Strejan: I was always fascinated with wines. I lived in Central
California's gold coast, where I was exposed to local wine makers
once I was old enough to drink. At 22 years old, I was pouring sample
tastes of wine for local wineries during the day and working as a
waiter in town (Bob's Big Boy in Atascadero!) at night. When I moved
to Los Angeles during the mid-eighties, I was able to bluff my way
(Bob's was not the best of preparation for the demands of fine dining)
into working as a waiter for Elka Gilmore at Brentwood's Chameleon.
It was there that I was first inspired by 'food as art' and by the
role that wine plays in the food world.
What separates an outstanding sommelier from the rest?
Knowledge tempered by service. The guest's experience is the only
thing that matters. The greater the sommelier's knowledge, the greater
the need for humility and caring.
Using the I
Ching to create categories for your wine list is such an innovative
and entertaining method of presenting the wines. Are you partial to
any one category, and why?
I love the wines of Thunder. They're wines of experimentation. They're
obscure little grapes, although there are some very fine wines among
Do you feel like people are beginning to experiment with wines from
lesser known regions and grape varietals in a sustained way, or is
it just a fad?
When you say "people", notice that you are expressing a
cultural bias. I don't need to recommend a Refosco (an obscure Italian
grape) to an Italian having lamb. If we narrow "people"
to Americans, I would say that yes, we are experimenting. We are a
young and curious nation. Wine as food is a movement that has yet
to begin here, but I believe that this is the future. Look at the
wine trade through a different lens for a moment. There are two sides
to wine-collectors' wines and wines that are part of the meal, or
part of life. Dual aspects of the same event. I love both. As we continue
to discover what goes with what, our tastes in wine will evolve.
Any unfortunate wine tasting incidents you'd like to share with us?
I brought my wife with me to a tasting, and as we finished one floor,
I turned to go upstairs for the Bordeaux, and I noticed that she was
lagging behind. "There's another floor?" she slurred. "You
have been spitting haven't you?" I said. She says - "You're
supposed to spit?" with her most sheepish of grins.
Do you own any indispensable wine books?
The Oxford Companion to Wine by Robinson and Zen Mind, Beginner's
Mind by Suzuki.
How have you applied what you learned in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
This is a paraphrase, but on the first page of Suzuki's book it says
something like, "In the expert's mind, the possibilities are
few. But, in the beginner's mind, the possibilities are endless."
I think it's important to maintain a "beginner's mind".
We're in a constant state of not knowing. Every year, every wine is
a new wine. I start over every year. That's one of the things I like
about wine. There's always something new.