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Why food & wine make all the difference: a chat with George Berg of Berg, Hill, Greenleaf & Ruscitti

george berg lawyer houston boulder

Above: George Berg (seated, far left) takes a photo of a bottle being poured by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey at the Boulder Burgundy Festival’s “Paulée-Inspired Lunch” at Flagstaff House.

I met a lot of fantastic people at the Boulder Burgundy Festival this year: winemakers, wine tradespeople, collectors, and bon vivants.

But one of the most fun conversations I had was with George Berg (above, left), whose law firm Berg, Hill, Greenleaf & Ruscitti, underwrites the festival each year.

When I asked George, whose generous conviviality is rivaled only by his Texas charm, why he and his firm sponsor the gathering, his answer was a simple as it was brilliant.

“I’ve always found that sharing food and wine is a great way to do business,” he said. “Sitting down and drinking a bottle of wine together is a very attractive way to get to know someone.”

“People like Brett [Zimmerman, festival founder and owner of the Boulder Wine Merchant] and Bobby [Stuckey, wine director and owner of Frasca Food & Wine] have helped me in my business,” he explained, “and so this is a way for me to give back to them.”

It doesn’t hurt that George’s office sits directly above Frasca, where he often entertains for both business and pleasure.

George got into food and wine in his early years raising a family and working as a lawyer in Houston, where he had become good friends with the city’s leading restaurateur Tony Vallone (who happens to be my very good friend and client).

“Tony taught me everything I know about food and wine,” he revealed. “He showed me how you could use restaurants as a way to meet people.”

Over the years, he told me, George and his office have helped Brett and Bobby set up their businesses and given them a hand with other legal affairs. And over the years, he’s dined countless times in Bobby’s restaurants and shopped at Brett’s store.

In talking to George, I got the sense that for him, the Boulder food and wine scene is a vibrant enogastronomic community that he’s thrilled to be a part of. And I could tell how much he genuinely admires the city’s food and wine professionals.

It’s only natural, I thought to myself, that he’d want to give back to this close-knit group of like-minded sommeliers by helping to make the festival possible.

I loved watching George interact and banter with the sommeliers, tasting and comparing notes, snapping photos of the labels with his phone when a given wine really impressed him.

And it occurred to me: Food and wine had brought us together and that led to the discovery that we had a mutual dear friend in common back in Texas.

It’s a small world after all and that’s why food and wine make all the difference.

Robert Bohr on being a sommelier: “It’s all about the elevating the guests’ experience.”

robert bohr grant reynolds

Above: Restaurateurs and leading sommeliers Grant Reynolds (left) and Robert Bohr at this year’s festival.

Earlier this year, leading wine writer Elin McCoy called Robert Bohr one of “New York’s sommelier old guard.”

His list at Charlie Bird, which he co-authors with another one of the city’s celebrity sommeliers, Grant Reynolds, is “a window into the New York wine zeitgeist,” she wrote.

I caught up with Robert at the festival last month and we chatted about what it means to be a sommelier today and why he comes to the festival every year to participate and pour.

He’s one of the highest-profile wine professionals working in the U.S. today but when it comes to be a sommelier, it’s all about “elevating the guests’ experience.”

“Being a sommelier is learning how to respect an artisanal process,” he said. “It’s a craft that you’re always working to perfect. Just like an athlete, you need to taste over and over again, honing your skills because tasting wine is like a muscle.”

But the most important element is service, he told me.

“Interacting with guests and elevating their experience,” he explained, “that’s what being a sommelier means. It’s the foundation of being a sommelier. Yes, you can learn how to saber a bottle of Champagne and taste and taste. But if you’re first motivation isn’t to elevate your guests’ experience, you’re not doing your job.”

When I asked him about why so many celebrities seem to flock to his restaurants, he grinned.

“Celebrities like to be treated like regular people and regular people like to be treated like celebrities,” he said.

“You have to be committed to your craft. I think that a lot of celebrities see that I’m as committed to mine as they are to theirs and they respond to that.”

Why does he volunteer each year for the Boulder Burgundy Festival?

“Boulder is a beautiful place and the people involved with the festival are some of the people I look up to the most. We don’t get to work together enough. This is this perfect oasis for the work that we do and we’re lucky to get to drink these wines so often and have the opportunity to talk about Burgundy.”

