If there is one man who has changed the way wine is served and understood in America, it is Drew Nieporent. Referring to him as influential is a gross understatement. There may well be no other person in his league. Alongside changing the way Americans drink wine, he has fostered some of the most talented sommeliers in America. Lettie Teague writes for The Wall Street Journal:
How did a man who, by his own admission, drinks $25 bottles and has no cellar of his own become one of the greatest wine talent scouts? Like a good son, he credits his mother, a casting director. “I think the influence was her high standard,” he said.
Mr. Nieporent saw wine from a passionate amateur’s perspective; eager to learn himself, he wanted his sommeliers to be educators. “Part of the experience of dining out is learning something,” he said. “I always wanted someone to get something useful out of the wine list, not just to order a bottle.” Up to that point, it was standard practice in a fine-dining restaurant to present the list with a flourish to the alpha diner at the table alone. Mr. Nieporent printed the wine list in the menu—the first thing diners saw, before the listed dishes—a deliberately democratic move. “It was important that everyone see the wine list,” he said.
Once he saw talent, he acted promptly. Montrachet’s founding wine director, Daniel Johnnes, recalled a day when Mr. Nieporent had lunch at Le Cirque, where he met sommelier Bernard Sun. “Drew came back from his lunch and said, ‘You need to hire him,’ ” said Mr. Johnnes, who did just that.
In too many cases to recount in this column, Mr. Nieporent fostered talent in his restaurants that would go on to make a profound impact on the wider wine world. Bernard Sun worked at Montrachet for five years, until 2004, when he left to become wine director of the Jean-Georges restaurant group. “Drew had the innate ability to let you be you. He didn’t look over your shoulder,” said Mr. Sun, who is currently luxury accounts manager at New York-based wine importer Kobrand.
‘How did a man who drinks $25 bottles and has no cellar of his own become one of the greatest wine talent scouts?’
Mr. Johnnes left Montrachet one year later, in 2005, after 20 years, and has since built a wine dynasty of his own. Currently the wine director of chef Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group of restaurants, he’s also the founder of an eponymous wine-import company and the creator of La Paulée, an annual bacchanalia featuring great wines of Burgundy paired with dishes prepared by top chefs. Now in its 20th year, the high-profile event currently takes place in various cities around the U.S.
The Burgundy winemakers Mr. Johnnes discovered during his time at Montrachet are now the stars that take part in La Paulée, and their wines are some of the most sought-after in the world. The Montrachet list was among the first in New York to feature names every collector now covets—Coche-Dury, Jayer.
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