Name: Michael Blasquez
At the moment: USA-CA
Wine Buyer / Sommelier / Wine Educator
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry?
My first encounter with wine occurred in 1985 when my wife and I were given, along with the other associates of the firm she worked at, two cases of wines each holiday season. Unknown to me at the time, these wines that we accumulated for several years, were Classified Bordeaux, Grand Cru and Premier Cru Burgundies, Barolos, Champagnes and the finest wines from Napa and Sonoma. After a few years of accumulating but not drinking these wines, a friend of mine who happened to be a wine lover spent the evening with us for dinner. We served a Vita Nova Chardonnay and a Chateau Palmer. He was astonished to find my pantry full of some of the world’s best wines. That peaked my interest in wines and I began to read incessantly about wine. I then responded to a job opportunity at a high end grocery store in Los Altos that had an opening for a Wine Steward. I thought that it might be good practice to take the interview and after a 45 minutes, I was offered the job. After a year of double digit sales increases, I asked the company to consider investing in my efforts with the Court of Master Sommeliers, they agreed and I was off into the world of wine!
Any particular mentors at that time?
The Corporate Wine Buyer at the time for the company, Doug Chase, taught me the importance of listening to not only my clients, but to my vendors and sales distribution representatives, enabling me to exceed my client’s needs, but to also develop relationships with those sales representatives that held the most sought after allocations of the best wines for the clients of theirs that not only showed interest in those allocations, but interest in them as individuals. Thus the successful increase in sales and profitability that got the recognition for me and eventually, increased responsibilities.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier possess for professional performance and is there any person with those qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
The willingness to listen, understand and to exceed expectations of your clients in every aspect of service
Dennis Wright, an associate wine buyer showed me the importance of attention to the smallest detail to create the impression of expertise and precision in serving and acquiring wines from a very competitive business environment.
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?
The internet is the gatekeeper for positions locally and abroad. Networking with fellow Sommeliers, sales reps as well as the various wine job websites readily show the opportunities available.
Any further tips?
Taste, take copious notes, visit wineries and more than anything else, socialize among those of a like mind, within the industry and various education entities.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
First of all, ask them what they drink at home. What do they like? What do they prefer? What do they want to discover…variety, region, style? How much would they like to spend, are they celebrating a special occasion…These help you to learn about them…and then apply what you have heard.
What’s your philosophy about glasses?
After a Riedel wine glass seminar with George Riedel, and being a nonbeliever, I was convinced that glassware has everything to do with presentation and enjoyment. If you are willing to serve the best wines, be prepared to display their attributes in the best way possible, in fine stemware.
Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
Currently I am a Wine Educator for Patz and Hall Winery in Sonoma, perhaps the most acclaimed winery in North America when it comes to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Here at Patz and Hall, James Hall has established relationships with true legends in both Napa and Sonoma, including Hyde Vineyard, Dutton Ranch, Martinelli Vineyards, Hudson Vineyard, Durell Vineyard, Chenoweth Vineyard, Ritchie Vineyard, Pisoni Vineyard, Jenkins Vineyard, Alder Springs Vineyard, Gap’s Crown Vineyard and Two Dryers Vineyard. We produce mostly single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that are created using ancient, traditional Burgundian methods that include, organic fruit, native yeast fermentation, and barrel fermented Chardonnay.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
First, drink what you like, regardless of the food…but creatively paired wine and food is absolutely wonderful to experience. Seek to either marry aromas, taste and flavors in the pairing or try to create a foil to the wine and/or food.
One of the most enjoyable pairings, and unusual, was the combination of 1988 Salon Champagne with prime, dry aged two inch thick rib steaks, seared in butter and seasoned with just salt and pepper. The piercing acidity in the Champagne cut through the butter and marbling of the steak.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
No. A Sommelier should be able to proof the wine based on the nose. At that point if there is any doubt, open a new bottle. And for goodness sake, do not smell the cork or place your nose in or near the bottle.
Where would you suggest a young Sommelier start searching for Sommelier positions on the internet in your country?
Winejobs.com is a great site as well as wine hospitality.com.
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 markups?
Match the culture of the restaurant with the wines you select. Make sure you highlight the country or region you are operating in. Select the “hidden gems” in your region but don’t forget the “comfort” wines. From there, branch out to other regional wines that support your cuisine.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Trade publications, both internet and hard copy. Frequent restaurants with highly regarded wine lists. Visit dedicated wine shops and talk with the buyers in these stores for trends and changes they see.
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?
New vineyards and producers need to be in the marketplace pouring their wines for the buyers in both restaurants and dedicated wine shops…but the wine needs to show distinction. Make sure you are ready to support the wine and the accounts program in all aspects. Proactively inviting buyers to the property for educational seminars and tours goes a long way in solidifying the initial placements. Create relationships with the account and it will pay dividends.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Pinot Noir…style, grace, distinction, elegance, power, charm..Pinot Noir can have it all!
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?
My desert island wine…Salon 1988
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Decanter is my favorite magazine.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com
Dominik Kozlik e.U.
4020 Linz, Austria