Putting Detroit on the Wine Map

By Caroline Hatchett

By

Caroline Hatchett

Take a minute, close your eyes, and imagine sitting around a table with friends. You’re sharing an American wagyu tomahawk chop and a back vintage bottle of Robert Foley cab. Life is good. And you’re in Detroit, in the dining room of Wolfgang Puck Steak at the MGM Grand. 

This moment is your official invitation to the Motor City, courtesy of Rising Star Sommelier Shaun Page. 

Since taking over the wine program four years ago, Page has worked tirelessly and methodically to position the Wolfgang Puck Steak’s list in the same strata as Eleven Madison Park, Canlis, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the 84 other restaurants in the world that hold Wine Spectator’s coveted Grand Award. When he achieves it, Wolfgang Puck Steak will be the only restaurant on the list that hails from a control state. 

“It’s so daunting. People laughed at me. They said it wasn’t going to work. They questioned how I would get split cases and three bottles of certain wines,” says Page. “You’d be surprised, though. [Producers and importers] are excited about getting wines that people want to drink into their hands. I have wines you won’t find anywhere else.”

Page inherited a cellar from Rajat Parr (not exactly a schlubby collection of wines) but decided to sell off $200,000 worth of inventory as his first order of business—a task less difficult than you might imagine if you have the foot traffic of the MGM Grand. Then he went about sharing his vision for the program and its role in Detroit’s restaurant renaissance. That passion and purpose (Page says it’s “tunnel vision”) has led to a vast accumulation of wine.

“I started with 800 bottles, then grew to 1,300 to 1,500 and now 2,500. I want producers to know we’re committed to offering guests an experience they can’t have anywhere else in the world. And they’re having it in Detroit!”

An experience at Wolfgang Puck Steak often means drinking big wines from California that pair effortlessly with the meat-centered meals. “It’s about our guests and playing to what they want,” says Page. “Napa is the king.” Page has 15 pages devoted to the region with wines from $50 to $1,000, and after cultivating relationships with Gina Voci at Opus One and Robert Foley (“like meeting Michael Jordan” for Page), he asked for and received back vintages of the houses’ cult wines.  

Page also has three pages of Riesling on the list (he couldn’t resist), along with acquisitions aimed at connoisseurs and international clientele who come into the restaurant for the Wolfgang Puck name. Italian winemaker Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta sent him more than 10 vintages from his personal cellar. After nerding out on truffles and history with a sales rep from Chateau de Haute-Serre in Cahors, the winery sold him verticals from 1980 to present. Wolfgang Puck Steak is the only restaurant in America and one of a few in the world with such an extensive collection of Chateau de Haute-Serre.

“These producers keep wine for themselves, friends, family, and the winery. When you’re passionate as they are, they’re more than willing to help you out,” says Page. “I tell them that I’m working toward a Grand Award, and that, essentially, no one has put on this endeavor in the Midwest. It’s about putting Detroit and Michigan on the map”

Michigan born and raised, Page is a natural ambassador for his city and the wines he carries, and he has built lots of goodwill hand-selling both. Now, he just has to sell Wine Spectator on his list, on his perspective, and on a rallying cry for his program and Detroit: “There’s nothing that can’t be done.” There’s no “no” in what we do,” says Page. 

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