Sommelier Says: Collin-Peter Casey on Cory Cartwright and Guilhaume Gerard

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Collin-Peter Casey (having a good time on Bastille Day).

Collin-Peter Casey has worked in the wine business for 16 years. The last 10 years, he has worked as a sommelier. He has worked for many of the Bay Area’s best restaurants and currently resides at Namu Gaji in the Mission. This column is CPC’s opportunity to say nice things about winemakers, sommeliers, wine directors, and importers who get the admiration of the (jaded) professional wine community. Full disclosure: Collin sells wine part-time for a wholesaler/importer. Anytime he mentions a client of his or a wine he sells, he will mention it.

Who: Cory Cartwright and Guilhaume Gerard

What they do: Co-owners of Selection Massale, a wine import and wholesale company based in the Bay Area and New York City.

Where they learned their craft: Guilhaume hails from France, where he began his wine path the way most do: by spraying graffiti and eating plenty of McDonald’s. In 2005, having serendipitously tried a 2002 Foillard Morgon “Cote du Py,” 2004 Peyra “Les Roches,” and Gramenon “Poignee de Raisin,” he discovered a love for what he describes as “drinkable wines.” The timing of his wine revelation could not have been better, since his graffiti habit had left him with the choice of leaving France or going to jail. He came to San Francisco and landed a job at Chez Spencer, where he worked a few years as a server, and further developed his appreciation and knowledge of wine.

It was through Chez Spencer that he met his future business partners, Luc Ertoran and Dagan Ministero, with whom he opened Terroir Natural Wine Merchant, which at the time of its opening was probably the only wine bar/retailer of its kind in the U.S. Terroir became the hub of this (weird) community of so-called natural wine aficionados. It was likely the first business in the U.S. to wholeheartedly bite on the whole “natural wine” thing as the phenomenon unraveled. Some argue that Terroir even gave the natural wine phenomenon its crucial push toward the national stage. What is not up for debate is that when Guilhaume, Luc, and Dagan opened Terroir, the conversation about natural wines became quite a lot louder. It was after some years at Terroir that he left to begin Selection Massale with Cory.

Cory’s story is no less interesting. He was making a killing as a video game designer, and was getting more and more into wine. Following an epiphany brought on by some Domaine de Belliviere “Rouge Gorge” (Pineau d’Aunis) came his decision to begin blogging about wine. His blog was called “Saignee” and it was easily one of the most heavily read wine blogs of its time. A look to the comment section would regularly yield the names of virtually everyone who was involved in the world of natural wine, from the wine writers to the growers to the importers to those selling them in retail and/or restaurant settings. It was an influential blog for hundreds, if not thousands of wine professionals. Following the success of the blog, Cory sought to ditch video games to work in the wine business, and having been what Guilhaume describes as his “best customer” at Terroir, he easily landed a gig pouring wine there. It was at Terroir that he and Guilhaume hatched their plan to import wines together.

Why I like them: When you’re buying wine professionally, something to be mindful of is that you generally want to buy as large a quantity of wine per wholesaler/importer as possible. In California, wine can be discounted based on quantity purchased, so buying in big drops is the best way to pass on real value to your guests. Moreover, those positive relationships yield allocations of the more rarefied stuff in your wholesalers’ respective portfolios, which can mean a ton for your restaurant or retailer.

It is not every importer/wholesaler from whom I find myself willing to purchase multiple wines for my lists, but Selection Massale is one. I don’t like all their wines, but I understand every wine in their portfolio. They aren’t buying wines that they do not want to drink. And that is bold as hell, considering that they’ve got bills to pay.

Something else that matters to me is that these guys make no secret of their opinions. The internet gives everyone an opportunity to make their perspective known, but the nature of these forums is such that most people seem to hang back and wait until someone they respect has registered an opinion to register their own. Fascinatingly, the thoughts of the many tend to be recycled from the few. Not so with Cory and Guilhaume. Even if they’re wrong, they care enough about what they do to register an opinion and draw whatever ire comes to them. They belong in the ongoing conversation about wine more than most, if you’re asking me.

What to buy from them: In addition to operating a wholesale business, Selection Massale offers their wines consumer-direct, via their newsletter. Wines to look for include, but are not limited to, the wines of Belluard and Dupasquier in Savoie and the brilliant Chablis of Lilian Duplessis. Literally buy any of the wines of these houses. They are great, and all of them are available through their website.