With just over 1,500 selections of wine, 25,000-plus inventoried bottles, 26 years as a Wine Spectator Grand Award Winner, and, being home to 3 of the 138 Master Sommeliers in the world, the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, can safely consider itself on par with other notable properties. Any wine aficionado or casual drinker coming to the property would be safe to assume that the fine wine they want is within the grasp of their fingertips.
Andrew McNamara is one of the three Master Sommeliers on property. Besides creating wine pairings and wine education, Andrew is responsible for procuring some of the most sought-after wines on the market. I had a chance to sit down with Andrew to discuss the process. The following notes are paraphrased from our discussion.
With your interactions with the hotel’s clientele, is there a typical “MO (modus operandi)” of someone who drinks wine? Do you see a difference between now and a few years back?
Andrew: No. Our patrons are anybody and everybody. Wine has become more of a part of everyday life for a number of people. Most of our clientele drinks wine of some sort. In answer to the question on seeing differences, people are more willing to try new things. People may start with a cocktail. By the end of the night they inevitably end up with a glass or bottle of wine.
With people becoming more educated wine consumers, how does this affect your job? Are you beginning to see a wave of clientele that has become more educated than the typical server or store salesperson?
Andrew: A more educated consumer makes it easier because we do not need to go into great detail explaining wine. This allows us to delve much further into the esoteric wines. To answer the second part of this: not necessarily. There is always a hardcore group of wine drinkers. We try to educate our staff to always be ahead of the educational curve.
When people want to enjoy a bottle of wine what, do you see them migrating to (ie. certain varietals, regions or vineyards)?
Andrew: Recently, Pinot Noir has been extremely popular. More people drink red wines. This is sometimes due to things such as health studies. Because of the size of our wine lists, our clientele can experiment. We see the percentage of sales mirror the percentage of various offerings. Essentially, people are ordering a wide variety of selections.
In a lot of people’s minds, a wine has to be expensive and hard to obtain to make it good. What are your thoughts on that?
Andrew: One of my favorite things to do is to find a good wine that is relatively inexpensive. It is hard to do but can be very rewarding. I agree that there are great expensive wines. At the end of the day it boils down to value. Whatever selection you choose you want to be happy with that choice.
If a guest came to the hotel looking for a very rare selection, what would the process be for obtaining that selection (let’s say a rare Chateau Lafite from the early 1900s)?
Andrew: The first step would be to contact one of our suppliers to see if the selection was available. We would also contact the importers or wine estates if needed. If we could not source the selection locally, we would look to certain auction houses. We occasionally purchase wine from auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. These houses send out catalogs and emails to let us know what will be available for bidding. In some cases, sourcing a selection can take a few weeks up to a few months.
In my capacity I know that certain wines are allocated due to the volumes produced. How are allocations determined?
Andrew: Allocations are mostly determined from traditional purchasing history with a winery and/or distributor. Wineries mainly look at prior dollars spent from the end user (ie. the Breakers). When allocations are made the estate looks at the total portfolio of items. For example, if the estate produces a few grape varietals, they will assess the purchases of all of these. Because of the size and history of our operation we normally have a little more pull in obtaining highly allocated selections.
Do you have a few examples of clients that asked for unique or hard-to-find selections? What was the outcome?
Andrew: One example comes to mind. A few years ago, we had a client who wanted a bottle of a 1899 Chateau Lafite, 1900 Chateau Lafite and a 1947 Cheval Blanc. We had to go the auction house to locate these selections. During the course of one night the client consumed two of these bottles. The bottle of 1899 Chateau Lafite was no good. Just recently we had to procure Marquis De Caceras Gaudium for a banquet event. This is a selection we do not normally have.
If someone reading this article wanted to source out a particular wine selection, what options do they have?
Andrew: They can source selections through a distributor, an importer, the estate, or even speak with our team to help them in their quest.
Finally, if money or availability were not an object, what wine would you love to get your hands on? Why?
Andrew: I would love to have a magnum of a 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild or a 1966 Romanee Conti. These are rare selections that have had rave reviews. Also, the 1945 selection has a “V” on the bottle symbolizing the victory of World War II.