The Fearrington House Restaurant
2000 Fearrington Village Center
(Fearrington Village) Pittsboro, NC 27312
Michigan native Maximilian Kast’s family was involved in the local and fine food movement, introducing him to the importance of hand-crafted and slow food well before he had a professional outlet. Once Kast did enter his first professional culinary gig—working in restaurants while attending the University of Montana—it was wine that grabbed his attention. Already enamored of the stories behind food, Kast found himself intrigued by how every wine bottle was a journey to another place and an introduction to new people—and how, when paired with food, a bottle of wine could evoke emotions and memories. No surprise, again, he decided to make a career out of the stuff.
As wine director of Triple Creek Ranch in Montana from 2005 to 2007, Kast increased the wine repertoire to span over fourteen countries and helped earn both Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and Wine Enthusiast’s Award of Distinction. Moving to Fearrington House as a sommelier in 2007, Kast was quickly made wine director, managing a 1,000-label wine list to match the restaurant’s seasonal menu. He’s also responsible for Fearrington House’s popular Wine Maker Dinner series, along with teaching wine and beer classes and managing the beverage programs at The Goat Café, The Fearrington Granary Restaurant, and Roost. In September 2013, Kast took the top spot at the second annual Sommelier Challenge at Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma, California.
Tips for the Sommelier:
Always be humble and remember that we are here to serve first and foremost. Guest’s are not interested in how much we know. They are interested in how happy we make them
Taste everything, as much as possible, all the time. It is important to taste the good and the bad, what you like and what you don’t like, so you have a better understanding of the whole world of wine. If you do not understand the most basic wines, it is even harder to understand the most complex.
Learn the deductive method of blind tasting. This is what has helped me the most in what I call “creating the palate.” As sommeliers, our palates are just like a painter’s palette. It’s our toolset that we use to express our creativity—to either go with the tried-and-true or improvise and work from our memory. In building our palate we learn to look for not just what we like, but for what is well made and of good quality. This helps a lot in pairing wine with food, as well, because you look for harmony in flavor above all else.
Find a wine key that you really like and make it your best friend. Then always keep at least three wine keys with you every service, one as a back-up for yourself and the other to lend to someone who inevitably always forgets theirs.
Remember that wine is something that makes life more enjoyable. It is a celebration. It is joy. It is not cerebral or, at least, does not always have to be.
Why: It’s easy to forget, particularly working in the food and wine industry, that there are people out there not able to get food on the table every night, who have children who go to bed hungry. Hunger is not something that only exists in far away places. It is often the people in your own town that need the most help. At our food bank in Pittsboro, they are always looking for donations, and they say they never have enough for all of the people they want to feed.
Interview with Sommelier Maximilian Kast of Fearrington House – Pittsboro, NC
Antoinette Bruno: How did you develop an interest in wine?
Maximilian Kast: I grew up in a very food- and wine-oriented family. My parents introduced me to the importance of handcrafted and slow food. And I grew up around vineyards as well.
AB: Describe your fondest wine memory.
MK: It’s a pretty simple one. I was traveling with Colin [Bedford] in Barbaresco and we met Paitin, a wine maker, at his wine cellars. We ended up having a three-hour long lunch, with bottles of 2001 wine—cow tongue, pepper, and anchovies; boiled cow’s head; beef crudo, the works. It was the perfect relationship between food and wine. We had a braised cow’s head with a 10-year Barolo. It was perfect—subtle and harmonious.
AB: Where have you worked previously?
MK: I was the wine director at Triple Creek Ranch, also a Relais & Châteaux property in Montana from 2005 to 2007.
AB: What courses have you taken? Certifications? Awards won?
MK: I will take the Master Sommelier exam for 2014. I’ve already cleared the blind tasting and theory portion and am studying for the practical. I took third place at Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’s Best Young Sommelier in the USA in 2013 and took the top spot at the second annual Top Sommelier Challenge at Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma in 2013.
AB: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
MK: I like to look at the dish, first, without tasting it—look at all the components. Then I like to taste all the components, gauge the level of sweetness, saltiness, acidity, and get a feel of the texture as well. Then I either look to complement or contrast the flavors. Personally, I prefer harmony, but sometimes contrasting works very well. I look for umami flavors, a mystery area. For example, I like drier Sherries and Madeira’s whereas sweet wines are more popular.
AB: List your favorite wine resource book and author.
MK: It has to be the Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine. I keep coming back to it over and over again.
AB: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
I have two. Château Musar from Lebanon, from the Bekaa Valley, and Olga Raffault Chinon.
AB: If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?
MK: I would probably own an apple orchard and make hard cider.
AB: With what historical figure would you most like to share a bottle of wine? What would you pour?
MK: It would have to be Abe Lincoln, and I’d serve him a Terrantez Madeira from the early nineteenth century.
AB: How do you compile the wine list?
MK: I like to balance Old World wines with New World wines. I taste over 100 wines a week and do a lot of research. I try to keep up with our chef’s menu, which changes seasonally. We have over 1,300 wines so there’s a lot to work with. My aim is to provide the highest quality for the price, for all price ranges.
AB: What regions are you interested in at the moment?
MK: Germany and Austria are always favorites. Recently I’ve become interested in North Piedmont and Puglia in Italy and also Virginia.
AB: What wine trends are you seeing in this area of North Carolina?
MK: Durham is different from Raleigh. In Durham, people are naturally adventurous with wine. Raleigh is usually very classic, but it is beginning to become more adventurous. People are opening up to trying new things.
AB: Do you have a blog?
MK: I contribute to Chatter, the Fearrington House blog.
AB: Where do you see yourself in five years?
MK: In five years, I would like to continue turning people on to wine, keep on traveling, and move into some writing hopefully.