Christopher Chan is an Advanced Sommelier (Level 3) through the Master Court of Sommeliers. To give you an idea of how difficult it is to pass the Level 3 sommelier exam right now, recent stats have showed that typically under 20% of applicants pass the exam. Chan has extensive history working in the food and beverage industry, including previously working at Chandler’s Crabhouse and being the director of wine and spirits for the Ranier Club until 2013. Chan hosts a radio show, Happy Hour Radio, on AM radio 570 KVI (www.happyhourradio.net) each week that discusses new topics in the beverage industry. Happy Hour Radio airs on KVI from 6-7 each Saturday, so definitely check it out. He has hosted wine powers like Charles Smith and even Krug Champagne.
Chan has been hosting the Seattle Wine Awards and even launched Coral Wines, a winery that focuses on producing Provence style Rose, with a business partner, Peggy Reddy. With Coral, Chan uses Yakima Valley and Red Mountain fruit in producing food friendly wines that offer good value. Chan was recently able to share his wealth of knowledge of the wine industry with Washington Wine Blog. Here is my interview with Christopher Chan, Advanced Sommelier.
WWB: Can you talk about your background as a sommelier?
CC: My parents are very big into wine – so I was exposed as early as 12 years old. I took French in High School and had the chance to visit Burgundy when I was 18 with the family…it was then that I found my love for French Food, French Girls and French Wine. My first job was server assistant at the (then new) Alexis Hotel and having access to great food, international wine and of course tip$ launched my career in hospitality. I’ve since been working in several top spots including the City Club of WA DC, Columbia Tower Club, Casa U-Betcha, Chandler’s Crab House, Triples and finally the Director of Wine & Spirits at the Rainier Club since 1997 – 2013.
WWB: What were some of your first jobs in the food and beverage industry?
CC: I washed dishes when I was 15 years old, but was “let-go” and vowed never to wash dishes again (vow was broken because many times when the place was “in the weeds”) but moved to the Front of the House positions. (See #1)
WWB: You put on the Seattle wine awards each year. Can you talk about some of the big winners this year and some of your favorite wines that you've samples this year?
CC: The Seattle Wine Awards was first held in 1996 and we have just celebrated our 10th Annual wine precognition program. It is and has been by far the largest and most comprehensive wine evaluation in the state and I’m honored to have such fantastic support from our industry. I’m always intrigued by how many new wineries do well and am pleased to see the continued level of high-quality wines from many of the wineries pre-1999. Of course, I’m proud of our methodology and tasting panel members who make the SWA a world-class collection of experience and expertise. I actually noticed a jump in quality starting with the 2010 results with more Gold & Double Gold award recipients each year. It makes sense as the level of interest, passion, professionals, dedication, education, cognoscente and academic illuminati has bolstered and propelled our viticulture and vinification knowledge exponentially which has in turn resulted in the “rising of all boats”. Plus our wine & sommelier community has been generous with knowledge and support from day one making the dissemination of critical information free-flowing.
WWB: You're the founder of Coral Wines. Can you talk about your winemaking style, fruit and structure of the wines, and some of the vineyards that you use for your wines?
CC: Coral Wines was born on the patio porch of our family’s Walla Walla estate in 2012 while sipping cold French Rosé in the heavy heat of July. I asked my-self, why can’t we (WA State) do this (make beautiful dry rosé)? Many of the then pink wines in the market were run-off from red ferments and passed off as fun summer quenchers sold cheap and never intended to be anything more. Those wines served the purpose of getting people to buy & drink pink but the quality level and integrity of the wines were as low as the price-point. I decided that if I ever got into the industry, I would dedicate myself to filling this niche and am pleased to have produced a world-class Provence style rosé with the help of my partner Peggy Reddy and Chan family. My winemaking style is a reflection of what I enjoy drinking and what my Sommelier studies has shown world-class wines to be. In this case with Pink Coral – fresh, dry, delicious, smooth. Balanced and complex. I believe we are the only WA winery to use solely Mourvedre (Blackrock Vineyard, Benton City) and Cinsault (Strand Vineyard, Naches Heights).
WWB: What were some of your biggest challenges in completing your advanced sommelier exam?
CC: I took my first ADV exam in Las Vegas and missed passing by 1.5 points in the theory section while passing Blind Tasting & Service – and after all that study and time, I was disappointed. I see the greatest challenge in getting back into the saddle and regaining your drive, determination and confidence. The next year’s exam was in Aspen, CO…and being a sea-level guy – going to 9000’ feet affected my game. My heart ran wild all week – no sleep, worn out, I passed Theory & Service but on the last day, I failed Blind Tasting. The next year was in Seattle and I was determined to pass…that was in 2011 and I once again passed Blind Tasting & Service but raced through the written exam in about 25 minutes and didn’t check my work (no pass.) Finally, coming full circle – back to Vegas I passed all three portions (and with the popularity of the Court of MS – each year’s test was more and more difficult) I am actually very happy that it took me 4 years…I was fortunate to forge many great relationships with the Master Sommeliers…I mean they saw me work my tail off four-years straight and finally succeed. It also allowed me to better mentor and support other Sommeliers here in Seattle and at the exams.
WWB: What are some of the big differences between the level 2 somm exam and the level 3 somm exam?
CC: Level 2 is Certified Sommelier meaning you’ve passed a three-part exam which includes Theory, Blind Tasting and Service. This level (like all levels in the CMS) is always being elevated in the exam expectations…but for Certified, it is the first solid step and not as demanding or critical as ADV. Many sommeliers would say the ADV level 3 exam is the toughest because you have to pass all three parts at once to pass, where in Master Exam you can keep any part you pass for 2 years and retake the parts you missed. Advanced means you know a lot of stuff…crazy kinda things about the world of wine and that you can pretty much run a beverage program / business.
WWB: You are also the host of Happy Hour radio on KVI. Can you talk about some of the most interesting guests you've had on and what you have learned by hosting the show?
CC: I had an idea for a wine radio show several years ago and a few of the cats I play hoops with worked in radio so I always bounced the idea off them. Finally, the timing was right and I was able to audition and develop the show. One of the cool things about that audition was when the General Sales manager and Producers were impressed and asked me how long I was doing radio…I had no experience until that day. The radio show is great because it allows me to connect with so many great wine, beer, spirits, bar and food professionals. Seldom in any business do we have time to just sit, talk, and listen and it’s been super-cool hearing the stories of pioneers like Tom Hedges, Greg Lill, Emile Ninaud (first Seattle wine shop owner Champions), Charles Smith, Krug Champagne, Aldo Vacca of Produtorri del Barbaresco, Wine Bible author Karen Mcneil so many others. I loved learning their initial inspirations in how they fell in love with their profession.