Words: Henry Yuen Chinese posting - http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant-zh=hans
So what is the secret formula behind a successful restaurant wine program? What better way than to find out from a popular high volume restaurant chain, the iconic casual fine dining Cactus Club Café? This restaurant chain offers a relaxing, stylish and urban dining atmosphere while at the same time provides top-notched service and outstanding food quality along with a stellar wine list which rivals most other fine dining establishments.
Led by the one and only Canadian Iron Chef Rob Feenie, dining at the Cactus Club Café seldom brings disappointment. Now that they can boast having the 2013 Top Chef Canada champ Matt Stowe at the helm, there is no doubt the food is fabulous and to the point of exceptional value. With such high calibre food service, the wine program needs to be inevitably, of the same level in order to complement the dining pleasure.
Enter Sebastien Le Goff, the Service Director and Sommelier at Cactus Club Café. Backed by years of international fine dining management experience, Sebastien oversees all the front house operations at the Cactus Club Café. Decorated with a few “Sommelier of the Year Awards”, vast experience and concrete credentials, he is the consummate professional to lead the teams at the restaurant.
My first question to him was very straight forward. “What are the challenges in designing a wine list for a restaurant like the Cactus Club?”
“The clientele at The Cactus Club Café varies from location to location and so the wine list has to cater to the taste buds of the customers frequenting that location, but at the same time the list has to also offer wines for different occasions.” Sebastien replied. “In other words, we select everyday wines as well as wines for special occasions.” Sebastien admitted that selecting which wines to enlist was never easy but has always been an enjoyable challenge.
“The two serving portions for wine by the glass - 6 oz. and 9 oz. is there to cater to different situations. Some prefer to try a few wines with dinner instead of sticking to the bottle so the wine by the glass program with two sizes offers more flexibility.” According to Sebastien, the 6 oz. serving proved to be more popular during lunch time with the business crowds whereas the 9 oz. was requested more often at dinner time.
What about the varietals and wine origins? “Local wines are very much a focus at high tourist locations and BC wines usually do very well. At the moment, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay from BC are the popular whites whereas Malbec and Pinot Noir are the desired reds.”
“All in all at the Cactus Club Café, the wine list is designed based on the need to adapt to customers’ tastes and demands rather than trying to dictate what the customers should be drinking.” Sebastien added, “A successful wine program is not just about what wines are on the list, the service element is equally important! The servers need to be knowledgeable not only about the wines but also the food. Extensive training and orientation is the vital part of the success wine program.” He believes the server’s ability to offer and recommend wine suggestions will enhance the dining pleasure. If the server is passionate and articulate, most customers are open to suggestions. It helps expedite the ordering process too, this is especially crucial during lunch time when most customers are pressed for time. The wine selection at dinner time, however, is a different ball game. Diners not only ask for more information on the wine list but also have higher demand of the food and wine pairing experience. The server, therefore, needs to know the wine list fluently, understand the pairing aspects well, always be observant, accommodating and be ready to deal with whatever customers are anticipating for.
Sebastien stressed that a good wine program needed to integrate with the style and the atmosphere of the restaurant. “The wine list is just one component in providing an overall satisfying dining experience for customers.” He concluded.