Today we put the LENNDEVOURS Q&A questions in front of Jared Skolnick, president and co-founder of Grand Cru Classes, in Mattituck. Grand Cru Classes is the East End's only dedicated wine education company and, along with his wife Tracy Ellen Kamens, I think Jared is onto something. He's also a fellow lover of earthy local cab franc and the Steelers. Clearly this Q&A is long overdue.
La Fiole du Pape, Chateauneuf du Pape from Pere Anselme over a holiday dinner in around 1980. It was a typical family holiday, but for some reason, the mood was just right, that my dad pulled two of these from his small collection. The wine on our dinner table otherwise was usually in a box, and these bottles were given to my father years earlier as a gift, so he was holding them for a special occasion.
I can remember precisely the wine because it was twisted and dusty -- and I found it again a few years ago. Apparently, the "old" bottle is just a marketing trick! But, either way, it was memorable in the way many wines are -- because of the festivities and company as much as the wine. (BTW -- I was about ten years old and took one sip. I hated it!)
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
Two things led me and Tracy down this path. The first was how we always found vineyards on every vacation. Finding a vineyard in France or Italy is hardly a surprise. But North Carolina? Rhode Island? That did it. So probably Sakonnet Winery in Rhode Island.
The other more direct catalyst was January 2005. I was at a new job and was absolutely miserable... so much that I felt ill each morning from negative anticipation. Tracy suggested that I simply quit, "we'll figure it out," she said. So I did. On the L.I.E. that night out to spend the weekend in Southold with Tracy's parents we considered options, including "moving to Oregon to buy a vineyard." Sanity took over and we came up with a more calculated way to enter the industry. And possibly even make a profit.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
Hey, that's a loaded question. I own a wine school, not a winery! I've made one "basement" wine so far from a box of Okanagan Chardonnay. How was it? I like to say that "it didn't suck." I'm hoping to make my first wine from fruit this year. And from our education vineyard in three to four years.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the LI wine community?
I knew this was a small and tight-knit community. That's even part of why I wanted to be a part of it. Yet even knowing that, I am constantly amazed and just how small. And how tight. The people are just so real and so welcoming. I hope that Tracy and I convey that feeling as well.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
I was so stuck in Bordeaux mode for so long, that I have been trying lots of new things more often now. My true wine love is the Southern Rhone, but my current fascination is Albarino. Or any fresh, fruity white without any oak. The Gruner Vetliner selection at a recent event definitely got my attention. Although I have a 1999 Dutton Ranch, Russian River Chardonnay in my glass right now. It's heavily oaked, but with good structure and age, it is so complex and the oak influence is almost like candy now. Yum!
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
I'm a sucker for the classics. And despite the "science" that says you can't enjoy reds with cheese, I do anyway. But now I more often reach for a white to pair with most cheeses. Even better.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.
For example, some friends from Nassau called us late on a recent Saturday. "Hey, we're heading back from Shelter Island, want to meet up for a glass of wine?" As it was late, we headed to Roanoke Vineyards and watched the sunset while enjoying the wines and the company. Wine and the industry itself is all about being social. And that alone makes it enjoyable; anything worth enjoying is worth sharing.