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Interview with Rajat Parr, Nominated for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

Alyssa Haak

May 03, 2015

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Vintner and sommelier Rajat Parr can point to the exact vineyard and vintage of wine that changed his life, setting him on the path toward his nomination for this year's James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. We spoke with him about that seminal sip and his current adventures in winemaking.

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JBF: You've had a multi-faceted career in wine: the wine director for a restaurant group, part owner in a wine bar, and winemaker. How do you balance it all?

Rajat Parr: I am a full-time winemaker now. We have two vineyards: Domaine de la Cote in Santa Barbara and Seven Springs in Oregon. I oversee the wine programs within the Mina Group, but do not work on daily operations. The same is for [the San Francisco wine bar and restaurant] RN74. We have a great team that makes sure the restaurants are successful. I live in Santa Barbara now. It's quite a change, but after working in restaurants for 18 years, it's a good change.

JBF: When you embarked on making your own wine, was there anything about the business that surprised you or that you were unprepared for?

RP: After being a sommelier for 18 years, owning a vineyard is quite a different challenge. There are many parallels in restaurants and winery operations. The one thing that's always humbling is that you have very little control: Mother Nature is the dominant force. We just have to adapt to the ever-changing weather patterns.

JBF: We read that you didn’t try wine until you were 20, while you were visiting an uncle in London. Do you remember the very first wine you tried? What was the first wine you tried that was truly revelatory?

RP: The very first wine I had was a Bordeaux, but I don't remember it. My epiphany wine was Raveneau Les Clos Chablis 1986. I had it while I worked at the restaurant Rubicon in 1996. That wine changed my perspective!

RN74 Seattle

JBF: We’ve also read that Burgundy is your favorite wine region. What’s a lesser-known, up-and-coming region that you’re really excited about?

RP: I love Burgundy, but I also love Gamay. I think Cru Beaujolais is looked over—it is still easily available and a great bargain.

JBF: How many bottles do you have in your wine collection at home? What are some of your favorites?

RP: I probably have 4,000 bottles in my cellar. Most of the wines are French: Dauvissat Chablis, Allemand Cornas, Clos Rougeard Saumur, etc.

JBF: Finally, will you be coming to Chicago for the James Beard Awards? If so, where do you plan to eat while you’re there?

RP: Yes, most definitely! Michael Mina [founder of the Mina Group] has made a plan for us. I am just going to follow his lead.

Alyssa Haak is a freelance writer in New York City.