All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Brent Kroll is a busy man. His position as wine director for DMV juggernaut The Neighborhood Restaurant Group ensures he splits time between four or five restaurants on a weekly (though sometimes daily) basis so we wondered: when he’s not planning the wine selection at Iron Gate, curating the merchandise at Planet Wine, harvesting grapes at vineyards, tailoring your wines at Bluejacket and selecting your options at Red Apron, what does Kroll drink in his spare time? We caught up with Brent to learn just what a day–and week–in the life of a professional wine director is like.
I woke up and went to RDV vineyards to harvest Cabernet Franc for the 2013 vintage. I rode out with Joe Kulp, who’s the Manager/Sommelier at Evening Star/Planet Wine, whom I worked with at Adour.
We’re handed a pair of pruning clippers and are told to team up and take a row. The wine consultant for the vineyard shows us what he looks for when deciding the time to pick. He picks 10 grapes from various heights and areas of the bunch. He smashes them across his hand to make sure most of the seeds have turned from green to brown. The grapes look like plump blueberries and are confirmed as ripe. I proceed to harvest my row with Joe. I’m finding it pretty therapeutic. I start to reference in my mind all the stories I’ve heard about wineries playing classical music in their vineyards. The only sound here is the occasional joke from the Cityzen crew (David Kurka, Andy Myers and Jared Slipp), Winn Robertson and Sebastian Zutant.
Jared Slipp made a Carolina-style BBQ lunch, so when we’re done, we start on that paired with Corona. RDV provides their “Friends and Family” label from their first vintage in 2008. We ride back to the winery and we are shown to the sorting table. We then proceed to de-stemming all of the bunches we just cut off the vines. To anyone who thinks vineyard work is glamorous, it clearly isn’t. I have a slight amount of lower back pain from bending over so much and I’ve only done about a half-day’s work on the vineyard.
I finish the day cooking a Red Apron skirt steak and drinking an Abita root beer with it.
I slam down an iced coffee. We have our normal headquarters meeting soon and I don’t fancy myself a morning person.
There’s a meeting at the new Iron Gate, a concept from Chef Tony Chittum, so our Director of Operations Steve Fowler and I head over, picking up some Shophouse with a couple cokes on the way. I never really drink soda, but I figure with the heat of the food, why not.
After meetings most of the day at Iron Gate, my girlfriend Tanya and I head to Red Hen for a date night. Tanya and I are both big fans and friends of Sebastian Zutant. He’s a great host and works the room vigorously, while chatting us up in addition to his other friends in house. Red Hen had just debuted two beers that night through collaboration. Brandon Skall of DC Brau (who’s part of the collaboration) happens to be there that night and I got to chat with him a little while. The two beers on draft are made with lees from Linden, which is a local winery I’ve been to. The barrels used to age the beer are from RDV. One is kind of like an IPA and the other is a Porter. We start off trying both of them. Tanya likes unique wines and opts for an orange wine made from Parillada that’s by the glass. I’m a diehard Mescal fan and opt for one of their cocktails featuring it with cocchi torino and velvet falernium. In attendance is also Ted Wynot, who represents Sorting Table who’s putting on a Zind Humbrecht tasting tomorrow. I also see Roy Cloud who’s the French wine importer for vintage 59 and someone who’s always great to chat with.
We go home and Tanya requests a night cap with his and hers scotch. Sometimes at the end of a night we’ll each have a splash and watch something on TV. I like petey, so I go for Laphroaig Quarter Cask. She likes a less aggressive style so she has Auchensotchen.
Wake up and work on the layout for the Iron Gate wine list while drinking coffee incredibly fast. The list is going to be 2/3’s Greek and Southern Italian so it’s taking a lot of research and tasting. I set up a Greek tasting for tomorrow and Iron Gate with a company I went to Greece with. I schedule an in-store tasting at Planet Wine on Saturday to do a little cross promoting between concepts.
Go to Zind Humbrecht tasting at Baby Wale which looks like an awesome venue. I haven’t been yet to drink, but the design makes me want to visit soon. Zind Humbrecht makes some of the best wines to come out of Alsace and debatably France. I’m trying to just taste just Greek and Southern Italian wine lately but for this, I make an exception.
Arrive at Iron Gate to discuss something from yesterdays meetings. I chug down a blackberry Izze, which I would call my non-alcoholic beverage addiction.
