Douglas Blade talks to this year’s UK Best Seller winner about his role as Head of Wine at Inn The Park Winchester…
How did you come to wine?
A glass from the current 2009 edition of Tignanello at a small Enoteca in Florence in 2012 lit a flame inside me; WSET Level 2 ignited the fire, and in 2013, I moved into wine full-time at the Lime Wood Hotel in New Forest
What is your antique?
1991, what is best described as a “challenging” year. And my terroir is South Downs, which is probably why I love sparkling wine so much.
Where did you work previously?
My career has always been in and around the south east of England. I grew up working in pubs, and I have a real fondness for this great British establishment. I spent most of my twenties honing my craft at Limewood. Working with top chefs, Luke Holder and Angela Hartnett, and with two top bartenders, Louise Gordon and Sergio Benito, has taught me lessons in a passion for product and dedication.
I also had the pleasure of working on brunch evenings with some of the country’s greatest chefs, including Michelle and Emily Rowe, Nathan Outlaw, Tom Kerridge, Marcus Wearing, Lisa Allen and Paul Ainsworth. Then I had a short stint at The Wild Rabbit, Oxfordshire, at the time run by Nathan Eads.
Working with a restaurant that sourced all possible produce from the neighboring farm has taught me a lot about sourcing. After that, I spent some time as the general manager of Wilding, Salisbury. Working closely with the owner, Kent Parker taught me about problem-solving, managing situations, and coming up with ways to rise creatively and effectively to various challenges.
What bottle would you reach if the nuclear button was pressed?
I was taking two bottles – if this is the end of the world, why not? 2008 Comtes des Champagne by Taittinger To age in the cellar, and a bottle of Miani Chardonnay from Friuli to drink as I ran into the dugout!
What style of wine do you not get along with?
I have always had a strong belief in self-tasting and am happy to try wines that I don’t enjoy much: it is important when developing as sommeliers that you taste everything no matter your enjoyment. It’s all about context!
What’s an interesting wine and food match at Inn The Park and Chesil Rectory?
At Inn The Park, chef John Harrison’s passion is meat. The 35-day-old rib is a signature. Aged meat offers more salty properties and helps give really tender results. With this in mind, I like to pair this with a full-bodied wine that replicates the savory character, like Domaine Corbis St. Joseph, full of dark fruits, coffee, and brisket flavors. Perfect for the upcoming fall and winter nights.
I’ve taken up residence at Inn The Park, developing the retail side of the business and offering some style, flair and interest. We have an eclectic selection!
At Chesil Rectory, head chef Damien Brown serves homemade gnocchi, with charred green onions and tender cauliflower with tomatoes. Great for warmer summer days, this dish’s herbal notes make it great with Dagueneau’s 2011 Blanc Fumé de Pouilly.
What does it look like to work in such historical places?
A real privilege. Inn The Park is located on a site connected to Alfred The Great, which has more than 1,000 years of history. Meanwhile, Chesil is the oldest house in Winchester built about 600 years ago. It’s a great running service and thinking about all the people who’ve been through and the experiences they’ve had.
How do you use Coravin?
Coravin is a great tool. But I think the single best use is to serve the same wine from different grapes. This gives you a great opportunity to learn how wine evolved and to understand the differences in grapes.
What style would you like to see more of in your listings?
I have a great love for Italian wines and always bring more of Italy to the menu. However, with a classic site, and a modern site, I’m always working on offering more modern wineries and styles. For example, the latest addition to the list at Inn The Park is Tim Wildman MW’s Lost in a Field Pét-Nat “Frolic”.
Is your role primarily to inform, educate, and entertain guests, to make money to work with your business and yourself, or all of those things?
My periodicity includes all of these elements. I stay day in and day out in our wine room, retail wine shop and small plate restaurant. But I also host wine events at all of our locations and conduct trainings for all of our employees.
What is an embarrassing service error?
During the exclusive use of a prestigious hedge fund management company in Lime Wood, a guest dressed in a long white ball gown suddenly stood up. Standing back, I smashed a hole in the large beaker I was holding. Without any better thoughts, and not wanting to spoil the guest’s gown, I stood there and hugged the beaker to my chest while I emptied the entire contents of the magnum down in front of me. Not the best way to start dinner!
How do you deal with an amazingly drunk guest?
It’s always a tricky topic when you work in the retail alcohol business. The most important attitude is to remain calm and in control. It is important not to give guests any additional reasons for becoming agitated. My wife works as a pediatrician for the NHS and we talked in depth about managing confrontation. It is important that you stand your ground and if an aggressive or violent contact for support occurs.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
Before I even found wine, beer was my biggest passion. I’ve worked in pubs that operate and brew barrel beers, and I’m often happier with a pint of better over a glass of wine.
What do you do on your days off?
Studying is essential to staying current in the world of wine. So often I will be buried in a wine book. However, with a wife based in the NHS, we try to relax and spend a lot of time in the New Forest or down the Lymington River on a paddleboard.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
high speed. Being quicker in hospitality is not a bad thing.
Would you rather share a cherished bottle with Frank Sinatra, James Lance or Jennifer Lopez?
I have to be Frank. And it should be a bottle of ultra-fine American wine. 2004 Duckhorn Howell Mountain Merlot comes to mind.
What is your motto?
“You are only as good as your last service.”
#Unfiltered #Chris #Parker