Virginia Philip became the 10th woman in the world to earn the accreditation of Master Sommelier. Now in her 10th year at The Breakers, Virginia maintains and oversees the beverage department for 9 restaurants and bars and 14 wine lists for the property. Included is the 1,600-selection list at L’Escalier, the resort’s award-winning signature restaurant which has won the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award every year since its inception in 1981.
Virginia’s newest adventure, her Wine Shop & Academy (located in West Palm Beach), opened in November of 2011.
I recently (as-in just this week) had the chance for a quick Q&A with Virginia…
So, what does the role of Master Sommelier, specifically at The Breakers, involve?
My role at The Breakers requires me to wear many hats. I am an Ambassador of the hotel in all that I do and especially when I travel. I am also responsible for 14 wine lists on the property with my team of sommeliers. Financials are critical in a role this large, so managing your beverage costs and inventories is a key component of the job. Training, mentoring and keeping up with new wine information is also critical to stay current in my role. Food and wine pairings, creative wine lists and creative drink menus are also a part of my job responsibilities.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Sommeliers?
I have two: That all we do all day is taste food and drink wine! We do not, and if we, it’s generally not by choice. It is our job and there are definitely days where tasting one more dish with 6 more wines is very challenging to do!
The other, is that sommeliers are purposely trying to over pour or under-pour the guest. Many times, we are at the host’s disposal. If the host tells us he/she wants one bottle of wine for 6-8 guests and refuses to order another one, there is not a lot that we can do about it.
Tell me a little more about your current wine store/academy venture. How is it different from any other wine store?
The shop is a 1800 square foot space utilizing 1/3 for a classroom and the rest for retail, office, restroom etc… The approach or look was a So-Ho style look – clean, sleek and modern. The wines are hand chosen by myself and Richard Paladino and we appreciate all the wines in our store. The price point is $8.99 and up, so there is something for everyone. The smaller space creates an intimate environment and allows us to give a more personalized experience.
As far as the Academy goes, the area (West Palm) was well beyond ready for wine classes to educate the general public and wine drinking consumer. One should not have to travel to L.A., San Francisco, New York or Chicago to meet some of the top winemakers, winery owners, wine educators and wine Ambassadors. We are doing very well with the classes and our consumers are telling us they love them! We also pair up with local chefs for cooking demonstrations.
Why do you think wine education is so important, and what is the best/quickest way to educate yourself if you’re just starting to get into wine.
If you are in the food and beverage profession, wine is important. Today’s demographics clearly show us that more-and-more people are interested in wine for a variety of reasons: sheer enjoyment, health aspects, travel opportunities, Food Network etc… The quickest way to educate yourself is to study books, read and absorb. Tasting is critical, so be sure to taste as often as possible whether by going to a class, wine trips or just buying a few bottles and taking very good notes as to what you did or did not like about the wine. Traveling to wine country is a must! Reading about wine in a book is one thing. Going to a vineyard and touching the vines and letting the soil run thru your fingers, that is a memory you will not forget.
What is your #1 wine pet peeve?
Corked bottles or when people in the industry say “the wine comes from great juice”. I dislike the word “juice” intensely in this context. It is like calling women “chicks.”
Which varietal/country/style do you have most of in your cellar right now?
Assorted. I have everything under the sun.
What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Manzanilla Sherry with roasted almonds, Manchego cheese and olives.
What are the top wine values that you see right now?
French and Italian – both reds and whites.
Any up-and-coming wine regions/countries that we should be looking out for?
Greece is definitely on a roll.
Virginia Philip Wine Shop and Academy
101 North Clematis, Suite 150, West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy Facebook Page