Former Sommelier Michelle Gueydan to Teach New Wine Course at NOCHI in May | Food and drink | Weekly Gambit
While traveling extensively in careers in politics and asset management, Michelle Gueydan developed a love of wine and food. She has experience working in vineyards and studying winemaking, as well as certified wine training. She has also served as a Virginia Wine Ambassador, Director of Wine for John Besh’s Restaurant Group, and currently works with wine importers from South to South. In May, she will teach a course at the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute for service industry professionals as well as wine lovers, covering a wide range of wine knowledge and tasting experiences. For more information on Gueydon, see facebook.com/covinomichelle. For more information on the wine course, go to nochi.org/nwp.
Gambit: How did you develop your knowledge of wine?
Michelle Gueydan: I am not at all someone who grew up with wine at my table. I didn’t know that wine came from grapes. But I went to college in the Finger Lakes region (in New York) – Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In my free time, I used to pluck the leaves in the vineyards of Dr (Konstantin) Frank. And I took lessons.
I’ve been in the wine industry for about 16 years, but first was in politics and scheduling and event management. I joke that my first job was in politics and that’s why I drink for a living now. I worked for a wine collector and started taking WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) courses thinking I might be involved in the wine industry in the future. The CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers) is a bit more service-oriented. WSET is a bit more technical. You can get into winemaking, writing wine. At that time, I was just interested in knowing more. There are reasons why we take certifications. It’s great to have this certification, but sometimes people get confused. You have a piece of paper and a pen and you’re revising for an exam, but wine and food is a changing culture.
During my career, I have been involved in many aspects of the world of wine and gastronomy. I was a harvest intern in Sonoma – walking the fields, picking the grapes. It helped me tremendously – getting dirty, figuring it out at ground level.
Gambit: What do you notice about the wine and wine service when you walk into a restaurant?
Gueydan: I like to see things that are unique to this restaurant. I cringe when I see a bunch of restaurants in one area that all have the same wine list. I seek adventure. I like to see a wine bar or a restaurant with a signature.
On the service side, many winegrowers and oenologists claim to be guardians of the land. We must be guardians of wine in service. You have to know how to articulate other palates. If you try new things, how do you interpret why you liked this new wine – because you ventured from a Cabernet and tried a Tannat?
I currently work for a South African wine importer, and it opened my eyes to what is going on there. I learned a lot from my conversations with the winemakers. Most interesting is the diversity of varieties in South Africa. At first I thought chenin blanc and pinotage were what they had to offer. Now they have come a long way. The soils are so old, the soils are older there than in Bordeaux. They return to older techniques. They use bush vines, which have a lower yield, so there is more flavor concentration.
The other thing I like to see when I walk into a restaurant is that it’s not about saying, “What’s your favorite wine?” I’ll take that.” I always say you always answer with a question: “What are you in the mood for, what do you like to drink? We don’t dictate palates, it’s about understanding the palaces.
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Gambit: What do you include in the class at NOCHI?
Gueydan: The program is a fusion. The goal is for participants to gain a higher level of knowledge related to varieties, regions, and an understanding of labels, winemaking decisions and processes, and wine pairings. But they will walk away and be able to apply their knowledge with confidence and adventure in future wine experiences, whether you are in hospitality as a career or an enthusiast who wants to better understand wine.
The history (of the wine) is really important. That’s where all that “natural” is — I’m using the term very loosely because it’s not defined — but the movement, a lot of winemakers are going back to the ways things were done.
(We’ll cover) the fingerprints of major varietals. It was a Cabernet because it has those fruity qualities, the grassy qualities, the secondary characteristics. Wine evaluation and tasting is the best way to do this. The great wine regions, relating to those linked to history (which) are returning to our world, such as Croatia, Serbia and Lebanon.
I’m doing a food-wine pairing workshop. It is broken down by pairing the components of food with different types of wine. We’re going to do a pop-up and look at how (students) interact with people. Be more diplomatic and take the knowledge we have learned and pass it on to other people and have fun with it instead of memorizing it by heart. You don’t have to be a certified sommelier to be excellent at service and provide service that’s uniquely ours.
NOCHI fosters a continuous culture of learning and education. Louisiana has a great food and drink community. Most of this surrounds cocktails, but wine has come a long way.