Zach Pace on Two Generations

Zach Pace, wine director for Foreign Cinema restaurant, moved to SF from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Working alongside Bruno Baglin, he has created a world-class wine program to complement the cuisine of Bay Area legends John Clark and Gayle Pirie. Zach received his Sommelier Certification from the International Sommelier Guild and the Certified Specialist of Wine from the Society of Wine Educators. He is currently studying for the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.

Zach Pace on Two Generations

As a young sommelier in San Francisco, I have a unique perspective on the wine industry, and with that, a unique opportunity to influence it. They say that we, the "new generation," are set to turn the trade on its ear. Growing worldwide interest and increasing accessibility have led to an unprecedented demand for wines and spirits. With that demand comes a legion of qualified professionals that seem to be getting younger every day. The spirit and dynamism of our youth comes with a responsibility for authenticity, and, for that authenticity, we turn to those with lifetimes of experiences. Just as we find ourselves a new generation of sommeliers, we exist between contrasting philosophies when it comes to that ancient and revered drink.

I find myself at the unique intersection of capricious youth and institutional know-how working with my colleague and friend, Bruno. That's right, one word: Bruno. He is our Bay Area Bono, our Madonna. Just the single name is enough to evoke recognition among local professionals. After all, he's been on the scene for more than 15 years, working as sommelier, wine buyer, and maître d' for such institutions as Farallon, Rose Pistola, and Zuni, and has been with Foreign Cinema since its inception in 1999. He was raised in Paris and his parents are from Calvados country in Normandy. It was not uncommon for his father to buy and cellar vintages for 8-10 years.

I, on the other hand, grew up on the "Champagne of Beers" and remember nipping from my uncle's Bartles & Jaymes. Although we were an ocean apart, the origins of our calling were similar and our mission is parallel: to spread our enthusiasm and enhance the experience of drinking wine. What differs in our approach remains the same in our passion. Whatever path we take, we draw upon our experiences every day as professional sommeliers.

The wine industry is incredibly subjective and the rules are constantly being rewritten. Junk food pairings, speed-blind tastings, and experimental winemakers producing esoteric blends abound. This is truly an exciting and innovative time for our trade. While change is not necessarily bad, there's something to be said for the responsibility of authenticity.

Bruno's philosophy is rooted in this tradition. Not only does he have an incredible palate and years of tasting experience, he has intimate knowledge of the classic regions, the hills of the Languedoc, and the fearsome wind of the Rhône. I, on the other hand, have received my education in the classroom, delving into geology, chemistry, and global business. At a recent staff tasting, someone was bold enough to wrestle with chemical terms for compounds in wine. Needless to say, things got messy. Soon we were mired in discussions concerning sulfites, aldehydes, esters, and monoterpenes. How have we gone from terroir and tannin to dipeptides and anthocyanin extract levels? This is indeed the brave new world of wine.

Our partnership is made tangible in our differing tastes. I remember early on tasting Châteauneuf-du-Pape with him. I sang high praise for this particular wine, full of fresh fruit with tart and high acidity. Bruno swirled, sniffed, tasted. His brow furrowed as he spat and he briskly remarked, "This is not Châteauneuf-du-Pape." I quickly learned a valuable lesson: it's not enough for a wine to be good. It must retain that quality of authenticity--a sense of place. Staying grounded in that belief is important.

That said, I don't understand the reverence for most California pinot noir. However, I do appreciate the skill and hard work that goes into each bottle as well as the juice that comes out of it. Patience, devotion, finesse, subtlety. These attributes are familiar to me and I respect them. Bruno is an absolute pinot-phile and he forces me to confront that which I may find distasteful but admittedly well crafted. I'd much rather have some tempranillo with my duck, thank you very much.

In some ways the Old World has yet to catch up with this part of the new language of wine. Together, though, we represent the transmutable nature of the wine industry. It is this synergy of perspectives that strengthens the fruit of our efforts. The product of our combined experiences remains poignant. At times, at staff training seminars or at wine tastings, it is difficult to see where I end and Bruno begins. Respecting tradition in an industry so deeply rooted in history is essential. It is also important to remember to withhold incredulity because a little innovation never hurt anyone. And if there's ever a city to nurture change, it's ours.

[Ed. Note: Foreign Cinema currently has a guest winemaker or winery proprietor come in on every last Wednesday, greeting guests and sampling them on the featured wines. Guests also have the option to pair selected dishes with the featured wines.]