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
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.
the global trend toward highly extracted red wine threaten
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.
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.
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.
in the wine world right now is generating the most excitement
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.
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.