Volnay seminar with Guillaume d’Angerville, a truly extraordinary tasting

robert bohr wine importer

Above: The panel, from left, Robert Bohr (who imports Domaine D’Angerville into the U.S.), Guillaume d’Angerville, Rajat Parr, Richard Betts, and Brett Zimmerman, owner of the Boulder Wine Merchant and festival organizer.

The D’Angerville seminar on the Sunday of the festival weekend was a truly extraordinary experience — on many levels.

The title was “D’Angerville” but the focus was on the village of Volnay and its terroirs.

The wines were spectacular but the star was Guillaume d’Angerville, who speaks English impeccably and has a charming, engaging, and warm old-world gentleman’s air about him. An excellent speaker, he offered remarkable insights into what makes his village’s wines unique in the panorama of Burgundian winemaking.

The panel was made up of some of the brightest and most talented people working in the world of wine today. But the erudite discussion of Guillaume’s wines was accessible and easy to follow.

Simply put, this was wine tasting and wine connoisseurship at its best, delivered expertly and eloquently, without affectation.

domaine angerville robert bohr

The flight was as follows:

D’Angerville 2011 Volnay des Angles 1er
D’Angerville 2011 Volnay Fermiets 1er
D’Angerville 2011 Volnay Caillerets 1er
D’Angerville 2011 Volnay Champans 1er
D’Angerville 2011 Volnay Taillepieds 1er
D’Angerville 2011 Volnay Clos des Ducs 1er

Notes (quotes) from Guillaume’s wonderful talk follow. The event was one of the more pricey ones but everyone in attendance agreed — from the caliber of the wines and the opportunity to taste them side-by-side to the chance to interact with such an elite group of wine professionals — it was worth every penny.

“Our domain is focused on the village of Volnay. It was purchased after the revolution and has been in our family for 200 years.”

“Compared to Pommard, Volnay is like yin and yang. Volnay cannot produce masculine wines like Pommard. It makes wines that are subtle, clean, precise, and feminine.”

“My first aim is to promote the village [of Volnay] and then promote my wines.”

“The most important decision for a winemaker is when to pick.”

“You have to let the terroir speak. If that happens, I’m a very happy man.”

“My father taught me to ‘get rid of anything that is not necessary’ in the wines. Like me, he wanted to create ‘precise’ wines.”

The Chablis Brunch, one of the more “chill” events at the festival

raveneau burgundy kermit lynch

Above: Raveneau for breakfast, anyone? Yes, it was poured at the Chablis Brunch on Sunday morning of the festival at The Kitchen Upstairs (The Kitchen’s “lounge” spot). Note the flight of wines poured below.

Let’s be honest: In the wake of the festival’s Saturday night, everyone was a little bit — how can we put it? — “toasty” on Sunday morning.

But that didn’t stop people from waking in time for the Chablis Brunch, definitely the festival’s most casual event but no less impressive in the breadth and caliber of wines that were poured.

eggs benedict best recipe

Above: The eggless mini “Benedicts” were ideal for the Sunday morning crowd.

Here is the flight of wines that were poured for guests:

1996 Domaine Raveneau Montmains 1er
2004 Domaine Raveneau Butteaux 1er
2010 Domaine Dauvissat Sechet 1er
2000 Domaine Dauvissat Sechet 1er
2011 Domaine Dauvissat Fôrest 1er
2012 Louis Michel Vaudisir Grand Cru
2012 Louis Michel Montée de Tonnerre Premier Cru
2012 Agnes & Didier Dauvissat, Petit Chablis
2012 Agnes & Didier Dauvissat, Chablis
2012 Agnes & Didier Dauvissat, Chablis Beauroy
2012 Albert Bichot Chablis
2012 Albert Bichot Chablis Vaillons 1er
2012 Albert Bichot Chablis Vaucopins 1er
2011 Albert Bichot Chablis La Moutonne Grand Cru
2012 Albert Bichot Chablis La Clos Grand Cru
2002 Brocard St. Claire Old Vines
2011 Brocard Montée de Tonnerre 1er
2007 Brocard Le Clos Grand Cru (Magnum)
2011 Romain Collet Mont de Milieu 1er
2012 Tremblay Fourchaume Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes
2012 Domaine Dampt Cote de Lechets 1er
2011 Domaine Pattes Loup, Chablis
2011 Grossot Forneaux
2011 Grossot Fourchaume
2012 Val de Mer Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru

Holy cow, right?

tim wanner kitchen boulder

Above: Wade Vizena, left, manager at The Kitchen, and Tim Wanner, The Kitchen restaurant group’s executive general manager.

