As part of Washington Wine Blog’s Somm Focus, we have selected another impressive young sommelier, this time from Chandler’s Crabhouse restaurant in Seattle. Megan Overman has a background in French wines and previously worked as an artist and a clothing designer. She found her passion in wine education and has been working as a somm at Chandler’s Crabhouse, slowly building their wine program. I am particularly impressed how the wine program has improved at Chandler’s in the past 5 or so years. The list continues to evolve to include many northwest favorites, but also has some expressive international and domestic selections as well – all for a pretty reasonable price. Here is Megan Overman’s wonderful and candid interview with us:
WWB: Can you talk about your background in wine? How did you decide to become a Somm?
MO: I grew up around wine. I was raised catholic and half of my family still lives in France. We visit each other at least once a year and food and wine are always a huge part, if not the biggest. Seeing people come together over a meal is my favorite part of my job. I believe there is truly a bond around breaking bread and that you will never learn or understand wine if you don't love the people you are sharing that with.
When I was younger it never occurred to me that this could be a career. My first career was is in design. In my 20's I enjoyed the life of a starving artist. I had a clothing label and an art gallery. I eventually found myself back in the restaurant industry. Within months I overheard other servers talk about this career as a Somm. A career drinking wine? I can do that. So I went through the International Sommelier Program and have been moving forward ever since. I have traveled France's wine regions twice now and worked in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Schwartz Brothers is the second position I have held as a Sommelière as well as the second wine program I have played a fundamental role in. I have no desire to be a wine maker as many somms do. I love the restaurant side of it- pairing food and wine, teaching staff and promoting local industry.
WWB: What are some of your favorite northwest wines and producers?
MO: I love old world wine. Specifically French and more specifically Provence wine. Ask any French or Italian person what their favorite wine is and it will always be where they are from. It is important to understand this because I believe whole heartedly in the promotion of Washington wine. I am from here and Washington makes amazing wine. But more than amazing, there is a soul to it. Bob Betz once said that Washington has this perfect balance between new world and old world. I agree and love finding wines here in Washington that uniquely show character while having depth and remaining true to varietal.
My first experience was with Pomum Cellars. I have known this winery since the beginning of my career. Javier Alfonso is an amazing winemaker. His wines are extremely complex, earthy and elegant. His Shya Bordeaux blend is one of my favorites to put down on a table for diners looking for a great example of a Washington cab or blend. I also believe that he makes the best Riesling this state if not the country has to offer.
Then I met Morgan Lee. He is the wine maker for Two Vintners winery. What I enjoy so much about Morgan is that he just does it. He is known for his Syrahs but he also makes a Grenache Blanc- which is my favorite lunchtime wine. He makes a Zinfandel FROM WASHINGTON! Two Vintners makes O.G. (look it up, it is a must for any wine geek) as well as the loveliest Cab in my opinion- Legit Cab, which is seriously LEGIT.
Structure Cellar's wines may make me feel the most at home perhaps because Brian and Brandee are so awesome, maybe because I work with Brian Grasso here at Chandler's but it is really because I find so much depth in their wines from them allowing the varietals to truly express themselves. The Newell is a blend of Syrah and Cab Franc and if my eyes were closed I would guess it as a Provence red. Their Newell, Piloti Cab Franc and Blueprint White blend are our "Featured Wines" currently at Chandler's Crabhouse.
During my time on the floor as a Somm at Daniel's (also a Schwartz Brothers Restaurant) I really got to know Steven's Winery and it's been added to my list of favorites. Their wines all have this sexy edge to me. The Timey Malbec is a beast and hands down the best expression of Malbec I have seen from this state.
All of these wines are created to be food friendly. Every winery has their unique style which comes through in each wine. As a Somm, this tells me the winemaking is deliberate and methodical, this is important. They are accessible wines and all from small wineries. And proudly, they are all or have at one time been on Chandler's glass pour list.
WWB: You mentioned that you are currently building the Somm program for Schwartz Brothers restaurants. Can you explain what the program is like and how you are building the program, as well as some of the challenges that you have faced with building the program?
MO: I have been working with Chandler's wine program for a few years now. Last year we added 150 wines to our already good wine list awarding us with the Wine Spectator "Best of Award of Excellence". Our now excellent wine list calls for a Somm program. And our wine team- ALL WOMEN. From the Wine Director for all Schwartz Brothers Restaurants- Victoria Antilla, the Wine Manager for Chandler's Crabhouse- Alexandra Stapleton, to myself and Jeanette Zauner, our up and coming Somm. All encouraged and possible by the mentoring and support of our General Manager Robert Onstad. While we are all smart, strong, bad ass women, we are also nurturing creatures. I think this allows a program to really flourish with the guests dining experience being put first. As opposed to needing to have a wine on a list because it's allocated or had X amount of points or so and so said it was the best wine since sliced bread. Those are all opinions and while it's important to know that information like stats on a card, what's really important is to have foresight as to how something is going to play out in specific situations. Women are just more intuitive that way.
WWB: Do you have any specific future goals in the wine industry?
MO: I love to travel and another great thing about wine are all the amazing places in the world it is grown, so I will always have a goal to travel.
I am currently going through the Court of Masters and after a Master in French Wine through the French Wine Society.
WWB: What are some of your favorite wine pairings with the food from Chandlers such as the signature crab cakes, oysters, and the Whiskey Crab Soup?
MO: How about Charred Octopus and Geoduck Crudo?! A year and a half ago Chandler's acquired chef Thomas Cullen and between him and Robert this restaurant is unstoppable. We've taken the responsibility to our environment to heart and are one of the first 25 restaurants in the Seattle area to become a Smart-Catch restaurant. Not only will you find the area's most iconic food here but you can dine knowing it is sustainable. I don't believe in the fish- white, steak- red rules. EAT AND DRINK LOCAL. It really works. Imposing this philosophy allows guests to take some credit by building off what they already know and like. I do definitely have some favorite pairings though.
I love the Structure Cellars Blueprint White with our spicy Cioppino. It's a meaty white wine, that has minerality and citrus to compliment seafood and herbs, and the acidity is nicely balanced so the spice isn't offset. If you don't like white wine, Pomum Cellars Tempranillo will compliment the smokey flavors and bring this hearty meal full circle.
Chandler's World's Best Crab Cake is a really fun one to pair because the sides change. Right now there is a black truffle aioli that is fantastic with the Gramercy Cellars The Deuce Syrah. There is a funk and earthiness to this wine that lends itself to making the truffles even tastier- if that was possible.
Mark Ryan's Viognier is beautiful and a perfect pairing with the Geoduck Crudo. Delicate tropical fruit and slight floral notes play off the yuzu soy and shaved fresno chilis and jalapeno.
For me, wine isn't just about matching the protein on the plate. Everything should be complimented. I tend to look more at sides when pairing, the time of day, the company.... it's an overall experience.