We’ll come back to the Monte Bello Tasting Room for this, the 6th edition of our Official RIDGE-Ite 20 Questions Questionnaire, and have a visit with Darren Gardner, the newest member of the Monte Bello Tasting Room Staff. Darren comes to us from the wildly beloved Los Altos Grill, where he works during the week. The restaurant plays a rather funny role in our hiring Darren actually; Sara Teeter, our hospitality rep here at Monte Bello, is quite a fan of the Los Altos Grill. But she had never met Darren. (Partly because he was a “walk-in”, meaning we hadn’t contacted him, he just came into the tasting room one weekend and dropped off a resume). So Sara, not having met him, was curious and asking questions, and I mentioned that he worked at The Los Altos Grill. She immediately turned to me and said firmly “hire him.” So we did! As I think you’ll see from his answers, Darren is serious about his wine, and serious about Ridge! (Though his answer about the Aroma Wheel is rather humorous …)
The Official Ridge-ite 20 Questions Questionnaire
1. Can you briefly describe the first time you remember “consciously” drinking a bottle of wine (meaning, you were aware of what you were tasting, and to what extent you were enjoying it)?
2. Who first “turned you on” to drinking good wine?
Chris Nault, my former manager at the Los Gatos Brewing Co. taught me how to taste and enjoy wine. His enthusiasm for fine wine was inspirational to me.
3. Do you remember the first time you tried a wine from Ridge? (What was it, where did you try it, etc.)
The owner of the Los Gatos Brewing Co. organized a day where the whole staff went up to Monte Bello for a tour and a private tasting. We tasted the Geyserville and the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet. After that I was hooked.
4. When did you first realize you had an interest in wine that went beyond that of the “casual” consumer?
Within the last two years I found myself thinking about wine, having extended conversations about wine, and wanting to know more and more about wine. I found it was important to me to have proper food and wine pairings and I decided that I didn’t want to drink bad wine ever again.
5. What was your first job “in the industry?”
I have been in the restaurant industry since 2006. Ridge is my first wine industry job!
6. When did you first join Ridge, and what led you here?
I joined in May of this year. Ridge was the only place I wanted to be. I wanted to work for the best and learn from the best. That’s why I’m here.
7. If you had to pick, is there one Ridge wine that you prefer above all others?
No, I can’t pick one. Ridge wines are like family members; I love them all for different reasons.
8. Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?
Sauvignon Blanc with shellfish.
9. If you could have any Ridge wine, served with any meal, cooked by any chef, with any companion, anywhere in the world, what would you select?
I would be at home with the 1971 Monte Bello and a nice steak. What more does one need?
10. Is there a common “myth” or “belief” or supposed “truism” in the world of wine that you’d like to take the opportunity to debunk? (white wines only with fish, wine is made in the winery, alcohol levels in California are too high, the 100-pt wine rating scale is obsolete, etc.)
I’ve noticed that certain wine drinkers like to compare wines against each other. They say things like, “this is way better than that.” For me, wine tasting is not about that at all. I prefer to think of each wine as it’s own separate entity and appreciate (or not appreciate) it for what it is.
11. Outside of California, what is your wine region of choice?
12. When you’re not drinking wine, what is your beverage of choice?
Gin and tonic.
13. If you could have any other job in the food/wine industry then the one you have now, what would it be?
I’m not sure yet. I’m still too new to the industry to know exactly where I want to be.
14. Wine & Cheese, or Wine & Chocolate?
Wine & Cheese.
15. What has been the best wine experience to date in your life? (Where were you, who were you with, what did you drink, etc.)
One of my first wine tasting experiences was on a wine tour in Mendoza, Argentina. We visited three wineries that day. The tour finished at a small, family owned winery. Their tasting room/cellar was beautiful. The bar and stools were made from old wine barrels. They laid out an unbelievable selection of meat, cheese, honey, olives, and bread. They served one wine and I still remember how rich and well structured it was. The combination of great wine, food, and company made it a day I’ll never forget.
16. What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen happen in a wine tasting room?
Ask me again after I’ve got a few more months under my belt.
17. What do you consider to be the five most important items in your fridge right now?
Mustard, Red Tail Ale, cheese, broccoli, and peanut butter.
18. If you could offer one piece of advice to someone who is interested in getting a job in the wine industry, what would it be?
Drink more wine.
19. How do you feel about the “aroma wheel”?
I don’t pay much attention to it because it makes me dizzy.
20. What’s the desktop photo on your computer?
A landscape photo I took in Joshua Tree National Park last November.