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Meet Silver-Pin Sommelier and Master Taster : Christian Barion

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25/02/2022 Christian Barion is the Head Sommelier at Yardbird Group and the Owner and Founder of Casa Gundo, an Italian Fine Cuisine Restaurant in LA

Christian Barion started his career in the hospitality industry from a small restaurant in Rome which is now accredited with Three Michelin Stars. Christian has been certified by various Diplomas like the Silver-Pin Certified Sommelier Diploma, Master Taster Diploma, and a Certified Sommelier Diploma which makes him an expert in this industry with close to 10+ years of experience and knowledge. With his expertise, he know works as a Head Sommelier for the Yardbird Group and also owns an Italian fine dining restaurant in LA.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you begin your career and how did you progress into this role?

I was born and raised in Rome, Italy and my appreciation for great food and wine was cultivated at a young age, thanks to my dad who would take me out to the best restaurants and wine regions all over Italy. My first job in the restaurant industry was as a part-time Commis de Rang (a server assistant) at the now Three Michelin-starred La Pergola in Rome under chef Heinz Beck when I was 17 years old. I quickly unearthed a passion for the wine industry, so I subsequently secured my Sommelier certificate with the Italian Sommelier Association and Worldwide Sommelier Association and moved for two years to Montalcino, Tuscany to further my education and grow professionally in the field. 

During this time, I expanded my understanding of wine production and terroir through significant interactions with notable winemakers, farmers, cooks, and restaurateurs from the Chianti, Val d’Orcia, and Val di Chiana areas. After having worked in several restaurants, resorts, wineries, and wearing different hats, I finally took on a job offer here in SoCal, and in late 2010 I decided to permanently relocate to Los Angeles with my wife.

Define your role and the tasks involved in your role

I am fully invested in the Beverage and Hospitality industry. Trying to split me between 3 jobs, almost often requires me to work more than 12 hours, every single day of the week. Teaching, staff training, brand representation, consumer education, and networking, are probably all the key tasks I focus on daily.

If not a sommelier, what else would you have been?

Definitely a Chef! I have always had a deep love for food and the culinary arts.

What questions would you ask the restaurant owner before you plan your wine sales growth strategy?

What type of clientele would you like to have come to dine in at your restaurant? Is the Head Chef willing to collaborate with me and work in sync with the beverage program? How much emphasis and money do you plan to allocate towards staff education? But most importantly, after answering all the questions: what is your investment horizon in terms of time? 

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

Bring winemakers over when they are in town, Talk/Educate servers and bartenders on specific wine regions/styles, Create incentive programs for staff, Host wine dinners and Trade tastings at the restaurant, Have their reps and brand ambassadors periodically stop by for dinner or aperitif and socialize with the restaurant’s team. These are all key things and important investments to enhance and develop a solid wine culture within a restaurant, which in return will help generate more profits from wine sales.

What are the three main things you focus on daily in your role?

Education for the staff, Ordering, and Logistics, and most importantly Helping guests and staff during the shift when the restaurant is busy.

What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

I like to be as objective and unbiased as possible, especially when tasting for possible BTG new additions. I am primarily looking for good quality at a price point that makes sense for the establishment I am working for. Then, does the wine have a story to tell? Are any other restaurants/retailers already selling it around my neighborhood?

Define a good sommelier and what qualities you would look for when hiring one.

I might be biased, however, Somms are the most skilled and talented individuals I have ever met in the hospitality industry. If you understand what sommeliers are really made of, you’ll see that they are very versatile and can excel in many roles. Good sommeliers possess great in-depth all-around beverage and food knowledge. They have outstanding managerial and finance skills, are great communicators, and are always the best waiters and hosts in the restaurant. However, if I have to focus on one crucial quality when deciding if I should hire that new sommelier, it all comes down to his or her spontaneous instinct for Hospitality.

What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of a wine program?

If the program is generating a profit at the end of the year after covering the costs of all purchases, cost of maintenance, and labor salaries for those who run it, then that's the first step to assess if the wine program is a financially viable asset. Then, if it is financially effective, I would look for ways to make it more efficient like Does it say something? Is it coherent with the restaurant theme? Does it go in tandem with the food and style of service? What kind of wine storage do I have access to? Who will be responsible for opening and serving the wines?

If you had to pick one red and one white wine as your personal best, which wines would they be?

Really hard to answer. It changes daily, according to the weather and the personal mood I am in. I can tell you though that I am always happy to have a glass of Champagne! However, if I must pick only one White and one Red as my favorites, I’d say that these two wines always have something very profound to express, regardless of the vintage. 

White: Didier Dagueneau, Pouilly-Fumé “Silex” 

Red: Biondi-Santi, Brunello di Montalcino “Tenuta Greppo”

Wine involves a lot of storytelling, what’s your go-to wine story?

There’s no one size that fits all, but I guarantee you there’s always a story, a personal connection, or a funny anecdote behind each bottle that I believe is worth drinking.

Is Price = Quality in Wines? What’s a value-for-money wine that you would recommend?

From a consumer’s point of view, I’d say no, as the price is very subjective. From a professional and formally trained Sommelier’s point of view, I’d say Yes, as it is safe to say that we generally find really good quality in most wines that come in around the low $20s wholesale price (whether we would personally enjoy drinking them or not!). I am convinced that even nowadays, if you don’t like to gamble, and want the consistency of style and grape expression, then red Bordeaux is your best bet, it delivers every time at affordable prices!

The best and worst part of your job

It really depends on the day and monthly workloads! Sometimes the things I dislike the most end up being my favorites. For example, doing the dreaded month-end restaurant inventory which usually feels boring, tedious, and isolating, doesn’t really sound that bad if you have been spending several weeks teaching classes, attending trade tastings, and working through busy evening restaurant shifts. Just for the record though: I never get tired of having easy access to outstanding wine and delicious food!

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions

Brunello di Montalcino from a classic producer with a great quality T-bone steak grilled over charcoal!

Which varietals or countries are in demand these days for your business

Skin-contact Whites from Friuli and Slovenia, Ancestral Method/Pet-Nat bubbles, and lighter Reds that you could potentially serve with a slight chill are all in very high demand lately!

Favorite Song, Podcast, and Book

Songs: Impossible for me to name only one. I grew up as a drummer and played in several bands until my early 20s, and my wife is a working professional singer, so I am constantly surrounded by different styles of music. We have a great collection of vinyl records, but I am usually obsessed with Be-Bop Jazz, Brazilian, and African music from different parts of the continent. 

Podcast: Nope, sorry I don’t listen to Podcasts. 

Book: Uh, again tough to name just one…can I just mention three? Parerga and Paralipomena by Arthur Schopenhauer. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

Interviewed by Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier, Beverage Trade Network
 

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