Gianpaolo Paterlini, of SF’s Acquerello and 1760, on California chardonnay and Champagne Mondays - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Gianpaolo Paterlini, of SF’s Acquerello and 1760, on California chardonnay and Champagne Mondays

Gianpaolo Paterlini became Acquerello’s first full-time sommelier when he joined his father’s Piemonte-focused restaurant in 2007, after earning his stripes at Michael Mina. He significantly expanded Acquerello’s wine offerings, and last year, he took the lead role in opening a more casual offshoot nearby, 1760, emphasizing the local bounty of California. With that project now solidly established, he’s again spending a few nights a week on the floor at Acquerello, helping guests navigate its library of Barolos and Barbarescos dating back to the 1950s.

On the impact of a second star
We got our second Michelin star back in October and we’ve seen a bigger change starting this January—for a while, it was still mostly reservations that had been made before we got the second star. We’ve started doing fewer covers so we can do even better in terms of food and execution.

And people have caught on, I think that, we have some of these [hard-to-find Piemontese] wines. We’re selling fewer bottles but higher-end bottles, especially after the second star came out.

The really old stuff, people generally know what they’re getting into. Or people come for particular producers and wines. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Masseto, Gaja, Giacosa, Conterno…

In terms of getting wines, the biggest trouble is keeping up on the wines we sell. We have a case or more of the younger stuff I started buying, 2004s and more recent, but before that it’s maybe three or four bottles of a given wine.

On selling domestic chardonnay at an Italian restaurant
At Acquerello, we have people asking for chardonnay all the time. I think that’s one of the main differences between the two wine programs: domestic chardonnay.

We can’t sell domestic chardonnay at 1760 to save our lives, even though we have Chanin and Liquid Farm and all kinds of really good stuff. Maybe part of it is that we tend to have a slightly older clientele at Acquerello, and they’re more comfortable
with chardonnay.

At 1760 people are not just asking for, but demanding that they get some interesting options. We have the Pence Ranch Chardonnay [from Santa Barbara] and the Pietracupa Greco do Tufo by the glass, and the greco just crushes it, even though the chardonnay probably has more acidity and is more mineral, everything we think we’re supposed to want in a white wine.

On rethinking markups at 1760
We started with pretty much a 2.5x markup across the board and then realized that our clientele often wanted to spend $50-80 per bottle. We had a bunch of higher end wines, but we weren’t selling any at all. Now, we pretty much make $30-50 (slightly less for really cheap wines) for every bottle on the list. My cost goes up a little bit that way, but not as much on you would think. We’re able to make a killing on wines by the glass, and then sell expensive bottles at not much above cost. (By the glass wines make up 40 percent of our wine sales, and so our cost there is very low.)

So a wine that costs me $500 (like the 2006 DRC Echezeaux) is on the list for $545. In that case, my cost is over 90 percent, but the wine flies and people are stoked because they’re buying wine at lower than retail. And they come back. A less extreme example is Roulot. We have a bunch but only list one at a time. Right now we have the ‘09 Meursault Narvaux on for $185. It cost me $135. So my cost is 73 percent, but I’m making $50 and the diner is super happy.

Last Tuesday we sold Roulot, Jamet, things you wouldn’t expect to sell at a casual neighborhood restaurant on a weeknight.

On Champagne Mondays
Last year, a group of friends in the industry came in [to 1760] and drank four bottles of Champagne on a Monday night, and I thought: that’s what I imagined the restaurant being. So I decided to just go with it, and now we do 20 percent off all Champagne on Monday nights. Mondays are crushing it now, one of our busiest nights of the week; we sell more Champagne on Monday than the rest of the week combined.

On the insatiable demand for pinot noir
That’s what people want: people want California pinot noir and California cabernet, that’s our bread and butter. I can’t remember the last time I [actively] sold a bottle of California pinot noir. Occasionally someone will ask about the differences between two of them, but mostly they sell themselves.

We have seven or eight Beaujolais for $40 or $50 a bottle, and people would rather buy $80 pinot noir.

Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.