“I love talking about wine,” says David Carreon, the new sommelier at Wild Salmon, a novel restaurant opening in New York this spring that will feature Pacific Northwest food and wines. Carreon’s love affair with wine drew notice from Jeffrey Chodorow, whose company owns restaurants not only in New York but Las Vegas, LA, Miami, and even London and Mexico City, while Carreon was the Wine Director at Ray’s Boathouse. Ray’s, a seafood restaurant that has become one of the destination spots in the Pacific Northwest, has garnered a reputation as a wine trendsetter, earning the respect of regional vintners and customers alike.
Ray’s vast wine list has been expanded through the efforts of Carreon and Ray’s management. They have collaborated to encourage Northwest vintners to produce local wines and offer them for blind tasting in Ray’s annual Retrospective of Northwest Wines in January each year. “We send invitations to every winery in the Northwest: Washington, Oregon, and Idaho,” says Carreon. “We usually have about nine categories, some reds and whites, and dessert wines. Everyone is welcome to submit one entry per category.” A team of sommeliers, wine writers, and wine reps from around the area blind taste tests 300 wines over two days.
The Pacific Northwest is blessed with an ideal grape-growing climate. The result is an ever-expanding wine industry. From the entries to the Retrospective of Northwest Wines, Carreon fortified his wine list and then worked with Ray’s Chef Charles Ramseyer and his team to create a formal plated dinner that showcased the winners with food that complemented those wines. “I’d have a bottle of each of the wines that won, and we’d taste it,” Carreon says. “Afterwards, we figured out what would go well with this or that until we came up with a menu based on how the wine tasted. We tried to come up with a food that would showcase each wine. The event was about the food, also but it was definitely about the wine, to showcase the wineries.”
That tradition continues at Ray’s with the new sommelier, Lisa Rongren, and the new executive chef, Peter Birk. Chef Ramseyer will spearhead the new Wild Salmon kitchen with Carreon at his side, each contributing their intimate knowledge of Pacific Northwest wines to this new venture and being able to offer their clientele expert direction in their wine selections.
“I’m a very adventurous kind of wine person,” Carreon says. “If people come in and say, ‘Oh, we love Chardonnay. That’s the only thing we like to drink,’ I’ll say, ‘OK. I have this wine that’s similar to Chardonnay, but it’s not Chardonnay.’ I always try to give them something else.”
This isn’t misdirecting customers. It is clearly educating them.”My reason for doing that is so that when they go to another restaurant or maybe they are in a wine shop, they are no longer limited to Chardonnay. It demystifies the wine world, which is a pretty intimidating world to most people because there are so many choices out there. The more that you’ve been exposed to the better off you’ll be.”
The broadening of his customer’s palette is one of Carreon’s chief passions. “I love turning people on to new things,” he says. “When you have a lot of wines on a list, you have to have energy. It’s just not going to move itself. If you have a lot of bigger brands or wines that people really know, you can just sit back and watch them sell. People will order them because they know them. But a lot of the wines I’ll put on a list are the wines I have to work to sell. I’m passionate about it.”
But it is more than selling. It truly lifting the limitations of his customer’s experience with wine. “I try to give people a really good experience. I love doing impromptu wine tastings at the table,” he says. They taste. They experience. And, Carreon leaves the table with a satisfied customer behind who will return to try something different. That pattern is sure to continue at the new Wild Salmon in New York.