For one blogger in attendance, it was a great time to reconnect and chat with Tim Wanner (above, right), The Kitchen restaurant group’s executive general manager and his fellow Italophile wine lover.

From the management to the bussers, everyone who works at The Kitchen seems to be wholly in tune with the importance of wholesome food and cooking and the role that it plays in human experience (more on that later).

It’s always interesting to get to interact with people like Tim and Wade (above, left). Their intelligent approach to restaurateurship is as sensorially thrilling as it is intellectually satisfying.

The Kitchen “kitchen” staff did a superb job in their spread of “Sunday morning” (insert your own euphemism) fare, including a great selection of scones and savory bites inspired by classic American breakfast foods like the eggless mini Benedict above.

Raveneau and comfort food for Sunday morning? Not bad at all for the $50 admission.

best brunch wine

Scenes from the Grand Tasting 2014

olivier bernstein burgundy

Above: William Davis (right) of Wilson Daniels pours the much-sought-after wines of Olivier Bernstein at the Boulder Burgundy Festival 2014 Grand Tasting. William, alone, showed eleven wines, including labels that sell for upward of $450 per bottle.

It’s hard to explain the uniqueness of the Boulder Burgundy Festival Grand Tasting.

Yes, the bean counting is easy. There were twenty purveyors of fine wines who presented their wines. And by the official count, there were roughly 170 wines poured, although many distributors brought extra wines that were not listed in the official tasting book.

rajat parr burgundy wine

Above: Leading U.S. sommelier and author Rajat Parr (right) and his sales manager
Natalie Vaclavik poured Rajat’s Burgundy négociant project Maison L’Orée.

The data alone would be impressive for this tasting, which was held in the historic Boulderado Hotel’s event center.

But the thing that takes the numbers over the top is the fact that the importers and distributors who participated weren’t simply showing “entry-tier” wines. In fact, you would be hard pressed (excuse the pun) to find more than a handful of wines at this tasting that retail for less than $80-90.

maison oree rajat parr raj

Above: At most tastings of this scale, you’d find dump buckets brimming over. Not so at the Boulder Burgundy Festival 2014 Grand Tasting where spitting would be considered in bad taste.

By one blogger’s guestimation (based on the prices listed in the officially tasting book), the average bottle price fell somewhere between $100-130. And some of the bottles sell for upward of $400 — that is, if you can find them.

But the thing that really takes the Grand Tasting over the top is the fact that the guests truly appreciate the wines and the people who were pouring them.

mike joyce natural wine company

Above: Mike Joyce (left), sales manager at Natural Wine Company, a leading Colorado distributor and an underwriter of the event, with Wade Vizena, manager at The Kitchen, one of the Boulder restaurants that hosted festival events.

Ask anyone in the wine trade and they will tell you about inconsiderate and even unruly guests at tastings like this. Especially as an event like this wears on, people can lose sight of the fact that they are tasting wines that command their attention and respect (we’ll just leave it at that).

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this truly remarkable event was how polite everyone was and how easy it was to make your way from one table to the next.

And of course, the tradespeople who were pouring were among the best and brightest in the industry. These folks know their stuff.

francesca deorio calluna events

Above: Heather Dwight (right), founder and owner of Calluna Events in Boulder, with her colleague Francesca DeOrio. Calluna was the tasting’s official organizer and did a superb job of making everything run seamlessly.

Considering the price of admission was only $85, noted a wine blogger who attended, the event was a steal.

Happy Thanksgiving! Look for festival coverage early next week

We’re still catching our breath in the wake of the Boulder Burgundy Festival 2014.

Thanks to everyone who attended and especially to the winemakers and team of sommeliers who flew in from across the country and the globe to make the festival a truly world-class event.

We’ll begin posting interviews and notes from events early next week. So please stay tuned.

And in the meantime, we’d like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

burgundy thanksgiving

Scenes from a “Paulée-inspired” lunch at the wonderful Flagstaff House

raj parr burgundy

Posting in a hurry this morning, as I prepare to head to the Chablis Brunch at Kitchen Upstairs this morning: an end-of-the-night gathering of sommeliers at Pizzeria Locale kept a blogger up until the wee hours.