Go to industree event with two of my colleagues Megan Bailey and Marissa Bialecki from Neighborhood Restaurant Group. Some of my favorite industry people such as Derek Brown and Kathy Morgan were speaking about their early careers leading up to present day. Bluejacket’s Head Brewer Megan Parisi was also there telling a great story about how her life led her to brewing. Kelly Magyarics was also the moderator for this and it was great to see her in this capacity. I have a Bluejacket beer while I listen and then hit the road.
Work on transferring Iron Gate’s wine list from excel to word. I take breaks to go over Greek flashcards and have some hot tea because I’m a little congested. It’s decaf Chai so I can avoid caffeine.
Wake up and chug about a liter of sparkling water from the soda stream. This is my favorite for answering emails and then I head over to Iron Gate.
I take a lunch break and have a blackberry Izze.
Vendor tasting with Dionysos. I get to see Yanni, who owns the company. He’s a former NASA employee whom I traveled to Greece with. He’s a very passionate importer that is a true Greek. He’s my only appointment of the day, because I know he will have at least 20 wines for me to taste (the norm is four or five). It’s a real treat because he can reference stories of Greek wines that can’t be found in books. He also has one the best perspectives on Greek wine.
Tasting and discussion come to a close and I sit in on a spirits tasting for Iron Gate. It’s mostly high-end scotch, which I love, but I don’t stay too long since my focus is on the wines.
Have some more hot tea with chicken noodle soup, while I work on the list some more. I’m still fighting off a potential cold, but I’ve got a lot to do so I write out tasting notes for my Saturday wine tasting at Planet Wine.
Meet with Nathan Anda of Red Apron to taste some cellos that we made with products from Arcadia, our nonprofit farm in Alexandria. These are mostly savory or herbal cellos with various flavor combinations. We also batch out some tonic syrups to see which styles we like the best. We make one house style with various citrus zests. The goal is to incorporate seasonal tonics and cellos into some of our concepts.
I get to Tallua & Eatbar for service. They are fairly busy and I get to know some regulars and serve them some wine. It’s great to be on the floor and I take this opportunity to sample some of their wines by the glass. Some interesting whites by the glass that are drinking great with bottle age are a 2008 Marquis Phelps Riesling and a 2007 Huber, Alte Reben Gruner Veltliner.
Go home and I’m in the mood for more Gruner Veltliner. I crack open a 2006 Hirsch, Gruner Veltliner that was a gift from Keith Goldsten at Range (from a guest sommelier shift). I am in the mood to stay in, so this is a perfect end to the night.
Head over to Planet Wine for my wine tasting. I’m pouring our private label wine for Iron Gate from Tselopos, the wineamker I met in Greece when I visited earlier this year. I’m also featuring Gavala, Katsano which is one of my favorite Greek wines. It comes from the Island of Santorini which only plants one percent of its vineyards to this grape. I have a Barboursville Barbara and a Terre Nere Enta Rosso too. These wines are all on the Italian/Greek/Local themed wine list at Iron Gate. It’s a special treat to see how they change/open up throughout the day.
I decide after the tasting to stay at Evening Star for service. Chef Jim Jeffords is always generous with tastes and explanations of food so I on whim try out some pairings. Evening Star is a casual atmosphere so I watch service and make some recommendations in the dining room while sampling the occasional wine.
When my night is over I go to see my buddy Max Kuller at Doi Moi. We tend to have great wine conversations and he has some delicious Beaujolias and Lambrusco that he has me try. This stuff is great with the spicy food that’s offered.
Wake up and go to Union Market to pick up Red Apron products, farmer’s market veggies and enjoy a lemon San Pellegrino. I’m trying to eat as much Red Apron as possible for studying and enjoyment.
Arrive at Capitol Lounge, which on Sunday is the Lion’s Den. I’m a Detroit Lions fan so this is special to me. I meet a couple friends there and we order pitchers of Bell’s, which is made in Michigan, my home state.
It’s time to drink some wine and cook up the Red Apron meat I got earlier. I have some half smokes and pork skirt steak which I’m pretty excited about. My friend Todd Ruby ,who’s a well known wine broker in D.C., comes over with some wine. He brings a 1991 Frog’s Leap Merlot, 2001 Vega Sicilia, “Valbuena” and a 2000 Clos Figueras “Font de la Figuera” Priorat. I wasn’t even sure the Frog’s leap would be good at all but it showed the best. This is probably because the Vega Sicilia was still a toddler.