And just when we thought there wasn’t any more room on our dance card ... what with keeping the Barn and Bistro dining rooms humming, dodging rain for some of our best private parties of the year, pressing apples and bottling our cider vinegar......cue the music.
Having Alexis Iaconis, a master sommelier on staff now, and winning ‘two glasses’ from the Wine Spectator which vaulted us onto their Best Restaurants in America list, surely gave us the final nudge. But truth be told The Somm’s Table is something we’ve been contemplating for a while.
For me it started with the Taste of Place exhibit we threw here in the Studio when the artist Laura Parker traveled the breadth of Sonoma County collecting soil samples you could smell and even taste alongside the food grown in them. A brilliant way of connecting food to landscape, landscape to farmer, it started me wondering if there wasn’t also a better way to talk about, and experience, wine.
Most of our diners fall somewhere in the gap between ‘the experts’ who approach wine with serious science and a mouthful of jargon and the traveling hordes wandering Healdsburg, glass in hand, during wine tasting weekends.
I’ve got nothing against expanding a command of wine nomenclature (or for that matter, getting a buzz on), but too often the convoluted ways we talk about wine end up circumventing the very experience of tasting, and enjoying it, taking us further away from a meaningful connection to landscape and the stories of the many hands that pilot the grape on its journey to the glass.
True learning moments are the ones where you step off from what you know into unfamiliar terrain. Too much information and the brain fogs, too little and you’re running on the steam of subjective opinion. Travel helps expand our understanding of terrior and different wine cultures, while spending time with someone whose wine knowledge is deeper than your own helps incubate curiosity.
But living in the heart of Sonoma County, surrounded by extraordinary producers and an excess of tasting rooms often leads us away from curiorisity and experimentation. Most of us know what varietals we tend to like best, which names to gravitate toward when perusing a restaurant menu. If you're not in the industry, when was the last time you lifted a glass and felt really excited to take that first sip?
I don’t expect a revelation every time I pick up a glass. But those moments when I breathe in deeply, close my eyes, sip and experience something exhilarating brings back all I love about wine. It's a moment easily forgotten in the ease of daily quaffing in this glorious terrain. Sure, there’s the buzz you get when alcohol travels through your bloodstream, the romance of circumstance, where you find yourself imbibing, and with whom. But the ability, some say talent, to detect flavor and scent and nuance is the thrill of a hunt we shouldn't lose. It's the fun of making personal connections - animal, vegetable, or mineral your call - that elevates drinking wine to another level.
Louis Jadot’s legendary winemaker Jacques Lardière calls the collaborative endeavor of making wine “seeking the unconscious of the earth.” I thought a lot about this quote when I first read it. Jadot’s reference, to a vine's ability to pump minerality from the ground while pulling molecules from the air, speaks to, and honors, the mysterious transformation that ultimately takes place in the bottle. It can't be fully explained. Beyond the science, beyond the art, beyond the incredible labor it takes to make wine, there is a connection we make to wine which has held sway over us since recorded history began.
To rediscover or remember this we need to recognize that what's in the glass is a living entity. Wine is alive.
The Somm’s Table, if nothing else, will be a celebration of that life. Over the holidays Alexis will help us curate selections of our favorite wines and with Lukka, Cathryn, Chef Ryan and Gallery Manager Ryan Birrer's help, we will try to communicate what we love about these vintages. The Gallery, filled with so many beautiful objet ancien du vin, has grown over the past year into a wonderful space in which to dine. Over the winter we’re going to grow it even more.
Another goal: to provide an opportunity for lesser known, but extraordinarily talented winemakers who may not have a presence in Healdsburg to feel they now have a beautiful space where they can strut their stuff to our open minded, increasingly discerning patrons. Stay tuned - sign up by visiting barndiva.com/wine - for these occasions.
A club, a salon, a room in which to break bread and laugh, to eat and tell stories. At heart TSM will be about exploring the limits of what we know and love about wine, and going just a bit further. The truth is that right now while we have a great many ideas, we don’t really know where this venture is going. That’s going to be the fun of it. And, we sincerely hope, the joy.
Come visit The Somm's Table in Studio Barndiva and join us as we embark on this journey.