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Sommelier Talk: Andrew Green Creates Bay-Area Master Lists

The wine director for Spruce and the Village Pub on maintaining multiple Restaurant Award winners with different personalities
Photo by: Angelo DeCenzo
At some of the Bay Area's top destinations for wine, Andrew Green devotes much of his time to educating young staffers.

Samantha Falewée
Posted: July 29, 2016

As the son of a university agriculture professor and home economics teacher, Bacchus Management wine and spirits director Andrew Green, 46, grew up familiar with geology, geography, botany and cooking—“everything related to wine without the wine itself.”

Like so many wine pros, he found his way to the cellar after moving to California, eventually becoming the opening wine director of the Village Pub in Woodside in 2001 with just a $60,000 inventory. Only a few months later, under Green’s beverage management, the Silicon Valley restaurant earned Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence—and then earned the program’s highest honor for wine-list excellence, the Grand Award, in 2013. He did it again at San Francisco's Spruce in 2015. Today, Green keeps the wine flowing at six other restaurants, including another Restaurant Award winner, Mayfield Bakery and Café.

Though he used to spend all his time on the floor and stocking wines in the cellar, today Green orchestrates the programs from the top. Eight sommeliers and five beverage managers are part of the Bacchus team, and, he says, “It’s my job to mentor all of them.” Green spoke with editorial assistant Samantha Falewée about what it’s like to teach about wine, how to juggle different wine list demands and the differences in wine tastes between San Francisco's food-fashionable crowd and Silicon Valley's power lunchers.

Wine Spectator: How did you fall in love with wine?
Andrew Green: When my dad relocated to Davis, Calif., in ‘89, '90, I started to go out to visit him, which translated to day trips to wine country. It was hard not to go, “Wow, this is amazing.” We started to have wine at the dinner table and try things, and that coincided with me deciding to move to California in the mid-'90s.

WS: Today, when you’re managing so many varying wine programs, what’s your secret to keeping everything running smoothly?
AG: A big piece of my week is one-on-one sommelier or beverage manager mentoring. At the fine-dining restaurants like the Village Pub and Spruce, we have conversations about what to buy and how to manage budgets, staffing, special events, and I’m constantly pressing them to expand their horizons and think ahead. It’s easy in the restaurant environment to only think about that service that’s right in front of you, instead of “What’s coming at me in the fall?” or “What special winemaker’s going be in town so we can come up with an experience around that?”

I tend more to just make sure the ship stays on course; you have to make sure you allow [the head sommeliers] to lead their teams.

WS: What’s the difference in wine tastes that you see in Spruce, a younger, downtown San Francisco spot, versus the Village Pub, which is more of a Silicon Valley dealmakers' destination south of the city? And then at other restaurants you manage, like Mayfield Bakery and Café, with a more value-oriented smaller program in Palo Alto?
AG: Spruce is in a way a sibling of the Village Pub. We’re in the same marketplace, so the same relationships with vendors exist, and there can be a lot of similar wines and allocations.

When it comes down to Burgundy, the Village Pub definitely sells higher-end wines. At the Pub, it’s all the tech billionaires and it’s the grands crus Burgundies that sell. At Spruce, it’s the villages and the premiers crus. [Less-established categories] like the Jura and cru Beaujolais play really well at Spruce, while there’s not a lot of traction with those categories down in Woodside. In Woodside they sell a lot of Brunello, while we sell a lot of Barolo and Barbaresco at Spruce. The Austrian wines do really well at Spruce, whereas the German wines do really well at the Village Pub. So they actually play off each other very well. Sometimes it's great that one restaurant can come to the rescue of the other [with inventory].

Mayfield is a restaurant where we have regulars. They join us for a breakfast meeting on a Monday, on Wednesday they'll be back with their kids for dinner after a soccer game, and on Saturday they'll come in for brunch. So it's really important to crop up a wine list that is full of everyday wines that provide value, not necessarily special-occasion wines.

WS: What are some unique challenges of staying on top of large, diverse lists?
AG: As we grow our inventory, as our lists get bigger and bigger, I’m constantly saying, “OK guys, what needs to be culled from the herd?” so our lists are fresh and relevant and current, and the mature wines on the list are from the appropriate vintages to age. You’ll see restaurants that have 10-vintage verticals [of a fresh, fruity style of California white] in half-bottles and you're like, “Oh my god, at least eight of those are probably deader than a doornail, why are they still in the building?” It’s very easy to accumulate deadwood if you don’t pay attention to that.

WS: Do you have a particular pairing that never fails to disappoint, or a creative pairing that you personally are fond of?
AG: Well, rosé is far more versatile than I think people give it credit for; it works really well with spring vegetables or pistou from southern France. In the fall I’m always a junkie for white-truffle season—old Nebbiolo and white truffles are great, although one of the real surprises for me was how good white Burgundy and white truffles are. That’s kind of fun.

WS: In the past 15 years, have you seen any changes in what wines diners are asking for?
AG: Fifteen years ago you had to educate people about Grüner Veltliner, and now you can slap them on casual wine lists and they just sell themselves. That also applies to Chenin Blanc, Arneis—I’ve even been surprised in the past year and a half by how well some Austrian reds have done on the wine lists. We’ve popped some Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt on the lists, and it’s been exciting to see them sell.

There’s a lot more variety out there and more “Yeah, let’s try that” attitude. During the financial downturn everyone retrenched to what was familiar. Suddenly, the whole category of Southern Hemisphere wines was dead. Regions like Alsace—after the financial downturn, [diners] didn't want anything to do with any of that. They retreated to Napa Cabs, and if they were Burgundy fans, instead of grand cru they bought village, but the experimentation disappeared. As people's situations have improved and stabilized, they've gotten adventurous again.

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