I first met Andrew Stover about a year ago at a DC-based Sip & Twit event sponsored by WineTwits and Giramondo Wine Adventures. As I did a lot of sipping and tweeting, his table was especially memorable because, well, he was pouring some weird stuff. Not bad-weird, but unexpected-weird. E.g., I tried my first Arizona wine and sampled a Syrah from Idaho. Hmm, interesting…I like it.
Andrew is the Wine Director & Sommelier at OYA Restaurant and Lounge, SEI, and SAX. His wine list, in particular the one at OYA, features the same unexpected-weird selections — a Txakoli from Spain, a Viognier from Maryland, a Chardonnay from Long Island, a Seyval Blanc from Illinois. And a “house specialty” – a red blend from Temecula, CA created by Andrew – that is intended to pair well with some of the dishes on the restaurant’s Asian fusion menu. In addition to his career at OYA/SEI/SAX, Andrew has also launched his own company called Vino50, which “encourages customers to explore local & regional wines” from states outside of California. Learn more about Andrew and his adventurous wine philosophy below.
When and how did you fall in love with wine?
Hard to say but it dates back to my work in tourism publication advertising sales when I was working for WHERE Magazine, the in hotel guide found in various cities. My work brought me out to Virginia wineries and also had me going in and out of restaurants helping wineries and restaurants market their services to hotel guests. The first winery I ever visited was Breaux Vineyards in Loudoun County, Virginia. I ended up working there for about 2 years on weekends tasting out wines to visitors. So over a few years, wine became an obsession.
How’d you end up a sommelier?
After I developed an interest in both food and wine via the advertising sales position, I wanted to take some wine classes. I dabbled with some local wine education classes and then enrolled in the International Sommelier program with the goal of earning a Sommelier Certification.
My background in Marketing/Advertising has helped me view creating wines lists from a marketing perspective and viewing the wine list as an extension of the branding of the restaurant.
How’d you end up at your current job?
I met Nancy Koide and Errol Lawrence, owners of OYA Restaurant back in 2005 via my position with WHERE Magazine while trying to sell them on hotel marketing services. At that time, I was working toward completion of my Sommelier certification and began consulting for OYA in 2006. Five years later, I am running their 3 wine programs at OYA, SEI and the newly opened, SAX.
Tell us something interesting about your wine program.
My wine programs focus on unusual and obscure to some extent. I want to educate guests on interesting wines; wines not found in grocery stores or other restaurants.
If you could only pick one bottle, what would you order off your own list — and why? In case it makes a difference, pretend you’re not paying for it.
At our new restaurant, SAX, we have the largest sparkling wine list in the DC area with over 70 selections. On this list, I would order the Bollinger Vielles Vignes Francaises Blanc de Noirs 2000 Champagne. It’s a very special Champagne as it is produced from grapes grown on their own rootstock…pre-phylloxera rootstock, which is extremely rare. This bottle is $1500 on the list.
At OYA, I would order the Duchman Family Winery Vermentino from the Texas High Plains. Sure its not anywhere near the most expensive bottle, but its matches so well with OYA’s creative sushi rolls.
What’s the best value on your list?
Our selection of Virginia wines at OYA offer some of the best values. I want people to support local wines so we keep the pricing reasonable.
I am excited over emerging American wine regions, specifically Michigan and Texas. Michigan is producing some amazing cool-climate white wines…think Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Sparkling Wines. In Texas, I am excited about Italian and Spanish varietals that I have been sampling. The climate in the Texas High Plains near Lubbock seems well suited to grapes like Vermentino and Tempranillo. I am excited over American wine regions that can produce wines that stand on the international stage…regions beyond the West Coast. And these two regions are producing wines worthy of such acknowledgement.
Who is the most famous person you’ve ever served — and what did they order?
I served Adam Levin and the band Maroon 5 during Obama’s Inauguration. He was very laid back and seemed very interested in wine. They had just returned from a South African concert tour so I suggested a bottle of the Vilafonte Red blend.
What do you like to drink?
I usually drink crisp, high acid white wines…think Txakoli from the Basque Region of Spain. I also love beer, IPA specifically.
Do you enjoy beer? What about hard liquor?
I love beer, especially bitter, hoppy beer. Not a huge fan of hard liquor.
What’s the most challenging situation you’ve been in or request you’ve received as a sommelier?
Hmmm. Im not sure I can really think of one, seriously!
What’s most rewarding about your job?
Educating guests about interesting wines and putting together the complete food and wine experience. I love the look on a guests’ face when I show them an usual wine (especially American) that knocks their socks off. A few examples are the Duchman Family Texas Vermentino or the SHINDIG Pinot Noir Michigan blend…when I tell them where the wine is from its like a jaw-dropping experience, especially as 9 times out of 10, the guest really enjoys the wine.
What’s least rewarding about your job?
Inventory! I despise busy work of any type and inventory is always such a chore, which involves a full liquor, beer and wine count once a month.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?
I would likely be doing some sort of marketing/promotional work since I am a killer salesman.