5 questions with an expert winemaker before Taste of Vail seminar | VailDaily.com

5 questions with an expert winemaker before Taste of Vail seminar

Melanie Wong
Special to the Daily
Sommolier Rajat Parr is celebrated around the world for his knowledge and talent. At Taste of Vail, he'll talk about various wines in a special seminar.
Special to the Daily

If you go ...

What: Discovering Santa Barbara with author and sommelier Rajat Parr, Master Sommelier Will Costello and winemaker from Scar of the Sea, Michael Brughelli.

Where: Matsuhisa, Vail Village.

When: Saturday from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m.

How much: $55.

More info: tasteofvail.com.

in the world of fine wines, some sommeliers become critics, others enter the restaurant industry, others become teachers, while others become winemakers and distributors. Rajat Parr is all of the above.

The superstar sommelier is considered one of the most influential in the business. Besides receiving three James Beard Awards, he’s worked as wine director at the acclaimed Michael Mina restaurants, authored two books and mentored some of the top sommeliers in the country. In recent years, he’s turned his attention to winemaking, helping to put the Santa Barbara County wine country on the map.

Parr brings his expertise and wines to this week’s Taste of Vail, where he’ll lead a seminar, “Discovering Santa Barbara,” alongside Master Sommelier Will Costello and winemaker from Scar of the Sea Michael Brughelli. These wine experts will lead the group in tasting six wines from the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills. The wines will include selections from Scar of the Sea, Solomon Hills, Sanford and Benedict and Sandhi, Parr’s own winery.

“We’ll talk about the soil and viticulture, an overview from the growing side of things, and what makes the region unique,” said Parr.

The Vail Daily caught up with Parr to talk about the Taste of Vail, his winemaking philosophy and the drink that changed his life.

Vail Daily: Many wine drinkers are familiar with Napa and Sonoma, but less so Santa Barbara. What makes the region special for wine?

Rajat Parr: Santa Barbara county has a very distinct climate. Santa Barbara itself is warm in the summer, but inland, where most the growing is, has a cool-to-cold summer. It also has different sedimentary soils that aren’t found close to the coast elsewhere in the state. This creates wines that have more acidity and vibrancy than our northern neighbors.

VD: You were featured in the wine documentary, “Somm 3.” In the movie, they asked several legendary sommeliers what bottle first opened up the world of wine for them, and often, changed the course of their careers. What was that bottle for you?

RP: It was a 1986 Ravaneau Les Clos — white Burgundy, a Chardonnay from Chablis — that I had when I first started working at Rubicon in 1996. (Parr got his start in the hospitality industry at the acclaimed San Francisco restaurant on the food — not beverage — side.) As a young wine drinker, I’d never had a white wine like it. It was a bottle that got you thinking, “How can wine taste like this and what else is out there?”

VD: During your career, you seem to have done it all, from being wine director of an extensive restaurant group to writing books to making wine. Is there one aspect of the wine business you enjoy the most?

RP: The way I think of it, (these roles) are all at different phases of my life and career, and now winemaking is a different phase, the last phase. When I was younger, I enjoyed working in the hustle and bustle of restaurants. Now I enjoy making wine — plus I don’t have to stay until midnight every night!

VD: Do you have any tips for people wanting to develop their palate or become better educated wine drinkers?

RP: You have to taste, and you have to read. You have to spend time at a local boutique wine shop talking to people and learning. There’s really no shortcut. There is so much information available on wine now — you can literally search any wine on the internet and find out so much. (Parr’s books, “Secrets of the Sommeliers” and “The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste,” might be a good place to start for budding wine enthusiasts. He also recommends “The Wine Bible” and “The World Atlas of Wine.”)

VD: What makes your take on wine unique? Do you have a philosophy when it comes to your wine?

RP: Most of my experience has been in the Old World, so that influences the wines I make. I like wines that aren’t influenced by marketing or publicity but valued for the taste. I believe in making wine in a pure way, the purest way possible. That’s my focus for sure.