The Barn at Blackberry Farm is a two-time James Beard Award Winning Restaurant, offering renowned food and wine that wanders the line between refined and rugged. Andy Chabot, Food and Beverage Director and Head Sommelier, tells us more.
Congratulations on being featured in the World of Fine Wine Awards 2016. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?
We are honoured to be recognised by such a distinguished group of industry insiders. We are a very intimate hotel in Walland, Tennesse, so it’s great to receive such recognition on an international level. It’s very exciting and I am incredibly proud of our entire Blackberry Farm team for their dedication and passion for quality.
Where did your love of fine wine originate from?
It goes back to my beginnings. The first restaurant I worked in was a small family-run Italian restaurant and wine was a big part of that and it just seemed such a natural part of the restaurant experience to me. I started from prep cooking and washing dishes and later went to Culinary School and fell more in love with wine. When I started at Blackberry Farm, the owner at the time was starting the wine programme here because it was a dry county so it all happened naturally.
Was it always your intention to work with fine wine?
It was always my intention to work in fine restaurants. Fine wine came along a little bit later when I was actually working at a resort called ‘The Little Now’ in Aspen, Colorado. I was a cook at the time and I noticed that sommeliers were having what seemed like a really good time, enjoying wine, enjoying life, that’s when I decided that was more of the direction I wanted to take. .
What do you think is the importance of having a wine list along with a food menu?
To me, it’s just an important part of the overall dining experience. It seems like a very incomplete experience without a wonderful beverage and having a list like ours gives so many options of incredible wines. Our guests stay a number of days, so we need maybe three times as much, in terms of selection compared to another similar property. That’s part of the fun, if a guest really loves Pinot Noir, we will have three times of Pinot Noir for that guest to keep it interesting. It’s a terribly important part, it completes a dish, and a dish completes a wine. .
What makes the wine list at The Barn at Blackberry Farm special?
I would say the breadth of selection and a few other things; we have an amazing selection of half bottles which you won’t find in a lot of places but it allows you to sample a number of different great wines. And we focus on very small family owned producers of the highest level. .
As one of America's most celebrated intimate luxury hotels, how do you balance the essence of farming and Blackberry farm’s traditions with modern haute cuisine?
I think that the traditions of farming and serving what you get from the land on a plate is a tradition that has always existed here, it really translates beautifully into the current restaurant trend of farm to table or even table to farm with really beautifully, simply prepared ingredients. They might be traditional ingredients, but prepared in new traditional lighter ways. It’s sort of easy to take the wonderful produce, the wonderful meat, and the wonderful eggs we get here and let them translate onto the plate in a simple way. .
Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?
For me there are a couple of those but Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a region that we feature in a dominant sort of way and the blends of that region from other areas. There’s one producer called Vieille Julienne that I particularly love and I remember being in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and it was a Sunday and nothing was open. I was with a friend, and there was a small pizza place open and we had the whole hotel to ourselves. We went down the road to this pizza place and got a Mediterranean style pizza and brought it back to the hotel and sat in this grand dining room, just the two of us drinking a bottle of Vieille Julienne and ate this pizza. It was just a beautiful experience with incredible wine and food that was kind of up the price but also very simple. The best wines are often paired up with the simplest foods. .
What is your fundamental philosophy on fine wine?
It needs to be at the table, that's where it finds its home. I think most of the finest wines in the world don’t really express themselves until they’re somewhat completed by a dish. I think the finest wines tend to be missing something or they need one final something and I think food is like that and when you can find the food and the wine that fit together best that tends to be an amazing experience. .
What makes a good wine list, from your perspective as a Food and Beverage Director?
There are so many different styles of wines lists that I love. I like the quirky wine lists that say things about the region of the wines. I think being able to open any page and understanding what you’re looking at makes a good wine list. Wine lists that have an obvious sense of organisation, one where you understand what you’re looking at once you open it or if you want to go somewhere else, it’s easy to navigate. That and interesting fun selections. .
What is next for you?
The next step for me is still very much here and doing this. We have a new wine cellar that we are going to open. It’s a tunnel, our current wine cellar to a new event centre which is nearly completed. The tunnel will hold about 14,000 bottles so we are going to roll out with a new seasonal wine list to supplement our large wine list which I think will be simpler and easier for most people to understand and read and it’ll change seasonally. That’ll be a lot of fun for us, maybe a smaller quirkier offering – that’s kind of the next step for us and also as part of that project, there’s one room that ever since we opened and got a liquor licence, we’ve been buying wine with the intention of storing it for future generations. So there will be one room on this tunnel where I’m going to essentially move certain wines that I have no intention of ever selling in my lifetime and put them there and sort of forget about them and I think it’s kind of both ends of the spectrum; will offer that fun and easy quick turn wine list but also this also sort of heritage wine collection that a few generations down the line, someone will blow the dust off and be excited about them. .