Sommelier Speak: By the Glass with Kelly Peterson Bates
Kelly Peterson Bates was appointed Head Sommelier of the Boarding House in May 2014. In curating the beverage lists for the esteemed restaurant, she oversees wine, spirits, and beer programming; trains a talented staff of servers—many of whom are also sommeliers-in-training; and regularly shares her knowledge with guests through guided wine tastings. As part of a powerful, all-woman leadership team, Peterson Bates works closely with MS Alpana Singh and Executive Chef Tanya Baker, a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef Award in 2015.
Peterson Bates is working towards her Advanced Sommelier certification and has passed the Level 2 exam. She is also Level 2 Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certified and is preparing for the advanced (WSET). She most recently acquired her Sake Specialist Certification and also has aspirations of completing the Cicerone Certification Program within the upcoming year.
Where was the last place you traveled? What was your favorite wine experience there? The last place I traveled to was Santa Barbara County at the end of April 2016, specifically the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley Appellations. My favorite wine experience while I was there was walking around the Sanford & Benedict Winery with Richard Sanford, the legendary Pinot pioneer of Santa Rita Hills. So the funny story is…We are walking along and he says, “oh…I want to show you something special! Something I want to check on and see how it’s going.” I’m thinking that he’s going to show me some magical, secret vineyard and instead he takes me to the property bathroom. Apparently, his daughter designed the whole thing. And honestly it was the most beautiful, outdoor bathroom I have ever seen!
What do you believe is the top destination for amazing wine tastings and tours? In my opinion, one of the top wine destinations has to be Sicily. It has amazing, food-friendly, mineral driven wines, an awesome culinary culture, and it’s a beautiful place to be. There’s something special about those grapes being grown on the side of an active volcano; just knowing the fragility and mortality of those vineyards makes them extraordinary. I have not been yet, but it is up there on my to-do list.
What’s been your favorite winery for elevated experiences and insider access? Cristom Vineyards in Willamette Valley, Oregon. The people behind Cristom are just really good people. Steve Doerner (winemaker), Tom Gerrie (President and Assistant Winemaker), and John D’Anna (National Sales Manager) made my experience. They were extremely accommodating, very passionate about their special product, and did everything in their power to make my stay with Cristom a very memorable one. I came in with a professional relationship, but went home with new friends made. In my opinion, the experience isn’t just about the wine or how gorgeous an estate is—it’s about the people behind the machine. Cristom wines are amazing, but even more amazing are the people of Cristom.
What kind of advice would you give someone looking to expand their wine horizons while traveling? Look past the glass. Don’t just pay attention to what you are swirling, sniffing, and tasting. Pick up rocks and dirt (maybe even lick some, like us weirdo sommeliers). Take a deep breath in and pay attention to what you are smelling. Is there a lot of eucalyptus in the air? Perhaps lavender? Or a lot of pine trees near a vineyard that you might be standing in? These will all play a part in the terroir of the wine that is in your glass. So, if you are trying to expand your horizons while traveling, dig deeper, ask questions of the locals (what do they drink? what do they recommend?), and open up your eyes, ears, nose, and tongue to your surroundings—including the food and wine. Literally, stop and smell the roses.
What’s an “off-the-radar” wine producing destination that people often overlook? It’s not all Manischewitz and Kedem! I lived in Israel off and on for about 5 years and had the privilege of living with an Israeli family who took me to see the real Israel and not just the tourist version of it. While there I experienced Israeli wine and got to see first hand some vineyards in the Golan Heights and in the Negev, and to see the irrigation systems being used. At the time, I was not a sommelier, I was a college student, majoring in music; so I wasn’t coming at it as a learned wine professional. I do remember drinking a lot of Israeli wine and thinking, “okay, this is drinkable,” but it wasn’t anything that knocked my socks off at the time. This was almost 10 years ago. Fast-forward to now, and the Israeli wines that I have tried since then continue to improve immensely. The oak is becoming more restrained, the pursuit of quality has obviously improved, and I find myself being impressed with most of the wines I am trying. I recommend wines from Galil, Recanati, and Yarden. These are excellent producers shaping the modern Israeli wine industry. I am very excited to see what heights Israeli wine continues to climb to! It is definitely on my radar and it should be on everyone else’s too!
What are some expert tips for ordering wine at a restaurant? First and foremost, be confident. Please do not be intimidated. I am a 5 foot 2 inch human being, who goes to church every Sunday, I promise that there is no need for shaky hands or quivering voices. My job is to have a conversation with you, human to human. A conversation that happens to be about a fermented beverage that is fun to drink! This conversation should not induce a panic attack any more so than a conversation about what your favorite color is. If I am any decent at my job as a sommelier, I should be able to steer you in the direction of a wine that you will enjoy based off of this conversation. But a conversation requires at least 2 parties. I need your help to steer us in the right direction. Some simple questions that I will ask:
— Red, white, rose, or sparkling?
— Lighter bodied, like Pinot Noir or fuller bodied like Cabernet Sauvignon?
— What are you having for dinner?
— What do you like to drink at home/wines you have enjoyed in the past?
— Do you want to try something new?
This is all I really need to know to start to point the car towards its final destination. Just being able to answer these basic questions is all you really need to know when ordering wine in a restaurant that has a beverage professional on staff. That’s what I am here for. To do the work and studying so that you don’t have to. You are not a sommelier and shouldn’t be expected to be one. Ask for me. Let me help you. Please do not be intimidated.
If you do want to improve your wine swagger, pick up a copy of the Wine Bible. Read it cover to cover.
What are you drinking right now? Currently, I am drinking more beer than wine, as I am preparing to take the Certified Cicerone Exam. Lots of summer shandies, wheat beers, crisp lagers, Mexican Lager (which has really become a thing this summer, it seems like everyone is releasing their version of a Mexican lager), hard ciders/fruit infused beers, etc… Anything refreshing! I had a really good Imperial Ginger Beer called Hot Ginger at Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh last week.
Where do you want to travel next, and why? I would like to make Germany one of the places that I visit next. Besides the fact that they produce astonishing Riesling and Riesling is what every sommelier’s dreams are made of, they also have a rich beer culture. As a beverage director, it’s not all just about wine. Also, my brother is currently stationed in Germany and it wouldn’t be too shabby a thing to hang out with him while partaking in said Riesling and beer and maybe some German sausages and these strudels that he keeps raving about!
Currently, I am heading out to explore the Red Mountain AVA of Yakima Valley in Washington. I had gone on the Washington Wine Road Trip last year, which was more of an overview of the Washington wine regions. This trip will be going deep into one particular place—the Red Mountain AVA. I am looking forward to coming out with a greater knowledge of the place that is Red Mountain and the world class wines that they are producing. Washington wine is definitely hitting its stride!