Interview with Sommelier Brad Ball of Social Restaurant + Wine Bar – Charleston, SC

by Caroline Hatchett
November 2013

Dan Catinella: How did you develop an interest in wine?

Brad Ball: I grew up in the industry. My family has owned five or six restaurants and bars over the years. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I remember being super young and running around the whole restaurant. My parents tried to push me away from restaurants and I ended up with a philosophy degree, but worked through restaurants my whole life. Basically, I started as a server, and I kept bugging my parents to start a wine program. For the most part, I’m pretty self-taught. I went and bought The Wine Bible and started reading and tasting. A year later, I went to the intro course of master sommeliers.

DC: Describe your fondest wine memory.

BB: I’ll never forget the first time I had a bottle of red Burgundy—it blew me way.

DC: What courses have you taken? Certifications? Awards won?

BB: The intro course at the Court of Master Sommeliers; advanced Somm through Court of Master Sommeliers with intentions for Master Somm; I also have a diploma of Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. Social won best wine program.

DC: What is your philosophy on wine and food?

BB: It has evolved over the years. I used to think I had to concentrate on flavors and aromas, but now it’s really more about structure as the most important ingredient, and the weight of the dish versus the weight of the wine is huge. That’s probably where I start. From there I look at acidity and balance. Then you start to get into nuance. I’d like to say it’s an exact science, but it’s definitely not. Sometimes I look at a pairing like there is no way this is going to work and it does. Sometimes you’ll have five or six different ideas and keep trying and trying until you hit that chord.

DC: What’s your favorite wine resource?

BB: I look at the Guild of Sommeliers site all the time for technical information. My favorite publication is probably The World of Fine Wine and that comes out the UK. I’m constantly exploring and reading blogs.

DC: If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?

BB: I find the hotel industry pretty fascinating, in general. Maybe a hotelier or something along those lines.

CH: Which person in history would you most like to share a bottle of wine? What would you pour?

BB: Winston Churchill and a magnum of Vintage Krug (Sorry Pol Roger!).

CH: How do you compile your wine list?

BB: It’s definitely personal taste. We should do a better job in keeping things varied, but I think a lot is personal preference. My protégé helps keep me in check, or else I just keep ordering the same things.

CH: What regions are you interested in at the moment?

BB: Our wine program in general is focused on France, Italy, Germany, and Austria. With that said, we have a great Burgundy collection. I still love all styles of Riesling. It’s a tough question; it kind of comes and goes in waves. I’ll be obsessed with a certain region for a while and then move on.

DC: What wine trends are you seeing in your city?

BB: Obviously the natural wine movement is huge. We are still seeing a lot more stuff like that. I’d say for the most part we are also seeing more of those country, artisanal wines, especially from France, coming into the market and having some staying power.

DC: Where do you see yourself in five years?

BB: Tough question. The restaurant industry is kind of brutal, so maybe getting into the import side or even the wine making?