For someone who admits he got into the wine business reluctantly, 24-year-old Joshua Wludyka has already had some enviable jobs in the industry, including working with the 10,000-bottle cellars of famed chef Charlie Trotter in Chicago and now at Cayman’s ultra-hip wine bar and store, the West Indian Wine Company.
Joshua Wludyka didn’t intend to make the wine business his career when he began his tertiary studies at DePaul University in Chicago.
“Basically, I got into wine reluctantly,” he said, explaining that his business studies at university had a concentration on the hospitality industry. As part of his practical training, he did work with a hotel and restaurant organization, during which he was exposed to many foods and wine.
“I love food and I kind of got into wine through food.”
During his last year of university, Wludyka landed at job a Charlie Trotter’s, the famed Chicago two-star Michelin restaurant. There, Wludyka was exposed to a breadth of wine that even many certified sommeliers never see.
“Charlie Trotter’s was one of the pioneering wine restaurants in the world,” he said, adding that when he worked there in 2011-2012, the restaurant didn’t offer a full bar. Patrons could only drink wine, and a selection of after-dinner digestifs.
The three wine cellars of Charlie Trotter’s housed some 10,000 bottles and 1,800 different kinds of wine.
“We had verticals of [Château Mouton-Rothschild Bordeaux] from 1945,” he said.
Over its 25-year history, six different master sommeliers worked at Charlie Trotter’s. During his stint at the restaurant – which proved to be the last year it was opened before closing on Aug. 31, 2012 – Wludyka got to work with master sommelier Larry Stone.
“He’s like the grandfather of sommeliers,” Wludyka said of Stone, who also worked at Charlie Trotter’s for five of its early years before returning for its last five months. “I learned a lot.”
Because Charlie Trotter’s announced its planned closure well in advance, Wludyka got to experience the restaurant’s celebrity ‘last call’.
“I was there at the end and I got to do all these crazy events and meet all the famous chefs – like Thomas Keller – and wine makers.”
After the restaurant closed, Wludyka stayed on for a couple of months, helping to catalog its massive wine inventory, some of which was auctioned off in New York by Christie’s for nearly $2 million last November.
When he was winding up at Charlie Trotter’s, Wludyka learned from one of the kitchen staff about an opportunity to become the beverage director at the fine-dining restaurant Osetra Bay on Grand Cayman. He took the job and moved to the Cayman Islands.
West Indian Wine Company
Wludyka wasn’t at Osetra Bay very long before an exciting opportunity came his way with the opening of the West Indian Wine Company at Camana Bay on March 1.
A unique wine bar and retail store rolled into one, the West Indian Wine Company offers customers a chance to sample a tasting portion, a half glass or a full glass of 80 different wines every day. The Special ‘WineStation’ systems that are used at the establishment replace oxygen in an opened wine bottle with inert argon gas. This prevents oxidation, and inevitable wine flaw that occurs when an opened bottle is exposed to regular air.
The key benefit of having the WineStations is that customers can try all kinds of wines without having to invest in buying a full bottle of something they may not like.
In his position as team leader at the West Indian Wine Company, Wludyka gets to pick the wines that go into the WineStations. After he goes through a case or two in any one wine station, he often changes the wine for something different, so the selection of wines available to sample constantly changes.
“I think it encourages people to expand their wine experiences,” said Wludyka of the West Indian Wine Company’s concept. “I can get people to try new things. Even when I was working for the restaurant, I tried to push the envelope when it came to pairing different kinds of wine with the food.”
The West Indian Wine Company arranges its WineStations with whites and reds grouped together, going from lighter to fuller bodies wines from left to right.
“If you know you like a particular wine, you should probably try the wine to the left and the right of it,” Wludyka advises, adding that by doing so, customers can find a “sweet spot” in the style of wines that they like.
In addition to its usual offerings, the West Indian Wine Company hosts and promotes a variety of wine-oriented events, everything from private tasting parties to dinners that feature what Wludyka refers to as “progressive pairings.” At the latter events, Wludyka likes to choose lesser-known wines or wines that people wouldn’t immediately think of pairing with particular foods.
“I choose wines that people would probably never order or go out and buy,” he said. “I try to get them out of their comfort zones and they usually end up liking the wines.”
When it comes to wine tastes, Wludyka says that everyone has a more or less natural progression, generally moving from sweeter wines to dryer wines with time. Eventually, people find a wine varietal or style that they really like and many stick with that. However, with the globalization of today’s wine market, where there are hundreds of kinds of New World wines readily available just about everywhere, as well as many Old World wines that rarely were exported in the past, Wludyka believes his customers’ wine palates are ready for different experiences.
“I really think that is where beverages are going,” he said, noting that the trend is very evident with white wines.
“Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have had their day and that day is done.”
Instead, Wludyka thinks Cayman consumers are ready for white wines like Grüner Veltliner and Gewürztraminer, and even beverages like sake.
Although he wants people to expand their palate and try different wines, Wludyka isn’t one to tell people what to like.
“I’m not one of those wine guys who are judgmental,” he said. “If you want to put ice in your wine, that’s fine; you’re drinking it.”
In addition to the many one-time events held there, the West Indian Wine Company also hosts a monthly Sommelier Series wine tasting. The first tasting called Altitude Matters, held in late March, featured wines made from grapes grown at high altitudes in California, including two that scored a perfect 100 points from Vérité. The next tasting featured Champagnes from the company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and included tastings of the luxury brands Krug and Dom Perignon.
With such high quality wines, seatings at the Sommelier Series tastings can sell out quickly.
“What people are realising is that it’s an unbelievable value,” Wludyka said. “The cost is only $25 per person, you get to taste six wines and you get food, too. We’re not trying to make money out of this event. It’s more of a service to our clientele, to allow them the chance to sample some great wines.”
In some cases, the Sommelier Series events are presided over by representatives from the wineries, but in July, Wludyka conducted the tasting of Oregon’s Cooper Mountain Vineyards wines on July 30, 2012. During the tasting, which was accompanied by nibbles provided by Jessie’s Juice Bar, Wludyka spoke about the wines, about Oregon as a wine producing region, and about what goes into making biodynamic wines such as those made by Cooper Mountain Vineyards.
Three of the wines offered at the tasting – Old Vines Chardonnay, Tocai Fruilano and Mountain Terroir Pinot Noir – are produced in extremely small quantities and are typically only available at the winery. Several of the other wines offered at the West Indian Wine Company are equally hard to find.
“The North Star Petit Verdot is an amazing wine and it’s only available at the winery,” he said. “And here.”