Brie Roland is general manager and wine director at St. Genevieve, Steven Brown’s Parisian-style tavern or “buvette” in South Minneapolis that opened in December 2015. She came to St. Genevieve from Brasserie Zentral, a large downtown restaurant with a huge wine list, and was looking for a venue where she could engage more with guests. She’s passionate about Champagne and sparkling wines, which make up nearly one-third of her 47-selection list.
An ephemeral match
I came from a theater background, and was working on a film project in Paris and New York called The Ladies Film Almanac around the time I connected with Steven about St. Genevieve. Food and wine pairings are really what made me want to pursue wine. It’s such an ephemeral thing that happens when it works, similar to what can happen in a theater experience; it’s fleeting but beautiful. Muscadet and mussels was the light-bulb pairing for me.
Champagne by the glass
Steven has an uncanny ability to anticipate trends, and he knew that he wanted to do lots of Champagne. I wanted to hit all the marks, from a lean, bright and crisp Champagne that might be all chardonnay or perhaps non-dosage, to the other end that’s rich and nutty, perhaps with a vintage or solera-style Champagne. We wanted to promote the fact that Champagne is such a versatile partner for different food pairings. We offer a half-glass option for all of our by-the-glass selections, and for Champagne, that’s like a gateway drug, when people realize how good it is and how well it works with food. We realized that we couldn’t do a standard markup for Champagnes by the glass because we wouldn’t sell them. We wanted to keep the prices reasonable and actually move the stuff. Since opening, I’ve always had a $14 glass of Champagne on the list. Having just done an end-of-year analysis, we were amazed at how well it has worked, with 41 percent of our wine sales coming from sparkling wines, much of that Champagne.
No Grandes Marques
We were looking for smaller production wines with a story—wines that offered more transparency. We definitely have to have conversations with guests about it, but we feel passionate about the people who make these wines and their quality. We also talk about grower versus negociant; there are some great small negociants, and we don’t want to just write those folks off. In wine, and even in craft beers, we’ve seen the pendulum swing from demand for big and intense flavors back to subtlety and nuance.
Cremant & Pet’Nats
I like to have a go-between, a sort of first step to Champagne, so something like a Cremant from Alsace or Jura (predominantly chardonnay). The sparkling section is a place you can play around—you can get a little weird and funky. I was in New York recently and saw pet’nats on almost every list. Natural wine has become really big on both coasts, and is now starting to seep into the middle of the country; pet’nats are on that same trajectory. We’ve done a few, like Gamine Mae’s Vineyard Rosé Pétillant Grenache from Oregon; I added it for the holidays and that went over really well.
By-the-glass focus: 87 percent of St. Genevieve’s wine sales
When so many people start with a glass of Champagne, they often want to stay on that train and go on to a glass of white and then a glass of red. The half-glass option also contributes, since people will often do pairings of half glasses throughout the meal. I want to create that spark, help someone have that ephemeral moment, that “holy-shit-this-is-amazing” wine-pairing experience.
Obsessed with New California
I had this couple come in who were really big into California wine, frequent Napa visitors. It was “New California” week in Minneapolis and we were doing a salon series at the restaurant. They came to one where we tasted two pinot noirs that were so different. The couple ended up taking every class in the series and then going to California to visit those types of producers. Now they’re obsessed with New California.