Wine Director for The Honest Man Restaurant Group, NYC
Certified Sommelier by The Court of Master Sommeliers, Julie Berger has spent the last eight years devoted to developing and refining her wine knowledge. Berger continues to advance through the prestigious program of the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Completed through Level II, Berger is currently working towards Level III certification and ultimately towards the goal of Master Sommelier, the finest professional credential anyone can attain worldwide. We sat down with Julie to discuss her career and passion for wine.
Give us a little background about yourself and what attracted you into a career in hospitality and foodservice? Any mentors?
Growing up my parents believed in the importance of travel and experiencing the world. They stressed the value of being open to new places, new cultures and new cuisines. At home they enjoyed collecting wine and cooking together, making meals was something we appreciated as a family. From a young age, I wanted to help in the kitchen and be sure our guests had a cocktail or glass of wine in front of them. I actually used to pretend I was a cocktail waitress for my grandmother before I could even write. I suppose the hospitality industry was always in my blood. I discovered my passion for wine on my 21st birthday when my father opened a bottle of 1982 Haut Brion. The experience opened my eyes to a future in wine and hospitality.
We know that your career started as a server and floor manager in California. What led you back to NY and how or where did the opportunity come about to become a sommelier?
Actually, my hospitality career began at Nick & Toni’s many years ago. I had come to the Hamptons for the summer, was hired as a busser / coat check girl and eventually became a server. After a few years at Nick & Toni’s, I decided to move to San Diego and experience life on the West Coast. While working in California, my interest in wine continued to grow and I knew the industry in NY set the bar for the rest of the country. Not only was NY home to me, but there is no place better to learn about the restaurant business as a whole and specifically wine.
How do you continue to grow and develop your wine knowledge?
Wine is a constant learning process. I travel to wine regions as much as possible, meeting with producers, asking questions and of course tasting wine. Spending time discussing and tasting with other wine professionals is extremely important. I’m also a huge fan of guildsomm.com, it’s an educational website run by The Court of Master Sommeliers. They have a wealth of information, maps, study guides, discussion forums and offer enrichment trips to wine regions around the world.
With so many wines out there, explain the process of developing a wine menu. What do you look for when you’re considering adding a new bottle to the list?
Most important, I select quality wines that complement the restaurant’s cuisine and will appeal to our guests. Other things to consider are variation in styles, price points, vintages, origins of the wines and different producers. I enjoy having a selection of interesting wines available for wine professionals and guests looking to experience something new or different.
What is the most challenging situation you’ve been in or request you’ve received as a sommelier?
It’s always a challenge to select a bottle of wine for a table of guests with very different tastes while making everyone happy. It’s the part of being a sommelier that can be the most difficult.
Do you and your staff try to steer customers to wines that may be unfamiliar to them, or do you let them stay in their comfort zone?
If a guest is open to trust myself and our staff, we love to introduce new wines to customers, it’s the fun part of the job.
What are the basic food and wine matching principles you focus on?
Sometimes opposites attract and other times I like similarities. It’s nice to contrast salty or fatty foods with higher acid wines. I love sparkling wines with fried salty foods… actually I love Champagne any time Spicy foods work very well with slightly sweet wines. When matching, I focus on the flavor intensity and body of the wine and food. Lighter wines paired with lighter foods and heavier wines with heavier foods. It is fun to experiment with different pairings; great pairings elevate the whole dining experience.
What do you see trending in wine in 2014 and 2015?
People enjoy looking for hidden gems. Undiscovered wines, good values and obscure varietals are trendy. Consumers enjoy the art discovery and sharing new finds with their friends.
Any up and coming wine regions you are keeping an eye on?
Wines from Corsica are amazing!!! They are producing red, white and rose wines from unique varietals. I look forward to seeing more Corsican wines in restaurants and stores.
What advice can you give our young professionals looking to become a Sommelier?
Find a mentor, be passionate, and taste, taste, taste!!!