Wine on Starchefs
Sommelier Jesse Rodriguez of Addison—San Diego, CA
Sommelier Jesse Rodriguez

5300 Grand Del Mar Court
San Diego, CA 92130
(312) 755-9463
Featured Sommelier Interview:
Jesse Rodriguez of Addison—San Diego, CA

By Antoinette Bruno and Elyse Viner
July 2009

Antoinette Bruno: How did you develop an interest in wine?
Jesse Rodriguez: While I was going to school at Arizona State I worked at the Phoenican Resort as a waiter at their restaurant Windows on the Green. While I was there, I became fascinated with the sommelier. I thought it was so cool that his whole focus was on wine and I decided that I wanted to do everything I could to learn about his job. So I started to come in early and offered to help with inventory. At first, I had to convince the wine team—which was then led by Chris Coon and Greg Tresnor—that I was serious about wine. It took six months of constant bugging for them to give me a chance, but they loved me for it!  I became very passionate about wine and its ties with history, and the sommeliers would pour me really good wine. I started helping as the sommelier for private wine parties. It was really cool to work with those guys since Greg Tresnor was the only Master Sommelier in state of Arizona. 

AB: Describe your fondest wine memory.
JR: It was a taste of Vouvray that got me going. It was Huet Clos de Bourg. That was the one where I went, ‘I want to do this.’ It’s a sweet wine, very rich from the Chenin Blanc land.

AB: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
JR: I think that wine should amplify the food, and not be front stage. I try to think of myself as the PR for the kitchen's food. Like, “Let's look at these together and with this wine that course is going to be a superb.” With our food we generally like wines with acid. Acid is like the natural central nervous system of wines. Chef Bradley’s food is not complicated but there are so many beautiful flavors. So, you don’t want something with high alcohol, or too fruity or too tanniny. Wines with acidity showcase the food quite well.

AB: Did our tasting with you reflect old world or new world wines, or a mix?
JR: The tasting reflected primarily Old world wines. We try to take the diner around the world with the wines selected—a global experience with wine. Anyone can pick out a grand cru. But if someone does the research, you can really push the envelope and think outside of the box.

AB: Tell me about a perfect wine and food pairing that you have discovered.
JR: A coddled egg with black truffle and parmesan fondue paired with an Albert Grivault Meursault 2005—a white burgundy. The 2005 vintage is a classic. I like it because it has good acidity and perfectly highlights the richness you get with the parmesan fondue and the earthiness of the truffle. It’s a naturally rich course, and Mersault is the richest of any white Burgundy, so it really amplifies the profile of the dish. Also, the area of Burgundy pairs well with truffles.

AB: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
JR: Champagne.

AB: What is your favorite?
JR: Krug, I just love it. Twenty five Master Sommeliers have dined here since we’ve opened, and we always like to start them off with a glass of Krug.

Elyse Viner: What is it about Krug that you love so much?
JR:  It’s the end all be all of Champagne. Everyone loves it. People who have never tasted it before are amazed that a Champagne can taste like that. When we serve it to really serious wine drinkers they take a sip and know that that it is going to be the start to a great evening.

AB: If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?
JR: Teaching history or archeology and working on my Ph.D. I have two Masters degrees. My folks are both engineers. So, when I graduated from grad school and told them I was moving to Napa Valley to take a job at The French Laundry, they looked at me and said “You have $80,000 in student loans. Shouldn’t you be getting a real job?” But it was what I loved. My grandparents had a little Mexican restaurant in Beaumont. We used to spend our summers there, and we started our day cleaning the produce and prepping for lunch. They taught me a love and appreciation for food. On Sunday nights we’d all eat dinner together and it was always coursed out. That was how we ate, and I assumed that that was what everyone did. A lot of people don't know about coursed dining until they get into the industry. So, I tell my mom that I really did get into the education industry. We just had 10 people pass their second level of the sommelier exam. My mom says that it’s a really creative use of my degree.

