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Q&A with Sommelier Erin Rolek of The Bachelor Farmer, Minneapolis

Note from Jason: This profile is about one of my favorite people in the local wine scene. Erin Rolek represents the younger generation of sommeliers in all the best ways: fun, sassy, opinionated, but without the ego or pretentiousness that characterize much of the sommelier world.

Her list at The Bachelor Farmer is not only balanced but also shaped by a beautiful theme: that of northern hemisphere cool climate wines. What results is a list full of gems and interesting twists, with an amazing range of wines that match their specific cuisine. In terms of wine exploration, this is one of the best restaurants in town. If you spot Erin while you’re dining, wave her over and ask for her advice … you won’t be disappointed.

What is your background and how did you end up at The Bachelor Farmer?

I’ve been managing restaurants since I was 17 years old.  When I turned freshly 21, my job at the time required me to write the wine list/buy the wine for the restaurant.  The perfectionist in me did not want to tackle something I didn’t understand, so I started by asking my reps a lot of questions about wine. Eventually, Kingsley Jordan (a rep of mine at the time) started blind tasting me when he would stop in for appointments.  As I was getting the knack for it, another rep of mine at the time, Paul Claesgens, encouraged me to enroll in the Sommelier Guild’s level one course.  And I did!  I am so lucky to say that the great Wil Bailey was teaching when I attended, and it was he who eventually connected me with another restaurant job where I met my life mentor, Nathan Rostance.  I went on to finish the third course in the Guild, lucking out yet again with the chance to be taught by the legendary Jill Mott in 2009. A couple of years went by after Nathan and I initially worked together and it was the spring of 2011 when he contacted me about a new project called The Bachelor Farmer.  The rest is history. 

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How do you explain/define the wine program at The Bachelor Farmer?

The wine program at the Bachelor Farmer is special to me. It is a modest-sized list representing small wineries that focus on vineyard practices first.  I choose wines that typically have great acid to pair with our sometimes fatty and salty dishes.  I also choose wines from predominantly cold/cooler climates and always from the northern hemisphere to match the sentiment of our dinner menu.  Additionally, all but one wine on our regular list falls under $100.00 in price.  But!  We do have an extended list of rare and older wines available for guests as well that can go higher.

Explain the training of your staff and how they get their wine knowledge

Our staff is encouraged to self-educate as much as possible – there is never too much reading/tasting for a passionate person to tackle.  Every time I add a new wine to the list, we taste it out and discuss it at a daily staff pre-shift until everyone has had the chance to try it.  We keep a few binders of information on each wine on hand as well as wine books for inspired, curious moments.  Each year we hold a handful of focused wine trainings for the team led by myself, or someone from the outside – Jason Kallsen included!  I’m very proud of my entire teams commitment to knowledge and to sharing the fun and light-hearted side of wine.

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What is the most overlooked part of the wine program at The Bachelor Farmer?

If I had to pick the most overlooked category in our wine program I think it would be our extended list.  Our servers are incredible advocates for all of the wines on our primary list so nothing really goes unsold or unappreciated. We are very fortunate to move through our Rieslings, Blaufrankischs, Ribollas, Jaquères, Modeuses and Gruners alongside the Gamays, Chardonnays, Chenin Blancs, Syrahs, and Sauvignon Blancs. 

Our extended list is trickier because due to the limited nature of the selection the servers don’t get the same exposure to the wines.  This can make things more challenging when their confidence doesn’t come from direct tasting, but rather from a story.

My goal in the next year is to tackle educating my team in a more meaningful way when it come to this particular list, because we have some real killers in the cellar that deserve appreciation.

What are you seeing or sensing from your customers about wine today compared to a few years ago?

Our customers are WONDERFUL.  So many guests defer to us to help guide their wine experience and there’s no greater honor.  People are more adventurous these days and are willing to try new things!  Our chalkboard program allows us to open any bottle on the list so we can make sure people like what they get and offer a chance to try a few different wines throughout the meal.  We have regulars that drink the same wine every time they are in, which is also really great because that means they have found something they love.

More and more people are drinking brandy after dinner too which is great because we have an extensive brandy program designed by Mr. Brandy himself, Jon Palmer.

Where have you traveled in the wine world?

The beauty of the wine world, in many ways, is all about the people in it.  I have been out to Oregon more times than I can remember, California, across Northern Italy, and Slovenia – a drop in the bucket really.  There are so many more regions to cover in the coming years.  I am constantly in awe of the generosity and brilliance of the people that have brought me along for the ride.   There are too many people to include in a list of wine influences – but I expect they all know who they are :).  To them, I say and endless thank you.

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