dog" or "barnyard". Who wants to drink a wet dog?

Best way to ease the tension with customers who are apprehensive about wine is just to start a conversation with the guest. Find out what they are interested in, what they are in the mood for, what do they normally prefer to drink. Sometimes people ask me what I like to drink and I tell them it depends on the day.

Rose. Across the board there is no wine better suited for New Orleans cuisine. A dry rose, with good fruit, good weight, and good acidity is nearly perfect match for the spiciness of our food. Always enjoyed rose, but I really started liking them with food when I moved back to New Orleans.

I hate the single palate based point systems which dominate the wine world. There is value in ratings that are group efforts but just go to off a single palate? I don't like that. I went to Bourdeaux to barrel taste the '05s. We were tasting 200 wines a day and there were a lot of us. But every winery was waiting for the scores of Robert Parker before prices could be set. You could sense the stress in the room and in all of the producers while awaiting Parker's judgment.

If I made a wine, it would be an eclectic, off the beaten path varietal that would challenge me to make it into a single varietal bottling. Turning something that is usually just blended with other grapes into its own wine that is what I love and it would be a limited bottling all hand sold.

Windows on the World. Extremely Pale Rose. A great book for the intro level person is The Wine Bible. Karen MacNeil does a very good job of adding fun tidbits and making wine an interesting read. All that said, I prefer to read magazines and newsletters like Decanter and Food and Wine for wine info. Mostly because wine is always changing and books are sometimes outdated by the time the fifth chapter is written.

I like that people are more adventuresome with their palates. Nowadays, people are open to try other varieties other than Chardonnay and Cabernet. On a winemaking level the focus on sustainability and artisinal approaches are things I really like.

To enhance enjoyment at home, try new things but try them with food to make the daily task of having dinner a grander experience. Really try and think about how the flavor profiles of wine and food could work together.

Yes, but I have been pretty fortunate in that I've normally been offered a taste and not have to think, "Man, I wish I could drink that." But I found that while at August, visitors, New Yorkers specifically, thought their expertise outshined that of any local sommelier. So they would often not offer me a sip.

Vietnamese - Riesling. Tex-Mex- Tequila, my second favorite thing to drink. American Chinese - An Austrian Gruner Veltliner. Crawfish Boil - Rose.

I've pretty much drank through most of my collection I had built up. Former employer called and said he had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to know what the most expensive bottles in his cellar were because he was going to drink them, chemo be damned. So I thought, why am I holding all these wines that one day I may never be able to drink? I had First Growth Bourdeaux and Italian wines that I drank. I still have some 1982 Margaux, Lafitte, Mouton, older Pahlmeyer. But what do I drink? My heart is in Burgundy, my pocketbook in Spain. I drink Tempranillo and Albarino. Also, drink a lot of boxed wine. James Moises is releasing a boxed Oregon Pinot (at right) that is pretty amazing in my book. Higher quality boxed wine with no chance of spoiling is on the rise.

Boucherie. Nathaniel (Zimet) and James (Denio) have managed to build a wine list that presents wines off the beaten path at an affordable price point that don't intimidate. And then of course, Commander Dan at Commander's Palace. From a revered wine list stand point, Commander's Palace best in town. From a consumer's point of view, Boucherie.

Boucherie, Cowbell, Herbsaint, and Coquette. Ohh and can I add Patois, I can't just pick four restaurants?

Hall and Oates - Chardonnay. Not because it is cheesy, but because it is a wine that was really popular back in the day. Mozart- German Gerwurtztriminer. Dr. Dre- Australian Shiraz.

Most memorable food and wine experience was at 2941 Restaurant in Virginia. The wine was a Madeira. The dish a soup sort of similar to our version of turtle soup but not quite the same. Madeira was new to me and the combination of it with the food created a third flavor, different than either the soup or the wine  which enhanced both the soup and the wine. Just a great pairing.

Desert Island wines? That is tough. 1905 Latour. 1990 E. Guigal La Landonne. Aged Vouvray-Huet would be first choice, but it doesn't matter. I just love aged Vouvray and we need more of it. Sake Daiginjo. Meursault, nothing specific because I like to many producers.


willifred said...

Excellent interview!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is Michelle's sister so her family is not dead...I don't know how conducts interviews but there is something called blasphemy that comes to mind...I can tell you this interviewer is not relflective of the way Michelle would converse and many of the "facts" are grossly distorted.