Friday, July 12, 2019

Mind of a Sommelier: Rebecca Myers

(Check out my Introduction to the The Mind of a Sommelier series.)

Rebecca Myers is the Co-Owner and Director of Wine & Service ay Loyal Nine in Cambridge, a restaurant which "focuses on New England culinary traditions." Loyal Nine serves breakfast, lunch, and supper, as well as Sunday Brunch. It's a casual spot with creative, delicious and intriguing cuisine and I'm fascinated by their wine list.

Rebecca grew up in Bordeaux, and her first real restaurant experience began at 16 when she had a job working at a small bar & café after school and on weekends. This was the start of her wine education. A move to the United States four years later landed her at a restaurant in Providence, RI where she met her husband (and Loyal Nine co-owner) Daniel Myers. In 2007, the two moved to Boston, and she landed a serving job at Les Zygomates Wine Bar & Bistro.

After four years, Rebecca moved to Chicago and joined the team of the newly opened Parisian-style Maude’s Liquor Bar. A few months later, she continued west where she worked at A16 and, as a Captain, at Coi. However, the couple's love for the East Coast brought them back to Boston in 2012, and she joined the team at Barry Maiden’s Hungry Mother in Cambridge. Together in early 2013, the wife-husband duo formed the Hand Taste Collective, a Somerville-based pop-up group that created one-night-only dinner services at restaurants around town. Through this project, they began to develop the concept for their own restaurant, partnering with two other industry vets for its opening.

Rebecca and Daniel are currently working to open their second location, Northern Spy, in Canton.

Now, onto the Interview:

What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
Being part of an owner-operator team, we all wear many hats but we all have our area of expertise. One of my favorite parts of day to day is keeping track of the wine world at Loyal Nine and sharing it with our staff and guests that dine at our restaurant. For that privilege, I hold the title of wine steward or wine Director. I am a self taught wine lady, immersed in the food & wine world since child hood, growing up in France.

Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant.
The wine list is an ode to the Vigneron, the independent growers, farming cleanly and producing grapes on living, heathy soils. They often times are working with heritage grape varieties sometimes on the verge of disappearing. It is their life's passion that they present to us in bottle form and we are here to share their story and product with others. Many of the growers are using organic/ biodynamic farming methods and some a hands off approach in the cellar with minimal use of sulfur, leading to wines with a raw or wild feel, very alive and can also vary from bottle to bottle. That being said the list is geared towards offering great value in terms of quality, price and above all joy.

What are your objectives with the wine list?
The idea with the wine list and with wine service all together is to make the experience easy, delightful and you might be pleasantly surprised with something that you have never heard of or thought that you would order before, at times you may even get your mind blown... great wine Has a way of doing that. We strive to present you with wines that are exciting and expressive while finding balance with our environment and playing well with our food. We do a lot of preserving with pickling, curing and make our own vinegars. So with our food having a penchant towards the tangy and briny, wild wine is well matched with its lively attitude and textural tendencies.

How often does the wine list change?
Working with small producers keeps the wine list changes quite frequent, as the amount of wine produced is always limited. We try to retain working with the same producers as much as possible. Some of which we have represented on our list from the beginning, we keep several of their wines on our list in different categories, sparkling, white and red. Their wines come and go throughout the year in these different categories and we get them whenever we can. This is also great for the staff as they get to know a producers style very well and can get excited for a new release or the return of an old friend.

How do you learn about new wines?
There seems to always be a continuous stream of new producers or wines to be in touch with, so the key seems to be enabling a constant exposure to as much wine as possible at all times. whether attending organized trade tastings, importers showing their portfolios, house visits.....but the very best is getting to meet the maker behind the wine, getting a feel of who they are, their convictions and what they would express through the wine.

What is your strategy on pricing the wines on your list?
For the wine list format and pricing, I took inspiration from little restaurants or eateries you can find throughout towns all over France. Often times they hold quite an extensive amount of wines but always organized in categories by price. So for our list, with about a hundred wines listed, if you are looking for a wine for $40 you will find a selection in white and red, and the same with a $60 option. A separate category we call 'Down cellar', includes wines priced above 60 but under 200, as nothing on our list exceeds that price. The idea is to provide ease of ordering, you always know what price you are willing to spend for a bottle when dining out.

