A Chat with Erik Segel­baum

Upscale Living Magazine - - Content - By Tracy ellen beard

He Knows Wine!

Food & Wine Mag­a­zine deemed Erik Segel­baum as one of the top nine som­me­liers in 2019. Erik is one of less than 600 peo­ple in the world that holds an Ad­vanced Som­me­lier Cer­tifi­cate through the Court of Mas­ter Som­me­liers. He is a Cer­ti­fied Spe­cial­ist of Wine (CSW) through the So­ci­ety of Wine Ed­u­ca­tors and a Wine and Spirits Lo­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist (with dis­tinc­tion) for both port and Cham­pagne. In other words, Erik knows wine.

In an exclusive in­ter­view with Erik, we dis­cussed his “sink or swim” tran­si­tion into the wine world, pre­ferred pas­times, fa­vorite Tues­day, Satur­day and spe­cial event wines, SOMLYAY LLC, new­est projects, ex­cep­tional wine val­ues, and his food and wine phi­los­o­phy.

HOW DID YOU LAND IN THE WINE IN­DUS­TRY?

At 13 I se­cured my first kitchen job, and over the next nine years I moved up to Chef de Cui­sine at Founders, the fine­din­ing French res­tau­rant at the Park Hy­att in Philadel­phia. Chefs tend to drink a lot; and as I ma­tured, I changed from drinking al­co­hol just for the sake of drinking al­co­hol to drinking it for fla­vor. In my early ca­reer, the res­tau­rant som­me­lier often gave me good wine left over from tast­ing events or ones des­ig­nated for re­moval from the cel­lar list. I drank and cooked with these wines.

At 22 I had the op­por­tu­nity to move to South Beach in Mi­ami and work at an ex­per­i­men­tal lux­ury bou­tique hotel. The con­cept chef was bring­ing in his en­tire team, so there was a po­si­tion for me as a first-line cook, which was well be­low my cur­rent sta­tus, or I could opt to run the front of the house (FOH). The FOH po­si­tion typ­i­cally re­quires one third as many hours as I was putting in as a chef and pays three times the money. With all of my stu­dent loans, I fig­ured I could do FOH for a while. To pre­pare, I stud­ied and took the In­tro­duc­tory Som­me­lier Exam and passed.

Within a few months of my pass­ing the exam, the head som­me­lier and the wine di­rec­tor left — one quit and the other was fired. Sud­denly I was the only one with any for­mal ed­u­ca­tion about wine. I quickly re­al­ized that the more wine knowl­edge I had, the more money I’d make.

Life was crazy. I was re­spon­si­ble for the res­tau­rant’s wine, bar and pen­t­house pro­grams. It was my job to par­tic­i­pate in the South Beach Food & Wine event; and when fa­mous chefs ar­rived, I paired their foods with de­li­cious wines. I got thrown into the in­dus­try, I love it, and I have had an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer ever since.

HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND YOUR TIME WHEN YOU ARE NOT WORK­ING?

I love be­ing with my fi­ancée Ryann Deer­ing. We both work in the wine and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­tries and we cherish our TV + couch + cud­dles time. I like to keep ac­tive and I en­joy snow­board­ing, trav­el­ing and cook­ing. I often throw elab­o­rate din­ner par­ties for eight or more peo­ple, and I own enough ser­vice for 12-14 plated cour­ses without re­peat­ing a ves­sel.

WHAT ARE YOUR FA­VORITE TUES­DAY, SATUR­DAY AND SPE­CIAL EVENT WINES?

That is a hard question to answer be­cause my fa­vorite changes based on the sea­sons, my mood, the time of day, my dis­po­si­tion and whether I have been trav­el­ing. How­ever, it is safe to say that ries­ling is always the answer. On a Tues­day I might choose a rea­son­ably priced Wash­ing­ton State dry ries­ling, on a Satur­day maybe a more ex­pen­sive Wash­ing­ton State ries­ling or one from Al­sace, Ger­many or Aus­tria. On a spe­cial oc­ca­sion I might break out a 20-, 30or even 50-year-old ries­ling from Ger­many or Al­sace; but to be fair, my Tues­day night wine might be more ex­pen­sive than what other peo­ple would have on hand. I also love Si­cil­ian reds.

WHAT IS SOMLYAY LLC?

I hate to use the word, but ba­si­cally I am a bev­er­age, wine, and hos­pi­tal­ity consultant. There are three arms to SOMLYAY LLC.

- I work with brand new and ex­ist­ing busi­nesses in the hotel and res­tau­rant com­mu­nity. I write bev­er­age pro­grams, help or­ga­nize cel­lars and wine lists, and of­fer train­ing.

- I as­sist sup­pli­ers and buy­ers in im­prov­ing their op­er­a­tions, and I teach sup­pli­ers how to build bridges to buy­ers.

- I help my pri­vate clients with din­ner par­ties, wine events, pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion events, em­ployee par­ties, cel­lar build­ing and man­age­ment, or any­thing else re­lated to wine and hos­pi­tal­ity.

DO YOU HAVE ANY EX­CIT­ING CUR­RENT PROJECTS?

I have many. How­ever, two of the most in­ter­est­ing are Wine Riot 2.0. and my par­tic­i­pa­tion with a new bed and break­fast and their wine bar. I am the new host for Wine Riot 2.0. In the past, the event fo­cused on an abun­dance of wine drinking, and now we fo­cus on wine ed­u­ca­tion through wine tast­ing. Dur­ing the three-hour event, at­ten­dees can visit a num­ber of ta­bles.

- There are va­ri­etal-based ta­bles where they find se­lec­tions of the same grape va­ri­etal from dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Tasters in­crease their un­der­stand­ing of how that grape changes through­out re­gions of the world.

- Next, visi­tors can stop at a re­gional ta­ble where they will find tast­ings of sev­eral wines from a spe­cific re­gion. Tasters might learn what a Super Tus­can is or dis­cover facts about dif­fer­ent des­ig­na­tions for Chi­anti.

-Fi­nally, at­ten­dees can stop at a ta­ble and learn gen­eral wine con­cepts like the dif­fer­ence be­tween dry and sweet wine, or how to dis­tin­guish be­tween the old-world and new-world wines.

My sec­ond project is as­sist­ing a fam­ily-owned con­struc­tion com­pany in the open­ing of their new bed and break­fast and wine bar in Sper­ryville, Vir­ginia. I am work­ing with them to create an in­cred­i­ble wine bar pro­gram.

CAN YOU REC­OM­MEND ANY GREAT “NEW” WINE FINDS?

- Por­tu­gal is de­liv­er­ing in­cred­i­bly de­li­cious wines for ex­cel­lent value at every price point.

-South Africa has some ex­cel­lent wines.

- Wash­ing­ton State has many qual­ity wines at a sub­stan­tial value.

- In­cred­i­ble things are hap­pen­ing in Aus­tralia. The Mediter­ranean va­ri­etals are thriv­ing in the McLaren Vale re­gion and sev­eral other parts of the coun­try.

- Sev­eral sparkling wines from Tas­ma­nia ri­val Cham­pagnes.

WHAT IS YOUR PHI­LOS­O­PHY OF WINE AND FOOD?

Drink what you want and eat what you want. Re­lax about it. What I want to say is, there are mil­lions of wines, so why not drink what you want and choose your meal around it. The dif­fer­ence be­tween a good pair­ing and a great pair­ing is pa­tience be­tween the sips and bites.

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