Larry Stone, one of America's most influential sommeliers, has left the day-to-day restaurant business for a new career as general manager of a Napa Valley winery. The former wine director of Rubicon restaurant, which has held a Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1998, begins his new job in January as the head of Rubicon Estate, a new entity that encompasses the high-end wines of Niebaum-Coppola winery.
Part of the Myriad Restaurant Group headed by Drew Nieporent, Rubicon has been a fixture on the San Francisco dining scene since opening in 1994. Stone has been a presence there from the beginning, developing the wine list into an imposing document of some 1,800 selections. In his previous job at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, he built that restaurant's wine list into a Grand Award winner as well. Many wine servers and bartenders who worked with Stone at either of the two restaurants have gone on to become notable sommeliers and retailers themselves.
Stone, who moved his family to Napa Valley this month, remains a minority partner in Rubicon and will continue to advise. Kyle Boatright, who has been acting as the day-to-day sommelier, continues in that role. "Kyle has been doing a great job," Stone said. "He made some really great purchases. The list is in good hands."
Rumors that Myriad might sell or close the restaurant have been circulating for more than a year. Rubicon lost money in 2004, but since the arrival of chef Stuart Brionza in early 2005, the flow of red ink has been stemmed, according to both Stone and Nieporent.
"We don't have any plans to close the restaurant," Nieporent said by telephone from New York as he prepared for a late-December visit to San Francisco. "We are negotiating a new lease, and we are looking at alternate sites, but it's profitable and we are pleased by its performance."
Film director Francis Ford Coppola, who is a partner in Rubicon restaurant, has been transforming his Niebaum-Coppola wine company. This fall, he announced that he is buying the Chateau Souverain winemaking facility in Sonoma County and remaking it into a home for his growing non-estate brands, such as Coppola Presents and the Francis Coppola Diamond Series, as well as a new line of Sonoma wines. His original Napa property is being renamed and will encompass only the estate Napa wines.
Stone, who has been on the board of directors of the Coppola companies for several years, will oversee the staff of Rubicon Estate and its high-end wines, such as the flagship Rubicon blend.
Coppola hired Stone despite the sommelier's outside wine ventures. He has a wine brand of his own, called Sirita, which makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in Napa Valley. He is also involved in a partnership that is purchasing rights to plant vines and make wine on Red Mountain in Washington. "Francis is in the movie business, where people who work for one company are doing their own projects all the time," Stone said. "He doesn't have a problem with my stuff."
Stone said he will miss the day-to-day contact with the public he had as a sommelier. "I never liked the remote part of the business, buying wines in the background. I always preferred interacting with customers. At the winery, I will be doing some of the same thing, meeting with clients and sommeliers."
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