Interview with Sommelier Jill Gubesch of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, Chicago

July 2004

Jim Clarke: Did you grow up in a wine-friendly environment?

Jill Gubesch: My Grandparents came over from Austria, and used to make currant wine.

JC: Have you maintained or developed an interest in the wines from the Finger Lake region, near where you grew up?

JG: I remember drinking sweet wines made from the Niagara grape, when I was younger. I think that the region’s wines have come a long way, especially the wines of Dr. Konstantin Frank.

JC: Did you have a special attachment to Mexican cuisine before working in Rick Bayless’ restaurants?

JG: No; this has been a complete education in all things Mexican. I was given the opportunity to go to Oaxaca with Rick shortly after I started. He had me teach a seminar on Mexican wines. We also take a staff trip to Mexico each year to learn about the cuisine and culture.

JC: What’s your approach for steering guests away from Mexican cuisine’s traditional accompaniments of Beer and Margaritas and into wine?

JG: I always encourage people to start with one of our wonderful margaritas, but then ask them to consider wine with their food. This way they will get the best experience possible.

JC: Does working with a specific cuisine become a bit constraining for a sommelier?

JG: Not at all. We change the menu in both dining rooms once a month. We also offer a tasting menu with wine pairings in Topolobampo that changes monthly as well. Weekly, we will change one of the courses on the tasting menu. The kitchen is always coming up with new ideas and presentations so it keeps me on my toes.

JC: What professional training have you sought out, aside from your experience on the floor?

JG: I travel to different wine regions several times a year. Last year I was able to visit the Rhône Valley, the Guadalupe Valley, and several areas of Chile. I also attend tastings and meet with winemakers on a regular basis.

JC: What wines do you seek out for your own cellar?

JG: I love Vega Sicilia “Unico,” and I also love Italian wines from Tuscany or Piedmont. I went a little crazy buying 2000 Bordeaux as well.