Harley Carbery grew up in British Columbia slinging burgers and ice cream cones at a Dairy Queen his father owned. After working his way through the hotel business—from housekeeping to fine dining—he encountered two 1982 Bordeaux (Lafite and Ducru-Beaucaillou) that hooked him. He landed at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in 2008, and a year later was named wine director for both L’Atelier and the flagship Joël Robuchon restaurant in the MGM Grand. Luke Sykora caught up with him this January.
What makes Vegas unique, in terms of running a wine program?
The number of restaurants with great wine programs. So [the challenge is] trying to make yourself stick out in a good way. There’s a lot of great camaraderie around town with all the somms working on the floor, and that’s a great part of this city.
How do you make the program at Joël Robuchon stand out?
Having a broad depth of wines from all over the world, not just France. Half the wine list comes from other places, from Canada to New Zealand, South Africa, Uruguay, Italy, Spain, all over—to welcome people from those countries. And to showcase those wines to others as well.
How much have the fluctuations of the economy affected what people have been buying?
Being the only three-Michelin-star dining room [in Las Vegas] doesn’t hurt, and has kept a lot of regular guests coming. We’re a great draw from diners all over the city, no matter what hotel they’re staying it. But we did see a bit of it. I started looking more carefully at value-driven wines from the south of France, Canada, Spain, Portugal.
What’s your most exciting new discovery this year?
I would say one of my by-the-glass selections, a Condrieu, from a very small producer called Julien Pilon that a friend, who is an importer in New York, turned me onto. He wasn’t even trying to sell it—it wasn’t available in Nevada. After tasting it I said: However much you have, I want it. Everyone has been in love with it. It’s got this mouth-coating texture, floral notes, spice, tropical fruit—just a beautiful wine to drink by itself or with a lot of different dishes.
If you could drink one bottle on your list with dinner, what would you drink?
Probably the 1978 Comte Georges de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses. The producer just has an amazingly elegant style, and I love Chambolle-Musigny for the prettiness of the wines. And 1978 because that’s my vintage and it was a great vintage in Burgundy. I did get to taste one bottle that I sold, and it was incredible.
What’s your favorite place to eat and drink in Vegas when you’re not at work?
That would probably be Raku. It’s a Japanese robata grill, a great local favorite spot. A lot of chefs and sommeliers and such—that’s where you’ll find them after work.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.