Brad Ritch and his wife Catherine are on a mission: to dine at as many Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurants as possible. The adventure started about 15 years ago when Brad, a retired CPA and Wine Spectator subscriber of 20-plus years, saw a list of Grand Award winners in an issue of the magazine. “I was looking at the list and noticed that I had eaten here and here and here. It was over 20 of them!” How many more Grand Award winners, he wondered, could he and his wife, a retired legislative analyst, dine at? Dozens of lunches and dinners later, the Ritches sat down with director of Restaurant Awards Gillian Sciaretta to discuss their years of fond memories eating at the world's best restaurants for wine.
Wine Spectator: How did you first get interested in wine?
Brad Ritch: We live in Green Valley, Calif., just east of Napa. We moved there from Los Angeles to be closer to wine country. I started collecting wine in the 1980s, mostly focusing on European wines at first. I used Wine Spectator as a guide to help me grow my collection. Then, I started joining a lot of wine clubs in the Napa area. I like all different kinds of wine and am always trying new things. But after 17 years of accumulating a lot of wine from so many sources, I had to cut back. Now I am a part of only six or seven clubs.
Catherine Ritch: My favorite wines are Champagne, Chardonnay and Cabernet. The “three C’s.” Bordeaux is a favorite of mine too.
WS: What brought about the Grand Award challenge?
BR: We both love food and restaurants, and we wanted a source to help us find places that had good wine lists. And when I realized that we had been to over 20 Grand Award winners and loved the experiences, we decided to see how far we could take it. This may be the CPA in me, but I created a chart, and I take my own notes and do my own ratings of the Grand Award restaurants.
When we dined at our 50th Grand Award restaurant, the Greenhouse in England, we wrote a letter to Wine Spectator thanking them for the recommendations.
CR: This journey has taken us to so many different places like Japan, Australia and Italy.
WS: What are some of your most memorable Grand Award dining experiences?
BR: We attended Wine Spectator's Wine Experience in New York City in 2005. That year, Robuchon au Dôme [then named Robuchon A Galera] in Macau was one of the restaurants being honored at the banquet with the Grand Award. After the dinner, I happened to run into the owner of the restaurant, Alan R. J. Ho, at the elevator. I told him congratulations on the Grand Award, and that my wife and I were planning a trip to Hong Kong and Macau for the Chinese New Year and would love to dine at his restaurant. We exchanged business cards, and when we were in Macau, we had the best dining experience at the restaurant. We felt like royalty. And it was all because of that connection at the Wine Experience.
CR: One of my favorites was Silvio Nickol, now called Palais Coburg, in Vienna, Austria. The food was delicious. The dishes were works of art—I almost didn’t want to eat anything! We later had a tour of the cellar, which was amazing. They had very high security to get into the cellar, including cornea scans. Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence has also been a longtime favorite of ours.
WS: You are currently visiting New York. Do you have plans to dine at any Grand Award winners here?
BR: Of course. We had lunch at the Pluckemin Inn in New Jersey yesterday and dinner at Del Frisco’s last night. Tonight we are going to the Modern with some friends we first met at a winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Last I counted, we were up to 87 [past and present] Grand Award winners. My goal is to get to 100 by the time I am 70, which gives us two years.