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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, April 21, 2014, 6:30 am

Wine Industry Conference Q&A: Eugenio Jardim: Reconnecting vintners and diners

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    Eugenio Jardim is a San Francisco-based wine consultant, sommelier and wine educator, with a career spanning three decades in the U.S. and Brazil.

    This year, Mr. Jardim became a partner in small-scale importer Esprit de Champagne and director of wine studies at the San Francisco Cooking School. He is the wine expert for the weekly PBS television show Joanne Weir Cooking Class. For the past dozen years, Mr. Jardim was wine director for top San Francisco restaurant Jardinière.

    Eugenio Jardim

    He also established wine programs for a number of restaurants in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

    Mr. Jardim is set to be part of a panel discussion at the Business Journal‘s 14th annual Wine Industry Conference in Santa Rosa on April 22. The topic is on-premise wine consumption and other industry trends. He plans to take on the communication gap between producers and consumers.

    “I find that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the two,” he said.

    He spoke with the Business Journal about the direction on-premise wine programs have been going and should go.

    What are the hottest on-premise wine trends?

    EUGENIO JARDIM: Alternative varietals seemed to have found their way into the most progressive wine programs around the country. Today’s wine directors and sommeliers are looking for an edge, something to set their programs apart and tend to gravitate toward undiscovered regions, smaller producers with creative packaging, and exotic varietals.

    There has been an increase in concerns with agricultural practices, with a strong preference and support to sustainable and environmentally friendly approaches.

    Another topic that comes up in conversation with restaurant guests often now is the increased alcohol levels on modern wines as well as the rise in reports of allergic reactions to sulfites. Guest are becoming very inquisitive about the chemistry of wines and how their body’s reactions to unknown ingredients in the wines may affect them negatively.

    I’ve also noticed an increase of requests for lighter and brighter wines, instead of the “big and chewy” wines of the past.

    The educational aspect is tremendously important because it offers a glimpse at the art and the mind of the winemaker. I see a lot of producers nowadays veering toward and relying on video productions and social media to convey their message, as it gives them an opportunity to have their voices heard, literally, and their vision clearly and colorfully illustrated.

    How have restaurants been approaching wine inventory since the economic recession?

    MR. JARDIM: I have always advocated strongly against excess of inventory, even before the economic recession. The size and volume of the inventory have never played as important of a role to me as the diversity and fiscal health of the same.

    The inventories I’ve managed have always followed closely the great vintages but also the seasons and what what was happening in the kitchen. Once, I was asked how I planned my buying for the year, and my unrehearsed response was unorthodox to say the least. I pointed to the shelves surrounding us in the cellar, indicating which one would be heavily stocked during the spring as opposed to the winter, and so forth.

    I do believe in this organic-symbiotic approach of closely following the chef’s inspiration for the menu, always trending towards food-friendly wines as opposed to “high-scoring” wines — whatever that means.

    I advise anyone starting to build their programs to follow their palates and to seek inspirations from the kitchen and well as from the dining room.

    Sommeliers can’t claim that they created the dishes or the wines. Therefore, they should use their wine programs as the vehicle to convey their vision of the wine world. It is the only way we have to express our voices, in the same way the chefs can do with every dish they create.

    How has demand changed for wines by the glass vs. by the bottle?

    MR. JARDIM: It became increasingly important to have an exciting and well-thought-out selection by the glass, especially during economic-challenged times. Most people still have the idea that by-the-glass selections are an afterthought only focused on profit margins. With a bit of creativity wine directors and sommeliers can really showcase their talents and make their guests very happy simultaneously.

    I saw a tremendous increase in this section of the wine list as I begin to feature alternative varietals, interesting wines that in turn provide great conversation material with the guests. Restaurants guests want this interaction. They want to be engaged and learn something new. A well-put-together by-the-glass list will offer this opportunity without a big financial commitment.

    How are alternative packaging for wine being received by the trade?

    MR. JARDIM: I think the most well-accepted trend is the wines in a keg, which has seen a huge improvement — better wines becoming available in that format.

    As far as packaging of wines in bottles goes, I think it is really important not to get too cartoonish or gimmicky with the labels. A lot of producers want to be taken seriously and have some really good juice hidden behind some silly labels, unsuitable for fine-dining establishments.

    Having said that, I think winemakers should definitely express themselves artistically, as well, but don’t loose site of your target audience.

    I have seen some very creative packaging as well as some seriously tasteless ones!

    How well are vintners matching releases with changes in consumer tastes?

    MR. JARDIM: I think we are thankfully arriving at an era were the consumers trust themselves to make wine-buying decisions through education, rather than scores.

    I think it is becoming really clear what I think about wine being categorize by numbers and scores. I think scores turn wines into luxury items, like fast cars, in my humble point of view.

    I believe scores have helped consumers to drink better wines but did not motivate winemakers to make better wines. Wine became so dependent on high scores in order to sell that winemakers lost track of what they set out to do when they dreamed of doing this for a living. It became really common to see winemakers producing wines that they would not otherwise drink, or enjoy themselves.

    So back to the question, I still see high-alcohol wines hitting the market when consumers are really asking for more subtlety. Big, chewy, tannic and oaky wines are still being made, when consumers want to taste the varietal instead of winemaking tricks.

    I do need to say now that I have a tremendous amount of respect for winemakers, as I could never be one myself. How they sleep at night, I don’t know. It is amazing how much and how hard they work to provide us with this delicious beverage that I prefer to consume rather than talk about.

    But I believe winemakers in general need to be more sensitive to their beautiful craft and should spend more time in the vineyard in order to let the gape varietal express itself better.

    Having said that, many are already doing that, and some have been at it for quite some time: Cathy Corison always produced some of the most seductively beautiful cabernet sauvignon, even when the 100-points-chasing wines were clearly headed in a completely different direction. Ted Lemon, and Littorai Wines, stayed truthful to his Burgundian education and past winemaking traditions, while pinot noir wines started to climb the alcohol and extraction ladder, sending pinots into syrah territory. The Peays proved that it is possible to make very elegant wines, many different wines, if you choose your terroir carefully.

    Some new(ish) kids on the block like Gavin Chanin in Santa Barbara, John Raytak in Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley are making some outstanding wines, focusing on purity and low alcohol without compromising ripeness. Yes, it is possible!

    This is not to be misconstrued as the rant of an angry sommelier. These are my humble opinions at this time. I hope and wish that the wine industry will change for the best and that wines will find their way to every table with every meal. I want to live long enough to see wines regaining rightful place on the table with all the other beautiful products of the Earth.

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