‘Time and place in a bottle’
VAIL Last August, under the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, Patricia Borgardt packed lightly for a trip to Houston to weather the storm she knew shed soon return to her home, her position at the landmark New Orleans restaurant Commanders Palace and her growing personal wine cellar.I thought we were just going to be gone for a weekend, so I just took a few bottles, she said. It turned out my house was under eight-and-a-half feet of water.Borgardt and her husband lost their home, one car and nearly all of their earthly possessions, but the personal wine cellar happened to be inside a storage unit in the suburbs and remains undisturbed to this day.I still have to go get it at some point, Ill fly down and get a van and drive back with my wine, Borgardt said. But right now its still a very sad place to be. Not that much has changed, and its hard to think about going down there.Borgarts path to wine guru-dom has been a circuitous one. While taking a sabbatical from the medical field in Seattle, she tended bar and handled all the wine ordering; before long, she started volunteering at a small family winery in Puget Sound and became a winemaker herself. The family introduced her to the French idea of terroir, a concept that to this day drives her passion for what the unenlightened would classify as simply fermented grape juice.In essence, terroir represents everything from the place that goes into the making of the wine the idea that you can taste the characteristics of the land where its made, the people who make it, the techniques they use and the care that they give the grapes, she said. Wine represents a time and a place in a bottle. Thats unique among food only cheese comes close. I just got hooked by that idea.If Borgardt could bottle the times and places of the last year of her life, the vintages in her collection would have wildly different flavors perhaps a sour, acrid taste from Katrina, but also the sweet fizz of possibility here in Vail. In late September, Borgardt moved from a seasonal position at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla. to serve as wine director at Sweet Basil in Vail Village. After moving four times in the last year with her husband, a dog, two cats and a fish, she has no intentions of leaving.I like to live in areas that have a sense of place, she said. Naples didnt have that, but New Orleans certainly has that and Vail does, too. Were ready to call this place home, and we like to play in the snow, so were excited to tackle all the opportunites before us.
Borgardt eventually went to Germany to make wine with the Heyl Zu Herrensheim vineyard. When she returned, after a short stint in wine retail, Borgardt attended sommelier classes in Vancouver, where she honed her knowledge of wine and learned to match it with a panoply of foods. I really liked the idea of being one-on-one with the customer and pairing their food and wine for them right then andthere, she said. I of course also love food and working with chefs that collaborative environment is incredibly stimulating.While mastering the senses and a vocabulary to describe wine (buttery, fruity, leathery) seems daunting and pretentious, Borgardt insists that anyone can harness their inner sommelier with a little effort and practice.One of the easiest things to do is when you sit down and have a glass of wine, write down three words if you write it, you have to think about it, and youll remember it, she said. The more that you practice the better you get at it. Dont be afraid to describe the wines you like to your retailer in terms youre comfortable with you don’t have to geek-out about it.Borgardt did run into a bit of trouble, though, when she once likened a particular wines scent to pencil lead.He said, I don’t get that at all, so I actually got a pencil and told him to smell it, to look for that earthy, woody graphite smell, she said. But the descriptions are really beside the point if you’ve never smelled a gooseberry, you’re never going to describe it that way. My job as a sommelier is to say, what do you like? And you dont even have to know I should be able to find out enough about you to figure that out.Borgardt knows shes truly excelled when oenophiles relinquish the reins of control and ask her to course-pair without supervision a practice she hopes to cultivate here at Sweet Basil.We get to a point where now they trust me, and they know that I know my craft and we have great time together, she said. That trust is really special, and if they can trust me to pick the wines for them, that just makes my night.Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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