Educating Sommeliers Worldwide.
By Beverage Trade Network
Brendan O’leary’s true passion is seeing a guest’s delight when tasting wine. Let’s know more about him and his career.
I began as a dishwasher at 15 years old, worked through the kitchen ranks up to Sous Chef. Then started working in the front of the house as a busser and server. Eventually, I decided to learn more about wine, and after a couple of years received my Sommelier Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
After working as a floor somm for a couple of years, I progressed into the role of Resort Sommelier at Four Seasons Resort Maui, overseeing the wine programs of both of our restaurants, as well as our Lobby Lounge, In-Room Dining, and our Special Events/Banquets departments.
I am the Resort Sommelier for the Four Seasons Resort Maui, overseeing the wine program for the entire resort.
Creating identity on each wine list. Whether it's DUO, our Steakhouse, or Ferraro's, our Italian Restaurant, it's about making sure the wine fits the venue and the food. Creating symbiosis with our culinary team is crucial.
Sourcing bottles, strategizing pricing while maintaining cost margin expectations, and staff training are important parts of my daily role, as well as working with guests on a table-by-table/event-by-event basis.
I would ask what identity they want their list to have, what their desired cost margins are, and obviously how big they want their list to be. Also, if they're planning on sitting on any bottles to let them age and increase value.
Brendan O'Leary, Resort Sommelier at Four Seasons Resort Maui. The resort has a team of over 20 certified wine sommeliers and has earned the coveted Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.
First and most importantly: honesty in availability. If I find the perfect wine but will only have access to 2 weeks supply of it, there's no point putting it on the list. After that, have them buy into the identity we are trying to build for each list. Being available for staff training is incredibly important as well.
Being upfront with the glass or multiple cases buy pricing breaks is very important as well, as it's vital in developing a pricing strategy.
First, checking inventory and sales from the previous evening, making changes if we see variances in cost or sales large enough to demand immediate attention. Second, check for vintage changes or additions/subtractions and apply them to any of the lists that need it. Third, staff training and getting back to my roots of working the floor as Somm.
Quality of wine, price of the product, availability weighed against expected inventory needs, and whether or not it reflects what the guests want. There's room for fun "sommy" wines on all lists, however, it's important to me to make the focal point of my lists what makes the guests most happy and provide them with the type of experience they're expecting.
Also, for a glass pour program, I look for name recognition wines with a high perception of quality. If I can offer a call item at an aggressive price point, it enhances the guest experience as well as generates an increase in revenue.
Honesty is the most important thing. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and being upfront about those is important so that I can find the right role for a new sommelier in our program. Being smooth with guests, having a firm grasp of the world of wine with an emphasis on the specific list they're assisting with, and being comfortable with bottle service is a must.
Brendan O'Leary has over 20 years in the service industry. Combining best practices with real-time guest interaction is his strength, as well as food and beverage pairing. He is a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
I identify the cost margin desired by the owner and then run total wine cost vs sales as well as individual bottle costs and sales. Regardless of whether the cost margin is what the owner is looking for or higher, I then look for ways to lower the margin. If the margin is substantially lower than what they're looking for, I'll identify which bottles are being sold to lower that number, and if necessary, I will move on from them. An effective wine program certainly has to do with cost margins, but also total revenue. If a program is making its projected margins, but not generating enough end-of-month revenue, it's not truly effective, and strategy needs to be reevaluated. High prices deflate cost margins, but also reduce the number of sales. It's about finding balance.
Obviously a firm foundation of theory, and the ability to recall flavor profiles for specific wines as they work to pair with specific menu items and guest preferences. A solid understanding of pricing strategy and inventory management is vital as well. And, as always, personality is huge in the service industry. Being able to communicate calmly and effectively with both guests and coworkers is perhaps the most important skill, and one of the skills that can't really be taught.
Watching a guest try a new wine that they normally wouldn't try, and loving it. It's the best.
Unexpectedly running out of product. Nothing more frustrating.
I adore Italy in general, and Piemonte in specific. Barolo is, to me, what red wine is supposed to taste like. We run the Sperss Barolo by Gaja and it's incredible. I'm a huge fan of the Cortese grape as well. Gavi di Gavi by La Scolca is probably my favorite, and reasonably priced, white wines we carry. It's amazing with food and also as a standalone glass.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
I love Blanc de Blanc Champagne and Fried Chicken. It's a fun pairing because Champagne is taken so seriously and Fried Chicken typically isn't, but it's also absolutely delicious. The acidity in the wine perfectly cuts through the grease, the brioche yeastiness goes amazing with the umami flavors, and the fine bubbles compliment the crunchy exterior. It's probably not the most popular pairing, but it's one of the best I've come across. Try it. It's so perfect.