We talked to Sommelier Jeff Josenhans, who is currently working at the historic US Grant Hotel in San Diego as Director of Banquets, Restaurants, and Bars. He told us about how working in Stockholm influenced his first interest in wine, clued us into some of his favorite wines, and shared his advice for pursuing a beer or wine certification.
What first inspired you to want to become a sommelier?
I worked in Stockholm during my twenties, and at that time I had begun to work my way up in the bar and restaurant industry. I started out with the typical story – dishwasher, pantry, bar back, bartender, then got into fine dining and management later on. I was lucky enough to work at Grand Hotel in Stockholm, who not only had one of the deepest wine cellars in all of Europe but one of the best sommeliers as well. I forged a relationship with the somm on property and he exposed me to wines I would never have had the opportunity to taste. It was inspiring to see him work, and eye- opening to see how deep wine knowledge could go. I was hooked and made a commitment to myself to better understand not only wine, but all aspects of beverage.
What is the most surprising (in a good way!) wine you have had recently?
I had a frizzante rosso by Podere Pradarolo, which was funky and earthy – super atypical for most sparkling reds and a great rustic pizza pairing.
You are the director of banquets, bars, and restaurants for the US Grant Hotel in San Diego – what is the most challenging or rewarding part of your job?
I find it rewarding to be involved in all aspects of the operation, and to truly see the multiple facets in which food and beverage can take form. Jumping from a tech meeting in the morning, to lunch in the restaurant, to room service amenities in the afternoon, a wedding at night, pre-theater business in the bar, tasting meal coursed service in the restaurant, to late night bar service in our other bar all keeps me busy! The challenge is controlling the ebbs and flows of business, and deepening the bench strength of the team to handle it well when it all comes at once. That, and also being able to keep a close eye on creative passion when logistics and finances can easily take priority in such a complex operation.
What is your process for choosing which wines and beverages the hotel will carry and creating concepts for each of the different restaurants and bars on site?
We do not have a singular approach to our hotel programming, but rather look at each venue (Corporate and Local Banquet/Weddings, Restaurant, Lobby Lounge, Room Service, and our French Cocktail Bar) with specific needs in mind. I strongly believe that each team and area needs to have their own feel and identity, which in turn strengthens the guest experience. Having said that, we always start the process for each area with an internal conversation and establish a direction or concept. From there, we get in touch with suppliers and start tasting and comparing prices. For major placements we taste blind and incorporate others into the process as well that may not be somms per say, but still have a vested interest in the selection.
Do you have an all-time favorite wine?
I’m a Francophile in general, but both my wife and I treasure a good Chinon.
You are also a certified cicerone – what advice would you give those interested in becoming certified in either beer or wine?
I would advise taking the Certified Beer Server Exam first, since that is relatively easy and quick. From there, take the Introductory Sommelier exam, which is going to take considerably more study time. This will give you a very solid foot to stand on in the beverage industry, and will help you determine where your passion lies and if you think it is worth going “all in” for both or either exams. Also for both certifications, I can’t emphasize enough to attempt to properly make your own wine (from juice you can buy at harvest time ideally, or extract off-season) and beer (from grain, not extract) to better your understanding of the process of beer and winemaking as well. Even if you fail at making a fantastic beer or wine, which you will the first time, you will learn a lot and have a one up on others going for the certification.
Photography courtesy of The US Grant Hotel.