Veritas: During your tenure at Patina, the wine list has developed into one of the most impressive lists in the country. What is the secret to creating such an extensive list within budgetary and margin constraints?

Meeske: I'm fortunate to work for an owner who has given me the latitude to create our list. Joachim (Splichal) is passionate about wine and appreciates how integral fine wine is to the dining experience. Although my margins are very good, my principal objective is to increase dollar volume. As result, I don't work off of a fixed mark-up, especially at the high end where I want to generate incentives to buy. The profitability of certain programs, such as wine-by-the-glass, helps to bring overall margins up to an adequate level. Although our wine list is currently at about 1,200 selections, I don't carry a large inventory from a cost standpoint. This requires harder work, and maintaining continuity is sometimes difficult. The other side of the coin is that the list is constantly changing and consistently interesting.

V: Does the global trend toward highly extracted red wine threaten terroir character?

M: I really don't think so. After all, an essential notion of terroir is that all its components are natural, and management cannot significantly influence them. While high extraction may affect certain characteristic elements in the short run, I believe that the terroir will ultimately prevail.

V: How do you defend the practice of many California wineries adding tartaric acid to their wines?

M: Tartaric acid, unlike both citric and malic acid, is the acid of choice for adding to grape juice before fermentation because it is rarely degraded by the attack of lactic bacteria. This is a common practice in warm wine regions, and is as justified as chaptilization in cool wine regions. It is, moreover, often the only course open to a winemaker seeking to make balanced wine in a warm region like California.

V: What do you think of the Bordeaux winemakers who have adopted the Burgundian practice of racking initially into barrel prior to malolactic fermentation?

M: The traditional practice in Bordeaux, of course, has been to rack into barrel only after malolactic fermentation is complete. Some properties are now promoting malolactic fermentation in barrel because in their opinions, this allows for better integration of wine together with greater complexity of flavor. When I was at Gruaud-Larose, for example, they were adamant about the benefits of this practice. Personally, because of the apparent difficulty of controlling certain aspects, such as the timing of malolactic fermentation, I am a little dubious.

V: Who in the wine world right now is generating the most excitement for you?

M: I am probably most enthusiastic about some of the young growers in Burgundy who are now taking the mantle from their parents. With their formal technical training, as well as their willingness to interact with each other, growers such as Denis Mortet, Christophe Roumier and Emmanuel Rouget are bringing this region to another level. I am also really impressed with Alois Kracher, Franz Hirtzberger, and Toni Bodenstein (at Prager) in Austria.

Christopher Meeske first entered the wine business at the Highlands Inn in Carmel, California in 1990. After a stint assisting Master Sommelier Larry Stone at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, Chris joined Patina Restaurant in Los Angeles as their sommelier. Under Meeske's direction, the Patina wine list has expanded to over 1,200 entries and is unquestionably among the finest in California. Meeske is currently preparing for the Master Sommelier examination.

© Veritas Imports, LLC. 1999