But here are a few quick highlights from yesterday’s sold-out “Paulée-inspired” lunch at the wonderful Flagstaff House, one of the top dining destinations in the U.S. today.

That’s the inimitable Rajat Parr pouring for guests, above.

best burgundy red wine

One half of the restaurant was filled with collectors. The other half with wine trade members. Everyone brought collectible and rare Burgundy from their cellars.

better scallop

The food was stupendous. Can you imagine a better dish to pair with great Chardonnay?

brett zimmerman master sommelier

Festival founder and Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman (standing, foreground) was remarkably calm despite the challenges posed by organizing a weekend of events for leading American wine collectors and professionals. But then again, with so much top-flight wine being poured so liberally, levity was in order. That’s Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey in the background, pouring.

don monette mark

Those are Flagstaff House owners Don (left) and Mark Monette. Chef Mark’s cooking is sensational (more on that later). Super nice people, too. When I asked if I could snap a photo of them, Don said with the biggest smile, “I’m very proud of my son.”

how to pour burgundy wine

We’ll be posting more notes from this incredible lunch and other festival events shortly.

Stay tuned… Now it’s time to go taste some more Burgundy.

Notes from the Guild of Sommeliers “Old and Rare” Tasting

richard betts sommelier boulder

Yesterday’s “Old and Rare” tasting was presented by Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher (standing), who has mentored many of the top wine professionals working in the U.S. today.

The wines came from the Guild of Sommeliers “trust”: a collection of rare wines donated to the Guild by a leading American collector. They are used for educational purposes and also, as in this case, to raise money for the myriad scholarships that the Guild offers to young American wine professionals.

As Jay pointed out, the modest fee per seat at the event hardly came close to the value of the wines being poured.

The seated panelists, all of them Master Sommeliers, from the foreground moving back: Brett Zimmerman owner of the Boulder Wine Merchant and founder of the festival; Bobby Stuckey, owner and wine director at Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder; and Richard Betts, author and spirits producer.

jay fletcher master sommelier

What a flight of wine!!!

From left to right:

Domaine Jean Collet 2004 Chablis Valmur Grand Cru
Domaine Ramonet 1993 Bievenues-Batard Montrachet Grand Cru
Domaine Paul Pernot 1998 Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
Camille Giroud 1976 Corton-Clos du Roi Grand Cru

The highlight of this first flight was the Paul Pernot, which elicited high praise from each of the panelists.

Bobby noted its “electric” character underneath its “richness,” calling it one of the greatest values in the flight.

best flight burgundy wines

Wine collector Adam Plotkin, who attended the tasting, shared this photo of all the labels.

It was such a thoughtfully chosen flight and it brilliantly illustrated the breadth of Burgundy and its aging potential.

Here’s the second flight that was poured:

Domaine Michel Lafarge 1995 Beaune-Grèves 1er Cru
Louis Jadot 1990 Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru
Domaine Georges Roumier 1982 Ruchottes Chambertin Grand Cru
Domaine Emmanuel Rouget 1998 Vosne-Romanée Les Beaumonts 1er Cru

The Louis Jadot was arguably the stand-out.

Jay talked about what an exceptional, however warm, vintage this was for Burgundy.

“One of the greatest,” he said, “and most successful.”

Brett noted the “powerful core of fruit” in this now twenty-four-year-old wine.

But perhaps even more so than the wines, the stars were the panelists themselves.

It was incredible, for example, to hear Richard rattle off vintage notes on the 1998 harvest from the top of his head.

To watch the four Master Sommeliers banter as they traded impressions and insights was spectacular.

The Boulder Burgundy Festival begins! #BBF14

master sommeliers boulder

The festival kicked off officially this morning at 11 a.m. with a fantastic tasting led by Master Sommeliers, from left, Brett Zimmerman, Bobby Stuckey, Richard Betts, and Jay Fletcher.

burgundy collectors colorado

They led a rapt audience of collectors and trade through a dream flight of older wines from the Guild of Sommeliers trust (see the wines below).

best burgundy tasting

We’ll be posting more notes from the panel member’s talks and tasting notes for the wines.

But in the meantime, we just wanted to get this initial post up to let you know that Boulder Burgundy Festival 2014 has begun… stay tuned!