What is the most common wine question asked by your guests?
The great thing in working with wines that are less recognizable and unusual is that we are always being asked for recommendations, which really gives us the chance to tell you about the wine and get you excited to try something new. If you are thinking of a chardonnay, what type of white do you really have in mind, something plump and buttery or something bright and mineral focused? You might find yourself enjoying a glass of Negro Lorenzo Arneis from the Roero in Piedmont or Roditis from Slavos in Cephalonia, Greece. 

What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier?
The challenge is being able to turn people on to wine made in a less conventional way, just be open to trying something new, getting out of your comfort zone can be very rewarding. People care about what they put in their bodies and are enjoying getting into wine made with no additives, farmed from grapes not covered in pesticides. However it is very much thanks to the server staff who care to learn about each wine and get excited about the message and really get to know the wines as well. We talk about and taste wines at the restaurant on a regular basis, we also love having the growers come visit us and talk wine with everyone here. 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the best value wines on your list?
Some of our best value wine is from Meinklang, a family run 'mixed farming operation', located along Austria's eastern border with Hungry, in the middle of the national park Neusiedlersee. The Michlits family truly celebrate biodynamic principles of diversity, growing crops, cultivating wild insect colonies, raising farm animals including a herd of Angus cattle providing natural fertilizer for the farm. Angela and Werner Junior run the wine side of the farm, cultivating a variety of indigenous grapes surrounded by natural ponds and wild grasses. They work minimally in the cellar using ambient yeast and maturation in concrete egg-shaped containers. A bottle that we love and are pouring by the glass right now is their 'Burgenlandred', it's a juicy blend of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, both native Austrian grapes. A vibrant, fragrant red with tart berry fruit and a light dry finish that keeps you coming back for more. Their wines are so great that we also had to have their 'Foam', naturally sparkling wine, and Gruner Veltliner for white, all poured by the glass. 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
     A wine from Hubert and Heidi Hausherr, that is very unique is the 'Altengarten' 2012 bottling. All of their wine is very unique and really special. They are located in Alsace, and farm a very small estate in the village of Eguisheim. Everything is done manually from plowing the fields with the help of their draft horse Skippy, hand harvesting, and at the time their grapes were pressed in an old wooden manual vertical basket press. They strive to represent the terroir and make their wine in a natural way without additives or filtration. They will typically make field blends, multiple varieties grow together, are picked and fermented together. They do not follow the norm for the area nor do they take the easy road in any way. The reward is this wine, a blend of Riesling & Gewürztraminer, it pours a hazy golden color, intense aromatics of wild flowers, tropical fruit and spice escaping from the glass. It drinks full bodied & inciting with complex flavors of baked nectarine, Meyer lemon and pink pepper corn, but also oxidative with a nutty, savory, dry sherry finish. It is alive and evolving as it reacts to the air and the temperature in the room, dream wine. 
     Another Unique winery is Rocco di Carpenetto, Lidia and Paolo run a tiny winery and agriturismo (essentially a B&B), in the village of Carpenetto in the Alto Monferrato hills of Piedmonte. They make natural wines from old vines in the Ovada, using spontaneous fermentation with native yeast, unfiltered with very little sulfites. They take care of everything themselves, up to the bottling and labeling. they Their 'Losna', local dialect for lightning bolt, it's a spirited, big red made with Dolcetto grapes, a beautifully structured wine balancing chewy tannins, intense dark berry fruit and raw textured mouthfeel. A stunner! 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
     A wine that I will always love to drink as long as it will be, is Cascina degli Ulivi, Ivag. RIP Stefano Bellotti, a pioneer become guru of biodynamics, no longer of this earth. His revolutionary winemaking and authentic practices in Novi Ligure, Piedmont, have influences many and have forever changed the face of the wine world. This wine is made of cortese grapes, from wild vineyards scattered about the hills of Gavi, zero sulfur is added and it is bottled unfiltered. 'IVAG' is Gavi spelt backwards reflecting his non conformist methods. The wine pours a cloudy deep straw color, drinks bold and earthy, expressing it's wild personality with notes of yellow fruit, raw nuts and bread. 
     For a view into the independent growers life I would recommend a documentary called 'Natural Resistance' by filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter, a group of natural winemakers in Italy stirring the pot. Among other winemakers that we work with Stefano Belotti participated in the making of this documentary.

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