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Slice of Life: Wine steward's expertise aids Herrington Inn diners

GENEVA – When diners at the Herrington Inn and Spa in Geneva have a question about what wine to order, they talk to Mark Czubak, a sommelier.

A sommelier is a wine steward with expertise in wine and in pairing wine with food – and food with wine. The Herrington has about 350 different wines and about 3,200 bottles stored in various wine cellars. 

As he opened a locked cellar that holds about 600 bottles of red wine, Czubak said it was the functional inventory for dinner. White wines are stored separately, for no other reason than the historic building was not originally built for it, he said.

Domestic wines, as well as those from all over the world – Spain, Italy, France – make up several pages of the wine list for Atwater's Restaurant inside the Herrington.

"Some people want to choose on their own; some people want a suggestion," Czubak said. "Some people want to try something new and different. That is the job. You want to go in there, and you're trying to figure out what they want, what they are looking for, what their price range is, what their palate is, what their likes and dislikes are. And you try to figure out what they want to drink."

Czubak said most wines sold are domestic. Cabernet, chardonnay and pinot noir are the top three sellers. 

"California cabernet being absolutely number one. It's the wine I carry the most of, the wine I sell the most of," Czubak said. "The most expensive wines on our list are between $400 and $600 a bottle. And those are Bordeaux [wines] from ... France. And those are some very nice wines. I am lucky enough to have tasted a couple of them, and they are excellent."

Czubak has been the sommelier at the Herrington for about three years. In addition to helping diners choose a particular wine, he is also responsible for making sure the restaurant is fully stocked with all the wines it's supposed to have. He said he has taken some formal classes, but a lot of his expertise is just being exposed to a lot of different types of wine. 

"You have to go to a lot of wine tastings. That's really the only way to do it – you have to taste lots of wine. You have to keep exposing yourself to it and keep learning," Czubak said. "I was always into food and wine. I did not necessarily see it as a career path. It was just kind of one of those things."

Not every restaurant has or needs a wine steward, but restaurants that feature fine dining often do, he said. 

"I've built the wine list kind of to have a little bit of something for everybody ... [from] all over the world, all sorts of varietals, all sorts of countries, all sorts of wine-growing regions," Czubak said. "We're a place that really tries to have people have a wonderful, special evening. I want people to always feel like they're splurging a little, and they're having something fun, something they enjoy."

Czubak also must keep the restaurant's food menu in mind.

"Wine is inherently very good with food," he said. "It's why wine is so popular worldwide. If you're going to drink wine, you might as well make something that complements your meal. And vice versa, have something that complements your wine. We do a lot of wine dinners here."

What is a wine dinner?

"A wine dinner is where we pick the wine first, and then we sit down and we create a menu with our executive chef and our sous-chef ... specifically for those wines," he said. "Whereas, on a normal evening, I'm helping someone pick a wine to go with what they're eating."

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