We were delighted to hear of Paula de Pano’s return to Fearrington Village. She gave us some time as she delved into her busy schedule before the holiday season. We wanted to share as Fearrington begins their series of wine classes, beginning January 19.
Here’s our Q&A with Fearrington House Inn’s new Beverage & Service Director.
What is your background/training?
I went to the Culinary Institute of America to learn to cook in a professional setting and I came out a budding sommelier instead. I first encountered the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2010 and I’ve been part of the organization ever since. I obtained my Advanced Sommelier distinction in 2013, which is the same year I got the Advanced Certificate with the Wines and Spirits Educational Trust. I learned a lot about wine, theory-wise, when I was first at Fearrington House in 2010, but definitely got honed on the finer points of wine service when I was at Eleven Madison Park in New York.
You have a great career, one that is fascinating to most of us, so what interested you in becoming a sommelier?
Back when I got into wine and wanted to be a sommelier, not many people knew what a sommelier was. It was something that I enjoyed because it was something no one else did and because it seemed more fun to work with wine than with knives. I didn’t expect it to be something a lot of people thought was such a cool job. It is and it isn’t – what I always tell guests who ask me is that most people only see the fun, ‘cool,’ and glamorous part of it. There’s the nitty-gritty side of this profession, just like others. We do incredibly precise inventory, we unpack and bin countless bottles of wine, we polish a lot of glasses, and half the time we’re covered in dust. Then restaurant doors open at six and we look like rock stars to guests. I don’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I just think it’s pretty much the same way that I think doctors, lawyers, and architects are cool.
What trends do you see in your industry? Are there any or just more people interested in wine and you see different tastes and interests?
More bang for the buck. That’s definitely something that I’ve noticed the past two years. When I say more bang for the buck, guests want to know that they are getting more than what they pay for. I’m more than happy to tell guests the story and history of the wine and what makes it so special. There’s still people who are willing to shell out money for primo wines, but many people now know that expensive wines are not necessarily the best wines anymore. North Carolina’s liquor laws also restrict the restaurant from obtaining cult or unicorn wines or even older vintages, so we have to work extra hard to know the wines we have on hand and make them worthwhile to our guests.
What are some of the facets you love about your work at Fearrington?
I love how much potential the Village Center has as a whole. Despite it being one of the oldest Relais & Chateaux properties in the United States, I still look at it and see so many things that it could be. Constant evolution helps us to continue being relevant to the times without losing our inherent country charm.
What can you share that is new or upcoming at Fearrington?
Well, I’m still pretty new at the job and very excited about my plans so I’m not too keen on sharing them just yet. I like fully fleshed out plans before telling the world.
Anything else you’d like to share…little known facts about yourself?
I rarely drink alcohol. True story.
You must be one of the most fascinating people at a dinner party. Just like people ask doctors medical questions…what are some things us ‘regular’ people ask of you?
Quite the opposite actually, I’m the quiet one at a dinner party. Once other guests find out I’m a sommelier, if the question isn’t “What’s that?” it would invariably be, “Have you watched this documentary on Netflix called ‘Somm’?” It’s never about wine, it’s always about that documentary.
Favorite wine and food to pair with it (and if no fave, then what’s your latest passion?)
Champagne. All day, every day.
We couldn’t agree more–cheers!