Interview with Sommelier Maximilian Kast of Fearrington House – Pittsboro, NC

by Antoinette Bruno
November 2013

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.