This week’s spotlight shines on our first Sommelier interview. Don Derocher is the serious yet affable wine expert at the Fort Lauderdale Ritz Carlton sharing his proficient knowledge with guests at Via Luna the resort’s Italian restaurant, The Wine Room, which is an intimate wine bar open to the public and hotel guests and the Wine Vault where tastings and personal wine dinners are hosted. Mr. Derocher welcomes guests local and visiting into his wine room with open arms; by the time you have had your first glass of wine you feel as if you’re sitting in Don’s living room chatting up wine with a kindred spirit. Don’s wine knowledge is vast and voluminousyet modest and friendly. Wine in and of itself can be daunting and overwhelming and yet fails to exist within the magnificent wine collection in The Wine Room and The Wine Vault at The Ritz Carlton; this ambiance is credited to Mr. Derocher’s approach to wine, making is accessible and considerate to the novice, the enthusiast, and the expert, bringing everyone together for the love of wine. Readers, I present this week’s Sommelier in the Spotlight, Don Derocher
South Florida Food and Wine: What is a typical day for you as the Sommelier of the Fort Lauderdale Ritz Carlton?
Don Derocher: With over 400 selections, there is a lot of leg-work involved with what I do. I often hear the comment “oh it must be nice to drink wine for a living.” And yes, tasting is a rather enjoyable part of my work. However, copious research goes into my selections. That means keeping viable relationships and regular meetings with vendors. Once selections are made, they must be ordered, inventoried, input into our point of sale systems, accurately represented on our wine list, and physically put away into their respective bins. Training of our Ladies and Gentlemen is essential so they too can share the special nature of our wine collection with those we serve. Also I regularly meet with clients to plan their wine experiences and special events with us.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is the one thing you love the most about your job?
Don Derocher: I would have to say it is all about sharing experiences. How and why did that wine get in that glass, and how and why did you get here to enjoy it? Every one of us will have different opportunities to experience wine. With great élan I share what I discover, and equally enjoy learning what appeals to you. Furthermore, as Ernest Hemingway once penned “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” People who enjoy wine tend to be more passionate and work within a certain decorum.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you most would like to share a bottle of wine with? And why?
Don Derocher: After having the honor to serve as a Judge for the 2011 American Fine Wine Competition a few weeks ago I can check a few luminaries off my list including Lyn Farmer, Professor Chip Cassidy, Charlie Arturola, and Virginia Philip. The one person who comes to mind now is Robert Parker, Jr. He is arguably the most powerful person in the world of wine, yet is quite humble. Years ago he had a vision to objectively rate wine to guide consumers and thus The Wine Advocate was born.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final quaff be?
Don Derocher: Definitely Champagne. I’ve said for years if I could script my own death it would go like this… I take a big sip of Krug Grand Cuvee, draw my last breath, and my life will at least have ended beautifully!
South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at and did you order wine?
Don Derocher: Some friends and I went to Truluck’s last week for the first time. Beautiful décor, delicious cuisine (we only had a few appetizers), and a well trained service staff. The wine list always gets handed to me for a selection and I picked the 2009 Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir, which I might say was reasonably priced. It is such a luscious wine and our crowd was pleased.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty food pleasure?
Don Derocher: Salt! I definitely do not have a sweet tooth, and have never liked chocolate my whole life (call me crazy, but you can have my share of the cake, OK?). But I definitely have a salt tooth. It even goes further… I have no iodized salt in my kitchen. I prefer the texture of larger flaked salts, such as Kosher, or Sea Salt at the least.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Don Derocher: A year or two ago when planning a wine dinner our chef made diver scallops with a mango hollandaise sauce (simply divine!) I thought one of my favorite Rieslings from New Zealand (Craggy Range) which is bone-dry would be perfect to cut the sweetness of the sauce and scallops. I was wrong! The fantastic wine along with the beautiful sauce fell flat when paired together. Still believing I was on the right track I chose a Kabinett Riesling from Germany (Schloss Vollrads) and then had one of those singular moments when one’s palate is so pleased one simply cannot speak.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Don Derocher: I like to get my chores done during the week so my days off can be exactly that. First I like to sleep in, then it could be anything from saltwater fishing (the one activity for which I will wake up early) to kayaking, or skateboarding with my dog. Formula 1 season starts up soon so I like to catch those races on Sundays. I always enjoy spending time with my nephews and family, then perhaps dinner with friends somewhere, either me cooking or at a restaurant.
South Florida Food and Wine:Dream come true: You can have the wine of your choice in any city in the world, what city would it be and why? what wine would it be and why?
Don Derocher: I envisage a Jerobaum of Krug Clos Ambonnay Champagne at Le Jules Verne atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris. This single vineyard Champagne is the rarest (and most expensive) in the world. Produced from just 1.5 acres of Pinot Noir within the village itself of Ambonnay there were only 3000 bottles made from 11 tiny 200 liter Krug casks.…Are you funding this trip?!
South Florida Food and Wine: Your sense of taste and smell are crucial to your job, what if you lost your “senses” what would be your Plan B?
Don Derocher: Please don’t make me consider that notion! …The perfect job I could imagine for someone with anosmia would be a food critic in British nursing homes! Heaven forbid it happen to me, but if it were then documentary filmmaking would be a worthwhile pursuit because it educates and one always works with experts in each respective field. Again, it consists of sharing one’s knowledge and experience. Also, to own a gym would be a positive place where the community can achieve and grow.
The Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale 1 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304
Click here to read previous interviews in the Spotlight Series