Because she grew up in a family that appreciated wine, Haley Guild Moore had visited Napa and enjoyed wine with a meal in Paris by the time she turned 18. After graduating from San Diego State, she ran wine programs at Bacar and Spruce before landing her current position as wine director for the Stock & Bones Group’s five restaurants: Town Hall, Salt House, Anchor & Hope, Irving St. Kitchen and Corners Tavern. Her responses here pertain to Town Hall in SF’s South of Market neighborhood, a restaurant where California wine reigns supreme.
Wine in the cocktail era
What we’ve noticed this year across the board in all our restaurants is a huge shift toward cocktails. We do a huge happy hour at both Town Hall and Salt House, and the liquor sales have grown exponentially over the years—and this year it’s staggering. People are opting for specialty cocktails rather than struggling through the wine list. We’ve hired somms at each of our restaurants to deal with that. But SoMa’s the new Financial District, so people are there to drink.
It’s a matter of really looking at what your guests’ needs are, especially in terms of the wine program. I love those wine programs that start with the menu and the concept and build this wine list that’s beautiful and every somm’s dream, but I work backwards: Who is coming into my restaurant and what do they want to drink? Then I work from there, and try to make selections based on the food. Often people order a beer or cocktail because they want it, but also maybe because they don’t want to have that interaction [with a sommelier]. If it’s all super esoteric, they might be less likely to ask a question, and just order a beer or cocktail instead. So I have some things that are approachable but that I can still stand behind, so people aren’t ostracized the minute they sit down and open the wine list.
We’ve always had a beverage manager at each location, but if you’re the only manager on the dining room floor, you’re more focused on making sure the doors work and kitchen is okay; you’re not so focused on sales. Now we have sommeliers, so there’s really someone paying attention to sales, and the minute that wine list is opened, I want that person checking in with the table. It’s only been a couple of months, but we’ve definitely seen some good changes.
The Anti-Oak Movement
People are pulling back a little bit from that heavily extracted, over-oaked style. It seems like it was a thing that happened with chardonnay last year—it became cool to drink again, and people almost went too far in the other direction: I don’t like chardonnay with oak! It’s like, are you sure?
And it’s the same for cab. We try to have those iconic name on the higher end, Dunn, Araujo, iconic producers that are making benchmark styles of wine. We’re not offering that [over-extracted] style anymore. These wines are really balanced and have a great reputation. And again, at the end of the day I love to be able to turn people onto something new, but there are those guests who want to be in their comfort zone. And you want them to be happy, before you start trying to change their drinking habits.
Our guests are fascinated by older wines. We have that “Aging Gracefully” program, too, focused on older wines and older values. The way I price out a lot of those older wines [’69 D’Oliveira Sercial Madeira; ’91 Royal Tokaji Betsek 5 Puttonyos, both at $28/glass], I want people to drink them. It’s not a museum. Grand cru Tokajis are $500 for a 500ml bottle, so I said: why not give people an option to taste them? You’re not going to sell too many, enough to throw off your cost of goods. So if you’re able to offer something of value as the last impression, the last taste in their mouth before they leave the restaurant, and if it blows them away, what a way to impress people.
A gamay crusader
I had a table that loves California pinot noir, and we were talking about “California gamay,” and that led into a conversation about gamay in general. They weren’t into gamay: “I don’t like this variety at all, I love pinot.” But I opened a Fleurie from Dutraive (Domaine de la Grand’Cour). I don’t get much of them, maybe twelve bottles a year, but they’re super-aromatic and beautiful and lifted. I poured it blind, brought it out in a decanter and had them taste it. They were blow away. They were like: What is this? And I said: It’s Beaujolais! I would love to be the crusader for gamay, because I think a lot of people are overlooking it. It’s such a great alternative to pinot noir, and we’ve become so pinot-obsessed.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.