There was a lot of response to and interest in our recent print article featuring Brian Henderson and the wine program he oversees at Avalon Golf and Country Club. Brian's knowledge and training is unsurpassed in our geographic area. While the training is important, it was his energy and passion for his position and the world of wine that came to the forefront during our conversation.
Today we feature part two of our interview with Brian:
Vindy: In the vast world of wine can you indentify a favorite country, region, winery and tell us why they stand above the rest?
Henderson: France as a whole is the bees kness, in my opinion when it comes to the country I would drink from most often. My favorite region is unquestionably Burgundy (France). Not only do I love the wines, but the ancient culture, the gastronomy, and the slow way of life make for a perfect setting to enjoy the greatest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the world. For me, the most important aspect of Burgundy is that the wines are named after the exact location of the vineyard. French wine labels are often quite confusing, but with Burgundy, the wording on the bottle will tell the consumer precisely from where the wine originated.
Vindy: What do you think is the next great wine producing country and why?
Henderson: There is a lot of hype right now about China. I have read that there are some decent wines coming from that part of the world, but I have yet to try an eastern wine the I would consider tolerable. In the world of the sommelier there are countries the seem "old" to us, but are new to most everday consumers. Places such as Israel, Austria, and even Switzerland are all all home to classic wine producing regions. The wines from these regions are well-established in their own locale, so keep a look out for them to hit our shores.
Vindy: What are your favorite varietals and why?
Henderson: This is the toughest question. Grapes react so differently in different parts of the world. While I love the Syrah-based wines of the Northern Rhone of France, I could do without most Syrah / Shiraz (genetically the same grape with a different name) from South Africa. The Walla Walla Valley of Washington state produces incredible Syrah. This is not to say that Syrah is my favorite. My favorite grape is any that expresses the true flavor of the place it is grown. Rieslings from the Rheingaue or Mosel (Germany), Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley (France), Tempranillo from Rioja (Sapin) all fit this desciption. The other questions that come up when answering this question are: What are we eating? What time of year are we enjoying the glass? Does the occasion warrant a special bottle or is an everday drinker acceptable? The best answer is that the varietal I'm drinking in that moment is my favorite!
Vindy: Can you tell us about your favorite winery visit of all time?
Henderson: I've been very fortunate to visit wineries around the globe including vineyards in Chile, New Zealand, Germany, France, EasternNew York, Washington state, Oregon, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The most memorable experience was several years ago when I visited the greatest Suaternes (Bordeaux, France) and had the chance to hold one the two bottles of Chateau d'Yquem that belonged to Thomas Jefferson! He was one of our country's frist great wine fanatics and his experiences are well-documented by historians.
Vindy: Where have you not traveld in the wine world that you want to visit next?
Henderson: Italy and Greece. Both of these places are notably historic in the wine world.
Vindy: Let's shift the conversation a bit to your training. What is the toughest part of the advanced level sommelier course and why?
Henderson: The advanced level sommelier course, although difficult, was really fun! Day one was the written exam with questions like: "Where is Currency Creek?" and "Name the 7 Grand Crus of Chablis?" Day two was the service exam consisting of decanting techniques, opening and serving sparkling wine, food / wine pairings, and calculating cost percentages and margins for wine. Day three is the blind tasting exam. Three reds and three whites are presented. You must, through a very particular system, identify the vintage, country of origin, grape varietal, and quality level. The toughest part of the exam is that youmust pass all three sections at one time!
Vindy: What are the greatest challenges you face as a wine professional?
Henderson: One of the toughest challenges is getting consumers to try wines that in the past have had a negative image or are difficult to understand. Chablis, for instance, is one of the greatest Chardonnay producing regions of France. Unfortunately, many consumers only know the jug wine version that is neither Chardonnay nor from Chablis! Creating trust with consumers and allowing them the option of opting out of a selection is the best way to gain trust.
Vindy: If you weren't doing this for a living what else would you do?
Henderson: I can't imagine doing anything else, but I love music. I've been playing an instrument of some kind since I was 5. To this day, I still enjoy playing and listening during my down time.
Vindy: Finally, and we ask this question with tongue firmly in cheek, what do you think of the wine press and our role in the wine world?
Henderson: Unless what the wine press has to say is factual, I take it with a grain of salt. The being said, it is important to keep up with what the press is discussing. The press tends to create the latest trends and for that reason, I keep up on a daily basis. When it comes down to it, wine is truly about what you / me enjoy, not what someone else says we should be enjoying!
Many thanks to Brian Henderson for being so giving with his time for the print and on-line articles. you can find Brian most nights at Avalon Golf and Country Club's Buhl Park or Squaw Creek locations pouring wine and talking vino tableside with diners and drinkers. If you take the time to seek him out, your knowledge and enjoyment of wine will increase!