An interview with our wine expert, Felipe Diaz.
by Nicole Pelto
The Roadhouse’s wine list is as approachable, multifaceted and education-driven as the Roadhouse itself! Felipe Diaz, lead server and trainer at the Roadhouse, has played a key role in evolving the Roadhouse’s wine program, with the help of Stephen Satterfield, the Roadhouse’s wine consultant.
What’s new on the Roadhouse’s wine list, you ask? We sat down with Felipe to learn more about how the Roadhouse’s wine list has evolved, what the server education program looks like today, and what he’s most excited about in the world of wine.
What’s the most exciting thing about the Roadhouse’s curated wine list?
The Roadhouse’s wine list is different from just about any wine list you’ll find in town, and maybe in the state. A lot of places tend to go with wines that are very well recognized or are tied into the kind of cuisine the restaurant serves. I like the fact that we’re able to introduce people to wines they might not run into at other restaurants or their local wine shop while keeping it as tight and accessible as possible.
I’ve had the opportunity to introduce a fair number of people to not only new styles or variations of wines, but also new makers they might not be aware of.
What is your vision for the continued evolution of the wine program?
We’re aiming to build along the themes we already have in place: featuring quality of Michigan wines from places like Laurentide Winery and Shady Lane Cellars vineyards of Lake Leelanau, Mich.,, and featuring women, African American and Latin vintners, as well as vintners from other underrepresented groups.
The rise of more women and people from underrepresented groups in winemaking has been a long time coming. It lets us experience a point of view and a creative approach that has previously been mostly unknown.
What was the collaboration with Stephen Satterfield like?
Stephen Satterfield’s influence helped us fine tune our staff wine education program, which gives our staff the information they need to be able to talk to guests about wine in a personable, approachable format.
He advised us to not get tied up in the fussiness of wine, since we aren’t a fussy restaurant, and to cap our wine list at 36 wines. A tighter list gives us control over the amount of information staff needs to know, which helps us develop our collective wine knowledge, and gives us the flexibility to feature wines for a short amount of time.
Why is it important to the Roadhouse to include diversity in vitners?
Diversity in our wine list is critically important because the menu and the Roadhouse is as diverse as the country is itself. People say the Roadhouse feels very southern. Southern cuisine is rooted in necessity, infused with traditions from immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, and the Far East. Just as these influences have developed and shaped American cuisine as a whole, I’d love to see our wine program reflect the diversity that is American cooking, wine makers, parity, reflection of one in the other.
What winemakers do you recommend we highlight in this post?
Laurentide is quietly becoming big players in the Michigan wine scene leading the charge on showing how Michigan wine is not limited to sweet wine.
Andre Hueston Mack of Maison Noir is a premiere African American winemaker. I love the story behind how he became a winemaker.
Randhall Graham of Bonny Doon Wines In 1986 Bonny Doon Vineyard released the inaugural vintage (1984) of Le Cigare Volant, an homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which continues as the winery’s flagship/starship brand. The price point is really approachable and there’s a cool story behind it.
What advice would you give someone who’s interested in learning more about wine?
First, ask questions and ask for samples – especially at the Roadhouse where you can sample any of the wines that are served by the glass! And second, trust your palate. Not everything I notice is something you’ll notice and that does not make your palate invalid; everyone in the wine industry learns by exposure and so can you!
Anything else you’d like to add?
My pie in the sky project is to host a special dinner at the Roadhouse featuring Mary Bradley, who I met originally when she worked at the Earle in Ann Arbor and now assistant winemaker at Cotiere Wine in Santa Maria, California, who makes her own line of wines under the ILA label; with Marie Rose of Shoreline Salmon, who is also a Michigan native. We’d serve Marie’s coho, paired with Mary’s wines.