definition of Sommelier
Sommelier Erik Liedholm
Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar
205 108th Avenue NE
Civica Office Commons Building
Bellevue, WA 98004

Interview with Erik Liedholm
by Ha-Kyung Choi

Ha-Kyung Choi: Washington is increasingly becoming known for its excellent wines. Do you try to promote Washington wines at Seastar? What kind of relationship do you have with wineries and who are some of your favorite Washington winemakers?

Erik Liedholm: We do feature Washington wine on our wine list. At least 20% of the wine on our list is from Washington, particularly by the glass. Likewise, we do monthly winemaker dinners featuring local wine makers and we do a “Stars of Washington” wine event twice a year featuring four of our favorite wineries. Like a chef's relationship with a farmer, we look at the relationship with a winemaker the same way. Establishing a close relationship with a winemaker not only assures us supply of a particular wine but it also gives us increased perspective about the minutia of the wine - allowing us to share that perspective with our guests. Some of our favorite wines and winemakers include Bob Betz from Betz Family Winery, Caleb Foster and Nina-Buty Foster from Buty Winery and Matt Loso from Matthews Cellars.

HC: I hear that you’re also a winemaker. Can you tell us a little about your wine?

EL: My attempts at winemaking can best be described as "experimental." I used a ton of Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc and let's just say it was a good learning experience! I will try it again this year too! Gulp!

What made you want to become a sommelier?

EL: A passion not only for what's poured into the glass but what it takes to get it into the bottle, not to mention the pleasure I get sharing that passion with others. Madeline Triffon; Master Sommelier was also an inspiration.

HC: You are currently preparing for the Master Sommelier exam. What is your motivation for undergoing such a rigorous examination process and what is the significance of such an accreditation?

EL: The same reason people want to climb Mount Everest, I guess? Because it's challenging and it's there! The MS is the Everest for Wine Geeks like me. After college there really was not a graduate school for Sommeliers. This is my graduate school. Unfortunately, it is self study so I am my own worst teacher. This accreditation, if I am lucky, is simply putting my Sherpa flag on the mountain of wine.

HC: It sounds like you’ve been trained as much in the culinary arts as in wine. What was your training and how has it helped you become a better sommelier?

EL: I think all sommeliers need some form of culinary training. They should love food as much as they love wine. Our job is to guide people towards a great food and wine synergistic experience, knowing the physiology of cooking is really important in accomplishing this. Though, there is an inherent danger in taking it too seriously...people should drink the wine they love with the food they love!

HC: You teach a popular wine class at Seastar. How did you decide to offer these classes and how do you like teaching students about wine?

EL: Sharing knowledge with others is such a rush. I end up learning from the students. It is just a great thrill. Doing these classes was an opportunity to not only generate business for the restaurant but answer the call for wine education in the Seattle area.

HC: What are some of the differences in working at a restaurant in Bellevue versus some of the more recognized culinary destinations that you’ve been in the past?

EL: I would rather be the single oasis in the desert...Bellevue is the land of opportunity. It just had not been tapped!

HC: Tell us about your experience starting a new restaurant and a new wine list. What kinds of goals did you have? Did you approach the list differently from the other establishments where you’ve worked in the past?

EL: Opening a new restaurant is an exhilarating experience. The key to the success of the wine program was to offer our guests some of the wines they knew, the comfort wines, then when you built their trust, show them some wines that were entirely new, offer them a new experience. It allowed us to change the structure of the list, build a reputation and be really experimental.

HC: What is your idea of a perfect food and wine pairing? Do you have any general rules for pairing wine with food?

EL: My idea of the perfect food and wine pairing relies more on the people and place I happen to be experiencing the food and wine. I can recall a bottle of Rose, picnic lunch a hot summer day and good friends...heaven. When matching food and wine it's important to realize that it is about body balancing. Matching the size and weight of the wine with the richness and intensity of the food.

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