The cast and characters at Rancho Cellars know a thing or three about the fruit of the vine.
Thursday, September 30, 1999
Or, maybe you live in Monterey County and just enjoy the sensuous aspects of wine, unopposed to an occasional Bacchic revel that brings together good food and drink and company.
Or it could be you''re a visiting Texan with deep pockets, with a penchant for fine, old vintages, and paying $1,000 a pop is no problem. Or a displaced oenophile living in Montana who comes down to the Peninsula twice a year, filling up the back of the pickup with enough good table wine to last until spring thaw. All of these scenarios describe Rancho Cellars'' regulars. When it''s wine that''s on your mind, they aim to please a variety of tastes and pocketbooks.
Yes, they do stock a wide variety of premium beers and some top-shelf liquor. But when Paul Supancich began tossing the idea around 20 years ago, it was becoming a fine wine merchant that he envisioned as something that might be interesting to do once he was done with his career as an aeronautical engineer. "It''s not something that came to me in a flash," he attests. After taking an early retirement and getting his fill of growing a garden and racing cars, he decided to go for it.
That was less than a year and a half, and 2,000 labels ago. Now when you walk into Rancho Cellars at Carmel Rancho Boulevard, you can find a deal on a ''97 Mer Soleil Pinot Gris for $12.95. Or if you''re the Texan in the 20-gallon hat, that''s you strutting out the door with a collection of six bottles of 1983 Chateau D'' Yquem, ranging in size from a half bottle to six liters, for a cool $15,000.
To determine which labels would ultimately find a place among a broad collection representing virtually all of the wine regions of the world, Supancich assembled an all-star team and set about the task of tasting thousands of wines, often from 10 to 50 a day. "As far as I know, there''s not a single wine shop in the county with two sommeliers on staff," he asserts, referring to Jacques Melac, (his colleagues refer to him as the "conductor," rather than director of sales) and Alpana Singh (with one more round to go toward Master Sommelier certification, she''s the youngest person to ace the advanced level of testing). Along with other staff members, Jason Judy and Peter Allison, each with their own distinguished backgrounds in the industry, every wine is tasted before it''s put on the shelf, except in cases of highly allocated wines. Their philosophy is that the only way to know how to sell it is to know what''s in the bottle. And when it comes to understanding how wine and food work together, "They can talk recipes till the cows come home," Supancich says of his staff.
For 10 years, Jacques was the front-of-the-house team at Melac''s Restaurant in Pacific Grove. His wife, Janet, ran the back. Now the pair teams up again at the Cellar''s Thursday evening Tasting Events, when tasting tours take aficionados in a swirling and sipping soiree throughout wine regions all over the world, enjoyed along with Janet''s hors d''oeuvres. (A bargain, at only $15.) Supancich credits their strong hospitality backgrounds with the high level of service his crew provides. "It can be very intimidating when someone walks in for the first time," Jacques gestures toward the 20,000 bottle inventory. "We go out of our way to let our customers know we have great deals, and will help them find just what they''re looking for."
Alpana Singh worked on Montrio''s waitstaff for three years, when she wasn''t absorbing anything she could get her hands on learning about wine. As education director for Rancho Cellars Wine Academy, along with Jacques, she''s involved in the tasting events as well as leading a series of four Tuesday evening courses for novices, starting with how wine is made, properly tasted and analyzed, and on to an evaluation of white and red varietals.
Beginning in October, there will also be Friday classes offered through the University of California at Santa Cruz Extension, when Jacques and Alpana will explore "The Taste Of Wine," one of nine accredited courses. "If you understand how a symphony is written, how music is constructed, you appreciate that piece of music just a little bit more," Alpana affirms. "The same is true for wine. When you understand how it''s made--the regions, the earth, the soil it comes from--you appreciate it that much more."
And now, without even slipping out of your bunny slippers you can pay a visit to www.ranchocellars.com and shop at home. The pop-up menus make it easy to find just what you''re looking for, whether it''s wine, the perfect recipe to enjoy it with, or a list of local wine events. As Alpana says, "Just think of us as the interactive wine store."
There was some interactive ambiance going on last week at Carmel Valley''s Chili Cook-Off. The smoke and ash in the air from neighboring forest fires provided a realistic backdrop to the fireworks competition staged in three categories: First prize in the professional chili division went to Santa Lucia Preserve, second prize to the Summerhouse Restaurant, and third prize to Oak Deli.
In the People''s Choice awards, the Summerhouse took first, Santa Lucia Preserve second, and John Macy and John Saunders won third. In the Amateur Division, the first place winner was Alayna and Tom Gray, second prize went to Carmel Valley Youth Center, and third prize to Bill Smith.