Monday, February 20, 2012

From Bordeaux to Christie's: an Interview with Wine Industry Pro Robin Kelley O'Connor - Part 3!

What attracted you to the Auction World and the position at Christie’s?

I was in London in that first summer before my Eurorail pass ran out and I went to a Christie’s Auction at King Street, beautiful amazing Christie’s Auction House on King Street in Saint James. I sat there all through a morning and afternoon auction and I was mesmerized! Michael Broadbent, one of the great figures of the wine world, Master of Wine, Head of Christie’s, Chairman of Christie’s wine department is up doing the auctioneering and a gentleman says “You’re a patient young man, you’ve been sitting here all day but I haven’t seen that you’ve bid,” and I said, “Well, I don’t have any money, I’m a student,” and he said, “What do you want to do?” and I said I wanted to learn about wine. Then he said, “You see that man up there? That’s who you have to meet. If you can wait around until the end of the auction I’ll introduce you to Michael Broadbent.”
After the auction he took me up and introduced me to Michael Broadbent…and he said, “Young man, be at my office at 11am on Tuesday.” So I went to visit him and he said “Well, what do you want to do?” and I said, “I want to learn about wine.” Then he said, “Well you have to take all the courses of the WSET, but you’re too late for the summer courses. What I suggest is work a harvest, stay in Europe, come back to London in January and begin the courses.” But the greatest thing he said, he said, “Son, what are you going to do?” and I said I got a Eurail pass and he said “Get the hell out of my office, get on the first train and get in those vineyards in France and go to Burgundy and Bordeaux and Loire and Rhone and Spain and Italy and go to Germany. Go to all the vineyards you can possibly go. This is the greatest opportunity of your life and I’m not going to waste another minute of your time. When you get back in January call me and we’ll have lunch.”
When I went back to London in January of the following year, I stayed for two years and I was at Christie’s every single week for wine tastings and of course saw Michael all the time. So I fast forward to 2011 and I was offered the job at Christie’s…to take over as Head of Wine of the Americas and of course the first person to call me was Michael Broadbent and he was like “Good job, Lad! It’s about time you joined Christie’s!” How great was that?

What was a typical day at Christie’s like?

It’s easier if I do it by calendar year. Christie’s America holds eight sales a year in New York. Generally…March, April, May, June, September, October, November and December. The process of putting a sale together takes months and months of preparation…the process includes getting the consignments, inspecting the wines manuscripting the wines and developing the catalogue. All the wine is appraised, inspected and picked up by the specialists and sent to Christie’s temperature controlled  New York warehouse. Every bottle accepted for sale, once inspected receives a Christie’s seal that is placed on the back of the bottle, even if the wine is in wood case that’s never been opened. The wood case is carefully opened and all bottles are inspected, no matter the wine or the rarity. Everything is noted about the condition of the wine: if there is a nick on the capsule, a tear or stain on the label, the level of the fill, will be written down in the manuscripting process and thus go into the catalogue. There is a lot of work involved. There’s this amazing laborious process that goes into every single sale.

You’ve accomplished so much during your career, is there anything else that you would like to do?
That’s a great question, I’m always toying with the fact that I was in the Master Sommelier program and…I think I very much would still like to do that. I don’t know if it’s in the realm of possibility because I’m so incredibly busy and it takes just a tremendous amount of study. I have to say that it has just been so great, it’s been so rewarding, so gratifying that probably the answer is, I just want to continue doing more of what I’ve been doing, I think I’ve been lucky enough. I’d like to write more and there’s certainly a book in the making or two that I’ve written outlines [for]. I’ve gotten some fundamentally good ideas particularly I think first I’d tackle Bordeaux but in a totally different light then other books that have been written on the subject. But you know my passion continues always to teach and lecture. I love getting up in front of students and interested consumers and people who share the same passion.

What is your favorite food and wine pairing?

I love Asian food, I’m an Asian food fanatic, and I really am! I love Japanese, love Chinese so I personally I think we’re so lucky here in New York…for this plethora of great Chinese restaurants particularly down in Chinatown, that’s where I go. I always take wine every restaurant I go to, and of course Japanese as well, I think Japanese cuisine is so exquisite. Where do you begin? I love red, I love white but I am certainly a Riesling fanatic so I drink a lot of Riesling from Germany, Alsace, and Austria. To be fair we’re making very good Rieslings in Washington State and certainly the Rieslings in Clare Valley [Australia] are well undiscovered. I drink a lot of Riesling at a lot of different sweetness levels and age categories. I think with Asian food Pinot Noir is a natural, I think it just goes so well; however, I never stop there because I was in the Bordeaux business so what do you think I own a lot of? I own a lot of Bordeaux! So I’m constantly bringing Bordeaux to prove that there is no such thing as red wine with meat, and white wine with fish. Interestingly enough Bordeaux sells very little white wine in Japan…the majority of everything the Japanese import from Bordeaux is red and of course I’ve been to Japan a lot and what do you think the Japanese do? They drink a lot of red wine with fish, which just proves that there are no rules. 

What’s your favorite everyday wine?

Riesling Grapes
This is going to sound redundant but I always have Riesling in the refrigerator! I do like easy, unoaked white wines from Alsace, Loire Valley Northeast Italy, Campania in Southern Italy, Gruner Veltliner of Austria, then I’ll progress on and drink white Burgundy or occasionally a California Chardonnay or … when I'm home I want light, I want low in alcohol or at the very least something medium-/moderate-alcohol in nature. I want to sit back, feel that acidity brace my inner soul, brace my mouth, feel the tingle and the tangle and get my day unraveled and help me to relax – it’s really important! If it’s red I immediately want the red equivalents of the whites a tingle and a tangle I want Dolcetto or Barbera I don’t want anything over oaked. I want something really simple and you know even a lighter style Pinot Noir that has a kiss of oak but not too much.

Tell me about your wine collection.

I’m not a collector, I’m a gatherer. I guess it comes from my Irish Scots heritage that I can’t throw anything out. I’ve gathered a lot of wine and I truly need to get drinking or I’ll just have to share a lot of wine with friends and family. Right now I probably have somewhere between five and six thousand bottles somewhere in the universe.  Most of it is here in New York City. I’ve got a little farm house in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley where I keep a thousand bottles or so. In my humble little piso in the West Village in NYC I normally keep about two or three hundred bottles of ready to drink wines. In France I still have two or three hundred bottles mostly in Bordeaux that I bought and never moved. As well I have a caché of wines in a storage facility in the Presidio in San Francisco.

What’s your favorite beer?

Well, my favorite beer growing up was a local beer called National Bohemian which is beer from Baltimore. I love National Bohemian for the nostalgia point, brewed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. I can’t get National Bohemian in New York so I’m partial to Sierra Nevada. It’s a beer that is friendly and most delicious. I try other beers of course. I’ve been a partner in several pubs in New York City that are all strongly micro brewery oriented. The only pub I’m still involved in we have twenty beers on tap and one beer is more exciting than the next but Sierra Nevada always hits that sweet spot. 

A big thank you to Robin Kelley O'Connor for sharing his fascinating story and helpful advice for those pursuing a career in the wine industry. To read the previous installments, please check out Part 1 and Part 2 here on The Glamorous Gourmet.


1 comment:

  1. Very nice article, small world I was just in touch with Bartholamew Broadbent over the weekend about his Aresti wines. Sending email


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