Interview with Chef Geoff Kruth of The Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant - Napa Sonoma

June, 2009

Antoinette Bruno: How did you develop and interest in wine?
Geoff Kruth: I went to college locally at Sonoma State and the only thing to do on the weekends for free was to go on wine tastings. So we did that regularly and that’s how I developed an interest in wine.

AB: Describe your fondest wine memory.
GK: I was in Champagne at Pol Roger with Christian Pol Roger, and he has an unbelievable cellar. He has amazingly old bottles, including two bottles of 1911 La Tache, which is a very special wine. I'm sure there are only a couple of bottles left in the world. We tasted it blindfolded and he asked me what I thought it was. I thought it might be 1959 Grand Cru Burgundy, and he gave me a hard time because I was only off by 50 years. Nobody else got close.

AB: What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
GK: I would say passing the master’s sommelier exam. I spent six years studying for that, which is a good chunk of my life. It was a relief to finish.

AB: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
GK: I prefer more subtle and feminine flavors, more delicate and aromatic wines. I’m less interested in the intensity of flavors than I am in the complexity of flavors—and sometimes they can be simple flavors. I tend to prefer naturally made wines that aren’t manipulated. I really like both California and Old World wines. I lean towards those California wines that are reserved and more akin to food.

AB: If you could go anywhere for culinary travel, where would you go and why?
GK: I would go to Northern Italy, in terms of both wine and food—it’s the style of wine and food that I most like to drink and eat, even though there are lots of other great regions in the world. I have already been to Northern Italy and will be going again. There are places I haven’t yet been to that I’m going to visit on my next trip—areas in Lombardy in the north that I’ve never been to.

AB: If you could have any chef cook for you, who would it be and why?
GK: I really like Eric Ripert’s food; I found it to be the style of ingredient-driven food that’s not overly worked and very precise.

AB: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
GK: In pairing with food, I want to be sure the structural elements of a wine pair with the food. That can be assessed by looking at alcohol levels, acidity, tannins and how all of those elements relate to food. If you are dealing with spice, avoid high alcohol. And there are some times that food and wine both taste better alone. I don’t get too overly concerned, personally, with pairing; I just don’t want anything to clash. Understanding the structural elements of wine and food, and what causes certain things to not work together is the important thing. If you get a wine that you really like and it’s not a magical pairing with the food, but it’s your favorite food, that’s still a great experience.

AB: How do you manage your wine list?
GK: I’m running the wine list the way I think wine lists should be, in terms of global wines and wines from around the world. I pick smaller regional producers that best represent their appellation and offer them at fair prices, making sure the bottles are well-stored. I really like running a wine program in the way I think a wine program should be run. I think it’s really an interesting and exciting wine program.

AB: If you had to describe yourself as a wine – what type of wine would you be? Why?
GK: Oh wow—I don’t know. I love Barolo; I love red and white Burgundy. I also love German Riesling and lighter-bodied regional Italian reds. I tend to like lighter-bodied reds.

AB: As director of operations, tell me about the Guild of Sommeliers – when did you start it and why? How are things going now?
GK: The guild was started by a group of master sommeliers as an educational foundation; we recently launched the membership organization about two-and-a-half months ago and now have about 400 sommelier members from around the country. We are a scholarship organization—last year we gave out about $170,000 in wine education scholarships. I’m now the director of the organization. After I finished my master’s I got involved, and I’m focused on building the membership organization right now. We have an online community that is very active with people who share information about their experiences with wine and they educate each other. The most important thing is the exchange of information, networking and sharing of experience.

AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important thing you’ve learned from them?
GK: Fred Dame is definitely one; he started the American chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers. I learned from him to make sure that wine and the wine business is primarily fun and enjoyable. It’s not about how much you know or who you know or what you drink, but about how the wine business being fun and enjoyable. Wine is about pleasure. Chris Goodhart is another—I worked with him at Balthazar in New York. I would say I learned from Chris how to manage a wine list, how to create a wine list that you believe in.

AB: Tell me about a perfect wine and food match that you discovered.
GK: Blood sausage and Gewürztraminer, which is one of those wines that you’re not quite sure why it exists. Blood sausage has some of the same fatty characteristics of foie gras.

AB: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
GK: For holding, red and white Burgundy, Barolo, German Riesling, Champagne, and Loire Valley whites—classic wines that I am going to age. I drink a lot of light-bodied reds from the north of Italy. I love Italian wine.

AB: What wine trends do you see in your area?
GK: We’re definitely seeing a move to lower alcohol, less extraction and less use of really obvious new oak. There’s a move towards more subtle wines that are picked a little earlier, so there is less alcohol and less ripeness. We’re seeing winemakers with broader palates.

AB: With which person in history would you most like to share a bottle of wine? What would you pour?
GK: Thomas Jefferson—he’s a historical figure who was very interested in wine, he was an avid wine fan. I would have to pour American wine, like some Nebbiolo from Virginia. Those wines have gotten better over time

AB: What are your ultimate career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
GK: I see myself continuing to build the guild as a professional organization and also working to improve overall wine knowledge for both consumers and professionals. I want to improve wine enjoyment and understanding for both professionals and consumers.