Had a memorable meal in Minneapolis lately? Chances are good that Bill Summerville had something to do with the experience.
After leaving his long-held post as managing director and sommelier at La Belle Vie this past spring, Summerville has been in project mode. He partnered with chef Erik Anderson on a well-received fried chicken and Champagne pop-up at Travail and designed the wine programs at the Third Bird and Sea Change. He then traveled, tasted, and studied his way through hundreds of bottles to create the perfect collection for Gavin Kaysen's North Loop hot spot, Spoon and Stable, where Summerville is general manager and wine director.
Hot Dish: How do you go about selecting wines for a new restaurant? Do you pair things specifically with dishes on the menu or is it somewhat of a crapshoot?
Bill Summerville: The crapshoot part is me discovering a wine that the vendors, distributors, and purveyors bring to me because they now know my palate. So I guess my taste obviously factors in very heavily. At this point in my career, I won't do a list unless it can be very personal. To me, selecting these wines, being thoughtful about it, falling in love with different bottles, is a very personal experience. I put a lot of myself into doing it. It's a bit like making a great mixtape. You think about the person you're doing it for, of course, and the feelings you have for them, but you sneak a lot of your own favorites in, too.
How do you decide where to stop in terms of wines offered by the glass and bottle in a whole collection?
It depends on the restaurant I'm doing it for. For example, when I was working with Kim (Bartmann) at the Third Bird, she gave me total freedom but I kind of took my inspiration for the size of the wine list from the Tiny Diner food menu. I organized from lighter whites to richer whites and then more aromatics, and then started looking for reds the same way. There are some big Tuscans and Cabs on that menu to go with that huge carved ribeye and the pork belly. I like the user-friendliness of that size: two dozen by the glass and about one hundred bottles.
Is it difficult to edit as you go?
It can be very hard to edit, yes. Sometimes what it comes down to is price. You don't want to have too many expensive wines on a list. Other times it comes down to the year. I'll get a '99 and an '05 of the exact same wine and then encourage a table to get both and do that side-by-side comparison to see how a wine can change over time. That's always cool.
What was your approach to doing the collection for Spoon and Stable?
Well, I think that everyone assumed that because of Gavin's background that Spoon and Stable was going to be like super high-end fine dining. But really his aim is to do simple, very well-executed comfort foods. Roasted chicken, bone-in ribeye, that sort of thing. So taking that into account, I started with a base and then started to pull in things from the regions that I love: Savoie and Jura, especially -- the Alpine areas, and also I love reds from the Loire Valley because they're so varied. They have depth of fruit and they have balance. We will also have some beautiful but inexpensive dessert wines: a few Madieras, the Marco De Bartoli Marsala, some Moscato. In total we have about 20 wines by the glass and about 180 bottles in that collection.
What's the mark of a great wine to you?
A good wine should have character and balance. Someone came to me with this really top-of-the-line bottle of Burgundy when I was working the collection for [Spoon and Stable]. It's the kind of wine that should impress, but then when I really tasted it and considered it, it just lacked character. I wouldn't be able to pick it out of a lineup, and something like that should be really distinctive. More simply though, you know you love a wine when you keep going back to it.
Have you discovered any new wines lately that have surprised you?
I took a trip recently to Slovenia and some other places in that area with Steven Brown. It's a cooler climate for growing because of the influence from the Adriatic so there are some very minerally wines that are very unique. I also spent some time in Austria in the last few years. I got the chance to try some of Marie-Noelle Ledru's non vintage brut at this amazing Champagne shop in Vienna that just crushed me. It's not in this market, unfortunately, but I was able to get a few bottles for [Spoon and Stable]...and one bottle for personal use.
Having been at La Belle Vie so long, it must feel pretty significant to be working on all these new ventures.
It's really exciting. I've hired some fantastic people to work at [Spoon and Stable], both who have come to me and who I have gone after. They're all enthusiastic and passionate about this industry and they all really want to learn. Gavin is amazing and very motivating, and talented, obviously. The alchemy there is just great.
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