Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Interview with Marian Jansen op de Haar

Ms. Jansen op de Haar is the Director of Wine for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Fleming’s has sites in almost thirty (twenty eight) states, and opened up its first Chicago location this April. Fleming’s unique selling point is definitely its wine program; each restaurant features one hundred wines available by the glass. It’s rare to find a restaurant that emphasizes its by-the-glass program to this extent.

Ms. Jansen op de Haar graciously agreed to an interview with me, in which we discussed the challenges of assembling a great wine list, and keeping the bottles consistently fresh throughout the year:

Chicago Pinot: When and how did the idea for Fleming’s 100 come about?

Marian: It started about ten years ago when founder Paul Fleming wanted to create a more wine friendly and female friendly atmosphere for a steakhouse. We wanted to create the idea of having a different wine with each choice. We wanted guests to have many more choices than just house white and red. Also, we wanted to encourage guests to have a different glass of wine with each choice. Another part of that philosophy was to not penalize guests for ordering by the glass. So our by the ounce price is the same per ounce no matter what the pour size (we also have two ounce tastes and flights of three tastes).

Chicago Pinot: How do you ensure that wines poured at Fleming’s remain fresh?

Marian: We keep all of our bottles behind the bar (one of each selection) and they are temperature controlled (sixty degrees Fahrenheit for reds, forty five for whites). Every night we sparge (or spray) the open bottles with inert gas, which pushes out the oxygen.

Chicago Pinot: How often do you update the list, and what qualities should a wine have for potential addition to the list?

Marian: We change the national selections on our lists every year, and each year, about two-thirds of the wines are new. We are looking for wines that taste like “more money” than their price. Fleming’s balances the list across taste profiles, origin, and price point.

Chicago Pinot: I notice that each individual restaurant’s wine manager has free reign to choose thirty wines. Is there a great deal of variation from restaurant to restaurant on what wines get selected?

Marian: States with strong local wines, such as Arizona, Texas and Virginia, may have some of those wines added to their Fleming’s list. These wines can rotate several times over the course of a year, and we look at those thirty choices as a testing ground for the main national list.

Chicago Pinot: Looking back on ten years of compiling the list, what changes have you observed in the U.S. wine consumer market?

Marian: Americans are much more adventurous now and willing to try wines from different areas and different grapes, so the current list reflects that change.

Chicago Pinot: How available at retail are most of the wines in the cities in which Fleming’s has a presence?

Marian: I do get some exclusives, wineries do like to make special wines available to certain restaurants. But the majority of every list should be available in your market. And if a wine is not an exclusive, and a distributor can obtain it for our restaurant, you should be able to find it in a wine store.

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