Palm Beach

October 1, 2009

The dynamic pairing of Master Sommeliers Virginia Philip and Juan Gomez at The Breakers

The definition of a sommelier from Wikipedia is: a sommelier or wine steward is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service. The role is more specialized and informed than that of a wine waiter. The principal work of a sommelier is in the area of wine procurement, storage, wine cellar rotation, and to provide expert advice to customers. A sommelier may also be responsible for the development of wine lists and for the delivery of wine service and training for the other restaurant staff. Working along with the culinary team, they pair and suggest wines that will best complement each particular food menu item.

Whatever professional world you travel in or circles you move in there are always the expert few of the group who have achieved the high-level status of being the best at what they do. This classification isn’t just because of a degree or certificate or education; it is that, in complete tandem with sheer professionalism and the absolute love of what one does; this all combined together is the recipe for success of any company and any individual. This is the formula of accomplishment and achievement within The Breakers Palm Beach in all departments of this grand resort but specifically within the Food and Beverage Department.

The Breakers Wine Team of Virginia Philip, Master Sommelier and Juan Gomez, Master Sommelier have taken wine appreciation to a whole new level. If a sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, a Master Sommelier is levels above simply being trained. It is a lifestyle, a love, a passion and an acute comprehension of all things wine. It takes years of studying and preparation to become a Master Sommelier. The accreditation process assesses the candidate’s expertise in wine theory, blind tastings, and food and wine pairings. There are also demanding exercises and written exams on wine theory, viticulture and viniculture, varietals and regions. Master Sommelier candidates are also challenged on their ability to detect the errors and organization of a virtual wine cellar, the mislabeling of wines and inaccuracies in wine lists. Attention to detail. It’s always in the details.

One of the most intriguing aspects of being a sommelier to the average person is to blind taste a wine and then discuss your conclusions by stating the varietal, the vintage and the region. Who in the world can do such a thing without reading the label on the bottle!? Being a sommelier is not about tricks or drinking the best wine and snubbing the rest; it is about educating others, introducing and making others comfortable in a world that can be intimidating. This is exactly what Virginia Philip and Juan Gomez do. I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours at The Breakers recently and had the opportunity to sit and talk with Virginia and Juan. They are two of the most unassuming, approachable and interesting people I have met. Food and wine is “my thing” so to meet and chat with professionals who have achieved such status in their field was a thrill for me.

Virginia Philip has been with The Breakers since 2000 where under her watchful eye presides over the resort’s 28,000 bottle wine collection. It is within the 28,000 bottle collection that the 1,600-selection list at L’Escalier is housed. It is the resort’s award-winning signature restaurant, which has won the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award since 1981. Virginia also oversees the resort’s extraordinary Display Wine Cellar featuring 7,800 bottles, and two additional cellars on property. Virginia’s professional mission at The Breakers has been to develop cutting edge and distinctive wine programs for each of The Breakers’ eight restaurants. She also directs an intensive 16-week training program, required for all L’Escalier and Tapestry Bar team members, for whom she prepares ongoing course work. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that little task Virginia has taken on of overseeing The Breakers own brand of house wine being made in France (that’s another article!).

Juan Gomez is a native of Mexico City. The story Virginia tells of meeting Juan is a riot as well as endearing. According to Philip, “Juan is a sponge. Six years ago, he had little wine knowledge, and growing up in Mexico, he drank tequila and beer as his beverages of choice. To accomplish what he has in such a short amount of time, is not only unheard of, but showed his relentless dedication to becoming a Master Sommelier and living the “American Dream.” In March 2007, Juan passed the final portion of the Master Sommelier exam and become the first Mexican native in the history of the Court of Masters to do so.

Juan dispels the “seriousness of wine.” He is gregarious, fun and completely magnanimous as he goes about his daily routine demonstrating an extraordinary acumen for wine. To watch Juan move through the wine service preferences of each of his guests is like watching a symphony come to its final crescendo. Juan possesses a finesse for service and people that is second to none. In addition to service Juan’s management duties include the ongoing training needs of The Breakers’ wine and beverage staff as well as managing employees and co-managing the resort’s nationally lauded 28,000-bottle collection of fine wines. He is directly involved in procuring wines for the resort’s eight restaurants and banquet operations.

Virginia Philip was once quoted “Ultimately, the goal of the sommelier is to meet and exceed guests’ preferences and to have a hand in enhancing their overall dining experience,”

Ms. Philip and Mr. Gomez have truly met and exceeded the ultimate goal of customer service and true professionalism. To gauge this for yourself, make dinner reservations at the Top of the Point or L’Escalier or go to Sunday Brunch at the Breakers and introduce yourself to Virginia and Juan talk with them for a bit and watch what a great fan you too will become of the magnificent world of Wine at The Breakers.

The Breakers
One South County Road
Palm Beach, Florida 33480



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