Christopher Bates Named Best Young Sommelier For 2012

By Kaye Cloutman
Photography by Matthew Brandalise

The Silverado Resort in Napa was a recent venue to a plethora of amazing and gifted individuals who were replete with passion for one thing ~ wine. The first family of California wine, ten young competing sommeliers from acclaimed restaurants, and wine-loving dignitaries from all over the country converged for a gathering of what would perhaps be one of the most memorable dinners I’ve ever had.  The Mondavi Family was honored this evening as The Société Mondiale du Vin USA, the wine section of the international food and wine organization, Confrérié de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs awarded the “Best Young Sommelier 2012”. Ten Young Sommeliers, none more than 35 years old, competed for the National title at the Sociéte’s annual conference held at the famous resort.

Christopher P. Bates, 31, General Manager and Executive Chef at Hotel Fauchere in Milford, PA, was all smiles as he emerged victorious that evening. The talented sommelier toasted his glass of 1963 Library Charles Krug Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with me and Tim Mondavi and then thanked Tim and his family for “making California“. Myself on the other hand? I just couldn’t get over the library reserve bottle with its brown crispy label which transported me to a time of renaissance in the valley, “so this was how it was to be in Napa that year” I muttered to myself – it was simply phenomenal. Peter Mondavi added, “I am really delighted to see younger folks embrace the art of appreciating fine wine. These gentlemen represent the new generation of wine so well, I am honored to be here getting to know them”.

Bates is originally from upstate New York. A graduate of Arkport (NY) Central School, he received his BS degree from the Cornell School of Hotel Management. He previously was owner/winemaker of Element Winery in Arkport. He holds Advanced Sommelier Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is a candidate for Masters designation. A member of the Society of Wine Educators, he has earned CSW, CWE, and CSS titles. A competitor in the Best Sommelier in America Competition for several years, he placed third in 2010. He is also a teacher for the American Sommelier Association.

The ten sommeliers won regional competitions to qualify for the National event. The National winner will represent the U.S. in the international contest in Cape Town, South Africa, on September 22. Last year’s international winner was from the Bay Area. Sommelier Ian Cauble, 31, Wine Director at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, California also graced this occasion with his presence. Both the national and international competitions are based on a format designed by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Northern California boasts two national finalists this year: Garth Hodgdon, a sommelier at French Laundry in Yountville, and Robert P. Conroy, a sommelier at Benu in San Francisco who won second place that evening. The other eight include: Shaun C. Wright, Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company, Gainesville, Florida; Timothy Baldwin, Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Jacob Gragg, Aria Restaurant, Atlanta; Joshua Orr, Vineagogo, San Diego, California; Sean Akio, Osono, Halekulani, Honolulu; Christopher P. Bates, Hotel Fauchere, Milford, PA; Michael Scherzberg, Gram & Dun, Kansas City, MO; and Alexander LaPratt, Bistro Moderne, New York City.

The group was tested on Theory, Practical Skills, and Blind Tasting by nine distinguished judges: Rajat Parr, Wine Director, The Mina Group; Sur Lucero, Beverage Director and Head Sommelier, Oenotri, Napa; Michael Meagher, sommelier and regional manager, Treasury Wine Estates; Geoff Labitzke, MW, Vice President of Young’s Market; Tim Hanni, MW, wine consultant; Ian Cauble; and, from the Chaîne des Rotisseurs, wine collector Tom Black, Vice Culinaire for the U.S. organization; Clay Cockerell of the Dallas Chaîne Chapter and owner, with his wife, Brenda, of Cockerell Family Wine Estates in Calistoga, CA; and wine collector Bill Salomon, Chambellan Provincial of the Chaîne’s Southwest Region.

The 5-course menu with wine pairing prepared by Silverado Resort Executive Chef Jeffrey Jake for the gala banquet was bar-none. This dinner honored not only the “Best Young Sommelier of 2012” but also four members of the iconic Mondavi wine families: Margrit Mondavi, widow of the late, legendary Robert Mondavi, Peter Mondavi, Sr., patriarch of Charles Krug, Tim Mondavi, creator of Continuum Winery, and Rob Mondavi, son of Michael Mondavi, founder of Michael Mondavi Family Estate.

As the evening progressed, I got to know some of the members more intimately and quickly realized how prestigious and special it is to be a member of The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. This organization has 22,000 members worldwide. A huge number of the members are what you could consider “movers and shakers” in the business of food, wine, hospitality and even including political arenas. Two important programs of the Chaîne are the Young Sommeliers competition and a Young Chefs competition to encourage younger members of the hospitality industry. Additional information about the Chaîne des Rotisseurs is available at its U.S. website, www.chaineus.org, and international website, www.chainedesrotisseurs.com.

Matthew Brandalise is a corporate attorney specializing in mergers & acquisitions and commercial transactions for a technology company in Silicon Valley. When he is not working, he is typically photographing things or spending time with his wife and three wonderful boys. He loves to travel and explore unfamiliar things… and ultimately photograph them. A lover of good food, great music, Matthew has a deep admiration for artists & musicians. He’s loved photography since he was nine, when he found an old twin reflex camera in a box of things in his father’s garage. Since then, he’s always seemed to have a camera with him. He’s played and experimented with film and digital photography consistently over the years, but things really went to the next level once he had kids. He spent many years photographing all sorts of sporting events and activities for them. Matthew found it to be a great vehicle for improving his skills as a photographer and ultimately giving him the confidence to branch out into other areas of photography.