Name: Jeff Garneau
What’s your position at K&L and how long have you been with the company? I have been a member of the sales staff in our Redwood City store for four and a half years. My current responsibilities include assisting owner Clyde Beffa with the wines of Bordeaux, focusing on in-store merchandising, sales and customer support.
What did you do before you started working here?
After I completed my undergraduate degree in geography I went on to graduate school, intending to become a university professor. I left school before completing my PhD, but I still have a weakness for maps, particularly of the world’s wine regions. After grad school I spent some time in the public sector working on regional economic development. Right before I joined K&L I spent a couple of years working as a records manager for one of the larger accounting firms. I always dreamed of retiring early and starting a second career in the wine business. I just got started a little sooner than I originally planned.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cook. Eat. Drink wine. Preferably with like-minded friends. Read. I am an avid reader. I have spent almost as much time in bookstores over the years as wine shops. Almost.
What’s your favorite movie?
Big Night (1996) with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. It’s about two immigrant brothers trying unsuccessfully to run an Italian restaurant in New Jersey in the 1950s. It tells you everything you need to know about food, about life, about success and about family.
What was your “epiphany wine”—the bottle or glass that got you interested in wine? Is there a current wine that you consider the equivalent?
A 1978 Pio Cesare Barolo I had in the late 1990s. It was the first truly mature wine I ever tasted, but I think the reason the wine made such an impression on me was because it tasted exactly the way I was given to understand it would taste. I had read in several different books that an older nebbiolo might exhibit aromas of violets and tar. When I raised the glass it was as if I held instead a handful of violets, crushing them under my nose to release their perfume. A second sniff revealed a wonderfully tarry mineral note that took me back to my boyhood in the South where the summer sun would bake the asphalt, searing your bare feet if you were too slow in crossing the road. I learned two things that night that I have never forgotten: 1) Wine at its best is capable of producing incredibly complex and varied tastes, flavors, and smells, and 2) because we humans respond so powerfully to our sense of smell wine can evoke extraordinary emotions, feelings, and memories. My current “Pio” equivalent is the 1997 LangoaBarton, St-Julien. 1997 is hardly the vintage of the decade, but the wine is showing beautifully right now. It is textbook claret, exactly as it is supposed to be.
Describe your perfect meal (at a restaurant or prepared at home). What wine(s) would you pair with it?
My husband, Chuck, has worked for years to perfect his recipe for roast chicken. It is moist and rich and savory with a crispy skin seasoned only with sea salt, fresh cracked pepper and a little lemon. He usually serves it with a seasonal green vegetable like the fresh asparagus we had last night. He roasts root vegetables like parsnips, potatoes, carrots and turnips and always includes some unpeeled garlic cloves for me so I can spread the roasted garlic on fresh-baked artisanal bread. The meal is always accompanied by a Pinot Noir from California or Oregon, New Zealand or Burgundy. Our traditional favorite, however, is the Joseph Swan “Cuvée de Trois” from the Russian River in California. We drank the 2006 vintage last night.
How do you think your palate’s changed over the years?
When I first started drinking wine perhaps 20 years ago I drank a lot more red wines as well as wines that were bigger and more fruit forward. Now though I drink more balanced, food-friendly wines from all different parts of the world of every type and description.
What do you like to drink?
I try to limit myself to whites, reds, and rosés, still wine and sparkling and fortified wines.
What words of advice do you have to offer people just getting into wine? For those just getting into wine I offer the following advice: “form impressions readily, form opinions reluctantly.” There is so much to know that one can never approach the study of wine with anything but humility. Keep an open mind. Measure what you learn against what you think you know. And taste, taste, taste. One of my colleagues here at K&L once observed that the best tool for learning about wine is a corkscrew. You learn something from every bottle you open, from every glass you pour. What could be better than that?
If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would you invite? What wine would you serve each of them?
Eleanor of Aquitaine, Thomas Jefferson and Emile Peynaud. We would start out with a nice bottle of vintage Champagne and then simply sample as many bottles of Bordeaux as ti