As the beverage director at Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Audrey in Nashville, a lauded Appalachian dining experience from famed chef Sean Brock that opened in October 2021, Jodi Bronchtein has her hands full. Named after Brock’s late grandmother, Audrey is an homage to Brock’s rural upbringing with dishes steeped in heritage; think salt-risen bread served with cultured butter and squash jam, and Tennessee beef accented with morels, okra and burdock root. The wine program is just as ambitious, with Bronchtein overseeing a team of seven full-time sommeliers and a list with more than 800 selections.
Audrey is housed in a structure made from imported blackened (shou sugi ban) Japanese wood and styled to resemble a traditional Appalachian tobacco barn. Upstairs on the second floor, Brock has installed June, which offers a Japanese-inspired tasting menu, and a refined cocktail lounge called simply “the Bar.”
Bronchtein got her start in the wine industry at Brock’s first restaurant, the much-loved McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C. She began as a serving captain and on her first day witnessed the entire staff—from dishwashers to wine director—taking part in a blind wine tasting. “I watched two people fight over what village they thought the wine was from in Burgundy,” recalls Bronchtein. “They ended up getting married, by the way.”
A lover of perfumes, Bronchtein took to the language of wine very quickly, and she enjoyed the experience of working the floor. “Sommeliers are important because we translate—we tell stories and we create marriages. I’m matchmaking you with a wine, and if I do that within your budget with a bottle that over-delivers, then you will come back.”
Bronchtein went on to work at top dining rooms in Boston, Fiji and Napa Valley, including at Press in St. Helena, Calif., which earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award in 2022. With her sommelier team at Audrey, she has found the best way to lead is by example—particularly when it comes to the art of hospitality.
“Show your team hospitality: eat last, give them the wine samples, give them a seat at the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti tasting while you stand up and pour the water, because that’s what they’re going to do at work,” explains Bronchtein.
Wine Spectator’s Julia Larson chatted with Bronchtein to get her take on the Nashville wine scene, how she pairs wine with Brock’s Appalachian cuisine and the essential elements to great wine service.
Audrey features haute Appalachian cuisine and culture. How did you create a wine list to match this little-explored cuisine with such complex ingredients?
I was very lucky that I had worked for Sean already for almost six years at McCrady’s. I knew the headline of the food: It’s delicious and delightful, approachable yet different. The food is always bright, acidic and well-seasoned, the ingredients are beautiful.
And with Sean, there are always secrets. He starts with a bowl of grits—how can you make that special? Well, there’s truffle on the bottom. Then he adds pickled ramps, a sorghum-cured egg yolk and a sprinkling of crispy shallots and onions. Finally, on the side, there’s a venison skewer with leeks with Espelette pepper, an acorn and truffle sauce.
To pair with that, I’m looking for a wine that is high in acid, from a coastal region and reasonable [in price]. A perfect example is the Lumassina from a Punta Crena in Liguria; it’s a rare grape indigenous to the area, and it’s salty, a bit floral and a little weird. I feature a lot of wines from Southern Italy and Sicily. I also find Vermentino works really well with Sean’s food, so I offer many of them, not just from Italy but other places where the grape is grown.
For the wine list, I’m looking for winemakers and regions that mirror the food—lovely, but different. Some recent favorites include: Golden Cluster Saperavi out of Oregon, a Murdoch Hill Chardonnay from Adelaide, Australia, and Testalonga’s "I Wish I Was A Ninja," a Colombard demi-sec sparkling from South Africa.
Your wine team at Audrey and June is large. You manage a team of seven sommeliers, which is a lot for any restaurant! Why do you need so many?
Wine is such an essential part of the Audrey and June experience. Sommeliers like to say wine and food are married, and that is doubly true here. The wine pairings are changed almost daily to ensure they are complementing the food, the weather, what we are excited about, bottles that just became available. We have selections for all budgets to make sure everyone can enjoy wine with their meal. I need a large team that big to make sure everyone feels like they are being taken care of.
We are serious about wine, but I insist that our wine service isn’t off-putting or elitist. I feel like many sommeliers are like the shopkeeper women in Pretty Woman who were snobby for no reason. Stop it! Meet people where they are.
We are very pairing-focused, and it is a large part of our service. Pairings enable us to interact more intimately and often with each table, which is hugely beneficial to the guest experience. At June, Sean changes the entire tasting menu upstairs every six weeks. No dish repeats, so we need to be on our toes with the wine list. By the time you figure out the perfect pairing for each dish, it's gone. But our team’s pairing skills are so strong, it’s not hard, and having so many voices on my team makes it easier.
Nashville has grown and changed a lot in the last decade. What does the wine scene look like now?
To be fair, Nashville’s a cocktail town; it’s a lot of whiskey and honky-tonks [country music bars]. I am doing everything I possibly can to make this a serious wine program with a lot of opportunities for people to discover new things. Locals keep saying they are so happy to see so many wine regions, grapes and styles represented on our list, and that feels great!
But it’s important to know your audience and read the room. In Nashville, some of the older generations are very traditional and aren’t interested in orange wine, for example. Their grandchildren want those wines though, so we have some on hand.
Offering value is really important; my list features grand cru Burgundy as well as a $25 Sauvignon Blanc blend. I made sure that 80 percent of my list is damn good wine under $75. With à la carte and tasting menu pairings, we still make a lot of money on our wine program because people are going out of their way to buy wine. They understand the value of it with their meal.
What are you drinking right now?
Right now, I’m obsessed with Golden Cluster [winery]; their just-released Millerandage Chardonnay is stunning. The first time [winemaker] Jeff Vejr ever showed it was at our wine dinner [last month, hosted by the somm team]. It’s spectacular, it has an amazing structure and costs $35 a bottle retail. It’s a Chardonnay, and I want everybody to try it.
He also makes a Cabernet Sauvignon called Rare Clones. I used to live in Napa; I don’t want to drink Cabernet anymore, but this one is special. It made from two clones, a To Kalon and a Château Margaux, grown in Columbia Gorge. He’s selling it for only $25 retail; this stuff is accessible and gorgeous.