For the third year in a row, The Little Nell will be partnering with the Boulder Burgundy Festival. Master Sommelier and The Little Nell wine director Carlton McCoy talks about his team’s participation and what makes his program unique in the panorama of fine wine service in the U.S. today. It’s always fascinating to hear what Carlton has to say…
Tell us a little bit about The Little Nell’s history with the festival.
The first year (2013) started with a DRC dinner at the Flagstaff House — our then-executive chef Robert McCormick prepared the dinner and Sabato (then-director of F&B at The Nell) and I joined for front of house.
The second year, The Nell provided service at a Paulée style lunch at the Flagstaff House and a Lignier Michelot dinner also held at the Flagstaff House. I worked this event with Chubby Oveges, who’s the assistant F&B director at The Nell.
What will you and your team be doing this year at the festival?
This year, Chef Matt Zubrod, Chef Matt Padilla, Chubby and I will be there for a lunch and Domaine Dujac and Rare White Burgundy dinner where we’ll be serving rare white wines. (Matt Zubrod is executive chef for The Nell and Matt Padilla is chef de cuisine for element 47 at The Nell — they work together really well.)
Can you share some of the highlights borne out of the partnership?
Brett’s taken the pretentiousness out of Burgundy events – there’s no showboating and a much more grassroots approach. The sommeliers are very down to earth and open, which better serves the guests. When it comes down to it, we’re sommeliers and chefs and it’s our goal to make sure the paying guests have a definitive experience.
My greatest memories are from the late night events when the somms tend to gather at Pizzeria Locale over bottles of great wines, exchange stories, talk about cool wines we’ve had lately, sometimes not even about wine – sometimes we get into it about a new rap album.
Brett always brings a diverse selection of Burgundies, which I just get excited about for the people — they’re all so open and interested in learning about Burgundy. And the event is a great projection of the tone in Colorado. There isn’t a sense of that rat race approach to Burgundy you can find often.
The Little Nell has become a flash point for the rapidly evolving wine culture in the U.S. today. To what do you ascribe that?
At The Nell, what we do differently from others is develop somms with a strong work ethic. The typical picture painted of a somm is not far from the truth – opening, pouring wines, life of the party. Here, we don’t do that – we work long hours, we invest a lot of time in training and education, we constantly strive to come up with ideas that appeal to our guests, we spend a lot of time in front of the computer, but we also take trips and continue to learn about great producers and regions.
Nick Barb on our team, for example, came from New York where he had been a floor somm – opening bottles, serving guests — he had that part down. But that doesn’t work with balancing the budget and running a business.
We give our somms guidance — teach them about timing, how to wait, how to be truly professional.
What’s new at The Little Nell?
For us, it’s a curse how ambitious we are – we’re always trying to find new ideas for us and the guests – or even find old ideas and refine them. The Nell will always have a great wine program, but keeping it digestible, approachable and interesting is where the challenge is.
This ski season in particular, we’re presenting truffle dinners over the holidays, an over-the-top, all-inclusive New Year’s Ever party that’s the hottest ticket in town, Veuve Clicquot takeovers at Ajax Tavern and Chair 9 (our après-ski bar in winter), private buyouts of Oasis, our Champagne and caviar bar on-mountain, among other notable events.
We’re always on to something new at The Nell.