Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico Erin Brooks is the head sommelier at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, CA where she manages the wine and bar program, after having served as a member of the sommelier team at Ad Lib, Chef Keller’s nine-month temporary restaurant at Silverado Resort and Spa in 2015. Also overseeing the “Vin en Carafe” program, Erin showcases local vintners and winery owners producing single barrel, exclusive wines of distinctive varietals found in Napa Valley.
What traits or skills do you believe are required to be a successful sommelier?
I believe that successful sommeliers are great matchmakers. The job of a sommelier is to help guests choose beverages they’ll enjoy, within the ever-changing parameters of desired price, occasion and pairing with cuisine. This requires in-depth knowledge of the world’s wine regions and products, but it also means you have to be a good listener. A great sommelier helps guests choose the best wine for that moment in time, whether it’s a $35 bottle of rosé or a grand cru Burgundy.
What can you tell us about the “Vin en Carafe” program you oversee at Bouchon?
Through our Vin en Carafe program, we offer wines sourced from the regions surrounding our restaurant. These wines are selected in barrel from the cellars of some of California’s finest winemakers and are only available in the restaurant while the barrel lasts. Bouchon is an authentic French bistro, so offering local wines is an integral part of that. But the Vin en Carafe program is also an important aspect of Chef Keller’s ongoing commitment to local purveyors and the amazing products northern California has to offer. I’m very proud to be a part of this program.
You also oversee an extensive wine list at Bouchon. How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
I taste wine almost every day, whether it’s a bottle currently offered on the list or I’m looking for a new selection. A great sommelier has to know his/her wine list backwards and forwards in order to successfully match wines for guests and be a great seller of wine. My job also involves educating the staff about the wines on our list, so I taste with them a few times a week.
Obviously you showcase a lot of French wines. What is your current region of affection at the moment?
I’ve been enjoying tasting wines from the Loire. It’s a huge region with a variety of styles, from sparkling to still and dry to sweet, often at great value. I’ve been especially intrigued by Chenin Blanc and all the ways it can express itself. It’s funky and rich and high in acid and I find myself pondering how it can be all those things at once.
What characteristics should a good wine have?
Everyone’s definition of a good wine is different. If you think about what “good” means from the point of view of the Court of Master Sommeliers or the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, a good wine will always show balance, meaning there’s harmony between elements like flavor, acid, alcohol and tannin. A good wine could also be defined as a wine that shows typicity of varietal or region. But I often think about the saying, “Wine is only as good as the people you drink it with.” For me, that’s very true.
Congratulations on your recent Bonaccorsi scholarship for the Advanced Sommelier exam. What are some of your long-term career goals as a sommelier?
I love the academic pursuit of wine and I enjoy having a goal ahead of me. Of course I’d like to continue my education and pass the Master sommelier exam, but the most important thing for my career is that I maintain my passion and excitement for wine and my desire to constantly learn more. It’s easy to get worn down, especially in the restaurant business where sommeliers and wine directors work long hours. But I’ve always believed that if you can find something you love to do and make a living doing it, you’ve discovered the recipe for a good life.