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Sipping Seminar

Jeffery Lindenmuth / April 2012

No one is falling asleep in this class, where an intimate setting fosters wine education that stimulates appetites, conversation, and a thirst for more wine.

With The Ritz-Carlton’s expansion of their ENO wine room concept, focusing on flights of wine, cheese, and chocolate (see “Lobby Gold Rush,” Food Arts, November 2007, page 70), to five locations in Chicago and California, and The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) joining soon, the luxury hotelier has added guest professor to the already impressive credentials of sommeliers like Ian Cauble of The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay (CA). Like his counterparts at the other ENO locations, Cauble, who recently took first place in the annual Young Sommelier Competition from Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, offers tutored tastings, transforming the custom-built wine room that overlooks the Pacific, into ENO-versity.

“The room features a U-shaped bar, where I can stand in the center, with seats on each side, so it’s like talking about wine in your own kitchen,” says Cauble. The ENO bar at Half Moon Bay can accommodate 11 people, after which the group spills into the Library, which accommodates parties of up to 25. Cauble, however, prefers the more intimate interactions that allow him to create personal experiences with guests.

For sommeliers like Cauble, a gregarious and enthusiastic teacher, ENO-versity takes the tableside tiptoe out of talking wine, ensuring an eager and inquisitive group, each willing to pay $75 per person for 90 minutes with the aspiring Master Sommelier. “At Navio [the resort’s signature restaurant], I have 18 seconds to interact and decide whether the guest wants to know about wine. At ENO-versity, I get to sit and share and have fun with fellow wine lovers for two hours,” says Cauble.

There is no doubt that ENO, with its wine flights, ENO-versity, and private functions, translates into room reservations for The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, according to Cauble. Many guests plan a weekend stay around Saturday classes like “Spanish Wine and Tapas,” “French Wines and Modern French Cuisine,” or “Today’s Napa Valley,” each featuring six to 10 wines paired with small bites prepared by hotel executive chef Xavier Salomon. Cauble also creates customized ENO-versity tastings for occasions from bachelor parties to corporate team building retreats. “You can work with someone 250 days a year, but when you sit down and taste wine and enhance your life together, it’s a great escape,” says Cauble, who hosts about four private events a month.

Of course, being located in the heart of Santa Cruz wine country, Cauble does not shoulder the wine education alone, but enlists his winemaking neighbors for a monthly Vintner Series. The series begins with a complimentary glass of wine from the featured winery offered upon check-in. They can choose to continue their exploration of the winery with by-the-glass pours in The Conservatory Lounge, or elevate their experience with an ENO Tasting Room flight presented by a guest wine educator ($25 to $35 per person), then complete their research by having the wines paired with the Chef’s Tasting Menu from Salomon. Featured vintners for 2012 include Beauregard Vineyards, S.E. Chase Family Cellars, Hall, Tamber Bey, and Ehlers Estate.

The quality of the wines poured for both ENO-versity and the Vintner Series keeps guests coming back, especially since it offers great value for the price, considering that the education can benefit their future dining enjoyment. “It’s not totally profitable from a wine sales standpoint, but more importantly it’s stimulating for guests and it’s fun to do. Ritz-Carlton is taking advantage of the fact that I spend a lot of time studying and I want to share my passion,” says Cauble.