Erik Liedholm directs the wine programs at SeaStar Restaurant and Raw Bar and John Howie Steak, both in Bellevue, Washington, just outside of Seattle. He’s been named Sommelier of the Year by the Washington Wine Commission (2004) and Seattle Magazine (2012). In 2012, he also founded the Wildwood Spirits Co. distillery.
On wine sales
My dad’s an economics professor, and he uses me sometimes to find leading economic indicators. I run down this canal in downtown Seattle every morning, and there’s a mill on one side. If that thing’s constantly running, it means there’s a lot of construction going on. And then he asks me: What are people ordering at the restaurant? An increase in high-end sales makes him think there may soon be an uptick in economic activity.
It’s certainly the best year we’ve ever had. It was just great. And not just in terms of high-end wine. We instruct our somms to down-sell our guests, actually. If they have a $100 budget, I’d rather have them get a really great wine for $50 and be really impressed and surprised when they get their bill.
Also, people are more interested in wine, being more specific about what they want. And ultimately needing less help from sommeliers. Everybody has an app for what to order. They often know exactly what they want.
We’re trying to sell it throughout the meal. We do these really cool Champagne classes every year, and we have a couple of pages on our wine list devoted to sparkling wine and Champagne. We try to recommend it whenever we can, and it’s been fairly successful for us. Of course I’d always like to sell more Champagne. It’s something that’s really taken off over the last year or so.
[Our plans for a proprietary Champagne bottling] started when we opened SeaStar Bellevue fourteen years ago. Duval-Leroy was new in our market. I met with the GM, Michel Brismontier. I was really impressed by the wines and we became really good friends. Over dinner at my house one night I said: have you ever done a partnership with a restaurant? I went out to visit, we hit it off, and they said: Maybe we will make a wine with you. I told them I was interested in a chardonnay-driven Champagne from vineyards they owned. They own a lot of grand cru vineyards. We went through the vin clairs—a really punishing experience!—and by the time my enamel had recovered, we had the start of what, a few years later, became the final blend. We kept our price down—$16 a glass—and we sell out of it pretty quickly. Also, we have a to-go license, so we sold a lot of it that way as well—because it’s a wine you can’t get anywhere else.
And bubbles from Bugey Cerdon
We have this really incredible soup, our hot and sour soup. Our fishmonger is from Thailand and since we’ve opened we’ve been using his mom’s recipe. And the ultimately pairing for this is this sweet, lightly sparkling Bugey Cerdon. We started a while ago pouring little tastes of that with hot and sour soup if the guests seem really engaged. They’ll end up ordering another glass or a bottle, because it works so well. And I also end up selling cases of it to the wait staff… There was a period of time when it was hard to get around Seattle, and now it’s become fairly popular around town.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.