Charlie Trotter, Master Sommelier
When I first heard that Chef Charlie Trotter had passed away, I had just finished our weekly sommelier study group. The news was unbelievable. I was deeply saddened and shocked.
There I thought of great person that had inspired me in many ways to be the person I am today. To continue learning, pushing myself and others to do the best job.
I never had the opportunity to work at Charlie Trotters Restaurant in Chicago. I regret I never applied. I was already working 70-hour weeks in hotels and saw that the sommeliers there were working even longer shifts. I thought I would work in international hotels the rest of my life so I was happy where I was.
I still regret never applying.
I moved to Chicago in 2001 to work for The Ritz Carlton (A Four Seasons Hotel) after working in Switzerland and Thailand. My interview was with the Dining Room Manager, Steven Lande, who was also a great influence on my sommelier career. He had worked at Charlie Trotters for years and was now the Dining Room Manger at The Ritz. I had heard about the famous Chicago restaurant while I was in Hotel School in Lausanne and from the Chefs I had worked with.
I guess Lande’s resumé had an impact on my decision to move to Chicago over other cities in the States. Lande’s work ethic, strive for excellence and discipline came from Trotters. We could all feel it, and he talked about it all the time. This was the height of Trotters acclaim, the best fine dining restaurant in Chicago for years. TRU was just getting started and Alinea was not even on the drawing books.
I was becoming interested in becoming a sommelier, strongly because The Dining Room at The Ritz had a Grand Award wine list and Steven was a certified sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Charlie Trotter would host a wine study group for industry professionals on days the restaurant was closed. Lande would get to go, I was the assistant so I covered the restaurant.
I heard about all the great sommeliers that had worked at Charlie Trotters, including many that are also now Master Sommeliers. Possibly the most famous, Larry Stone, and Joseph Spellman, that at the time were the only two Americans to have been named the world’s number one sommelier in French wine and spirits at the International Grand Prix in Paris, both had worked there. The level of wine service earned him many awards.
The years that followed I was lucky to get the opportunity to dine and drink (a lot) at Charlie Trotters for special wine events. Terry Theise lunches, Rubicon vertical tastings with Larry Stone. Hugh Johnson, book signing. Winemakers from Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot hosted intimate tasting in his demo kitchen.
It was the sommelier’s dream to be invited and I was very fortunate to be part of the group back then.
I was just getting involved in the Master Sommelier exams and was inspired by the sommeliers working at Trotters at that time. Linda Violago, Jason Smith and Serafin Alvarado were all Advanced Sommeliers that I looked up to and helped me with tastings and mentoring.
When I took my Introductory Course and Advanced Course, the Master Sommeliers visiting Chicago would get to have a dinner at Charlie Trotters. Something that we don’t get to do as often because of costs. However Charlie always insisted on hosting the MSs. He had put so many through his restaurant, he knew the Court very well. Charlie himself was a real wine lover and had one of the best wine lists in the country. His cellar was on display and was constantly being toured by his guests. His knowledge of wine, support of The Court and sommeliers everywhere really made him an honorary Master Sommelier. He received the Fredrick L. Dame award from The Court to honor individual accomplishments in the food and wine industry. He even put out one of my favorite books; Lessons in Wine Service from Charlie Trotter.
Many will remember Charlie Trotter as one of the greatest Chefs. I will remember him by his influence on the wine world.
I tried to put a list of Sommeliers that worked at Charlie Trotters. I’m sure I missed a few. If you want to comment, I can add the rest.
- Lisa Trotter (Now Lisa Ehrlich-Giglio) (First Wine Director)
- Larry Stone, MS
- Joe Spellman, MS
- Steve Geddes, MS
- Ken Fredrickson, MS
- Brian Cronin, MS
- Luis de Santos, MS
- Serafin Alvarado, MS
- Jesse Becker, MS
- Brett Zimmerman, MS
- Jason Smith, MS
- Desmond Echavarrie, MS
- Belinda Chang
- Renee-Nicole Kubin
- Robert Houde
- Linda Violago
- Molly Wismier
- Condrad Reddick
- Justin Hall
- Ryan Stetins