EV: You made a comparison between teaching and being a sommelier. Can you elaborate on how you think the industries overlap and share similarities?
JR: I just finished doing two private study sessions with people looking to pass their advanced sommelier certification. At end of the day I am a servant. It’s about providing information. Working at a place like Addison, we have immeasurable accessibility. Sharing our tools and showing guests and other professionals how to perform at that level makes you immortal. I was able to pass this on or learn this because someone gave me their time and walked me through this first. It’s giving back to the community. Instead of a job, it is teaching people how they can become better diners. Sommeliers do research to provide best quality of beverage, and service and experience. I share and mentor, and I can tell the huge difference it makes to be passionate. When you are passionate about what you teach, people feed off of it. There is also a history to wine. Say your drink is from 1900.  What was going on in the world at the time? Who were the people picking the fruit at the time? Do the research and share your knowledge with your staff, guests, and other industry professionals. The big pay off is when guests come in and when they say “I was doing research” and ask what you recommend. Seeing guests share their education with their family at the table too, is just so great.

AB: Which person in history would you most like to share a bottle of wine? What would you pour?
JR: Winston Churchill. I’d pour him Krug Clos du Mesnil. I would just love to hear about his philosophy and what he was thinking when everything was going on during World War II. I’d like to hear about what was going on behind the scenes.

AB: What are your ultimate career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
JR: Hopefully finished with the Master Sommelier certification. I would love to be making wine, working on a Ph.D or consulting on a wine list…working service 1 to 2 days per week, and teaching during the day. Right now I have a baby step in that with all the private labels we do.

EV: Tell me a little bit more about the private labels you do at Addison.
JR: It’s great. It’s finding the small little grower producers that are offering the best the world has to offer in wine. Like those small little cheese producers at Murray’s. You build a relationship with them, and support them by handcrafting a blend together. I go the vineyard myself and actually make the blend, trying out different ones until I get it just right. It’s the same idea as farm to table, but farm to barrel to glass. It’s really special, helping out the small growers and producers. Right now we have13 private labels from Champagne, Germany, Austria, California, and we are getting ready to do one with a vineyard in Italy.  

AB: How do you compile your wine list?
JR: On our title page we have two styles. One part of our list is based on classical producers from around the world. The other part is from new vanguard producers that we call the hidden blue chip producers. They’re the new kids you will hear about in 5 to 10 years. My philosophy is to offer the guest something they would see in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. Basically, a world class wine list and at the same time something for people who are watching their wallets.

AB: What regions are you interested in at the moment?
JR: Definitely Burgundy, and some new areas in Germany and Austria. I’m into Washington State too.  In a couple of months I’ll be going to Oregon to discover Pinot Noir land.

EV: Why are you so interested in those regions?
JR: They have everything you can possibly think of. The whites from Germany and Austria have layers of flavor, complexity, depth, and that acidity factor –which allows wines to age. But the best part is you can serve those wines with so many different cuisines. They don’t pigeonhole you. There’s such range of stuff you can play with, because no matter what you cook it works. It is always incredible. It only gets better from there.

AB: What wine trends are you seeing in your city?
JR: When I first got to San Diego 3 years ago, there really wasn’t a push for wine directors or sommeliers. The industry was driven by distributors. You see that in New York and San Francisco it doesn’t work that way. But now you can see what we have done. There is more awareness on what’s available rather than listening to what is available. Sommeliers and wine directors do their own research. It goes back to sharing and to how wine and teaching are intertwined, rather than “you have to buy this.” You see that it’s not the same wines by the glass everywhere, it’s all different. Little producers from the bay area have come here and you can find them here.

AB: What wine education topics/seminars/workshops would you find the most helpful?
JR: Talking about the taboo issue of pricing. It's really unique. Customers aren't afraid to say they’re allergic to something. But when they look at a wine list they are afraid to mention their price range. It's much better to say what your budget is and then we can give you a fantastic wine experience. Another topic I’d find helpful would be “Where to Get Really Cool Wines.” I’d like to hear the talk include the buying process and vendor relations, and justifying purchasing wines from certain vendors.

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