Professional Wine Service Certificate Program

Mendocino Wine Service: Seminars with the Pros

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

            You may notice new and improved wine service in some of Mendocino County’s restaurants from Ukiah to the coast the next time you dine out. Thirty-four local restaurant servers recently took part in the first Mendocino Professional Wine Service Certificate Program hosted by the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission (MWWC).

            “I wish I had the opportunity to take this course 20 years ago when I got into this business,” said one participant. Presented by renowned wine professionals in three intensive sessions over three weeks the concurrent coast and inland seminars offered an intensive informative and Mendocino-centric overview of wine presentation and service.

            Organized by the MWWC’s education committee chair and University of California agricultural advisor Glenn McGourty and Megan Metz, Director of Marketing and Communications, the MWWC the Professional Wine Service Certificate Program covered the gamut from introductory to sophisticated sensory and educational wine information by some of the best in the business.

            “These wine courses have been developed especially for those that sell Mendocino County wine and to help set the course for the restaurant staff’s professional success,” says Metz.     “The students experienced an immersion approach to learning through focused tastings, insightful lectures and challenging discussions,” says McGourty. The goal of the program is to delve into and demystify the complexities of wine and the wine business in Mendocino County and beyond. McGourty enlisted such luminaries as Mendocino winemaker and educator John Buechsenstein, Sonoma County chef John Ash and the Culinary Institute of America sommelier Traci Dutton.

            John Buechsenstein has been a winemaker and wine educator in California for decades.  He was most recently a partner in the Sauvignon Republic Cellars, specializing in Sauvignon Blancs from around the world. He has also made award-winning wines at Fife Vineyards and McDowell Valley Vineyards. A noted educator, Buechsenstein is an adjunct faculty member at  The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley and at UC Davis Extension where he has lectured on wine sensory evaluation more than 30 years. He is a past-president of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, a charter member of the Society of Wine Educators, and he judges wine competitions throughout North America. Among his many publications, he co-authored the “Standardized System of Wine Aroma Terminology”, known as the Wine Aroma Wheel.

            Known as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine,” author, teacher and celebrity chef John Ash has been integral to the rise of California’s wine and food education since 1980.  His namesake restaurant, John Ash & Company, in Santa Rosa, was the first in Northern California to focus on local, seasonal ingredients in dishes created to complement local wines. He is co-host of “The Good Food Hour, a food and wine radio talk show on KSRO on Saturdays. Ash is also an adjunct instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and was the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ teacher of the year in 2008. He serves on the board of the Chef's Collaborative, a national organization committed to sustainable and ethical food issues and travels the world teaching and cooking. Ash has written three award winning books including “John Ash Cooking One-on-One: Private Lessons in Simple Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher, “From the Earth to the Table: John Ash's Wine Country Cuisine”andAmerican Game Cooking.”

            “My favorite portion of the class was with Chef John Ash and the food/wine pairings, says Dawn Kinsella who works at Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg. “Most of us already know that a slight change in food ingredients can alter what we taste in the wine, but to actually get to play and test this with different foods and several wines at one time was invaluable!”

            “I learned a tremendous amount about pairing food with wine,” says Cossie Ramos, a server at The Broiler in Redwood Valley, “I extremely liked the class, it taught me a lot about different types of wine that I can use in the restaurant.” Coincidentally Mendocino’s popular steak house has recently expanded and enriched its wine list.

            Adding to the prestige of the seminar presenters was Traci Dutton, the Sommelier for the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at Napa Valley’s Culinary Institute of America. After fourteen years in renowned New York City restaurants Dutton came to California with a vast experience in fine dining beverage service and international wine buying. Her specialties include mixology, beer and organic wines. She is sought after as a wine judge and a speaker.  “My special interest is in passing on the belief that most wine should be for everyday drinking,” says Dutton. 

            “Three half days were jam packed with at least six full days worth of information,” says Kinsella. She continues, “From Traci Dutton's detailed and flawless service techniques to John Buechsenstein's technical knowledge of all things wine to the fun and very informative tasting exercise with Chef John Ash, the whole program was informative and professional.”

            Lessons included tableside service, recognition of wine faults such as being corked, an exploration of Mendocino varietals, sparklers and brandy, and the principles of wine and food pairing. Among the participating restaurants were Patrona, The Broiler, Branches, The Office, Silver’s at the Wharf, Ravens at Stanford Inn, Mendo Bistro, the MacCallum House, Albion River Inn, Creekside Inn, Little River Inn, The Moosse Café and The Restaurant at Stevenswood.

            Jules Pinter, a server at Patrona in Ukiah sums up her experience, “I felt that the program was wonderfully informative and really opened my eyes to the bounty that is our Mendocino County. We not only learned a refinement in service, but also ways to engage our guests in our rich history of wine and food.”


For more information on upcoming programs of the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission contact, where you can also read all previous Wine Notes columns. 

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