While traveling extensively in careers in politics and asset management, Michelle Gueydon developed a love of wine and food. She has experience working in vineyards and studying wine-making, as well as certified wine education. She has also served as Virginia’s wine ambassador, director of wine for John Besh’s restaurant group, and currently works with South to South wine importers. In May, she’ll teach a course at the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute for service industry professionals as well as wine enthusiasts, covering a wide range of wine knowledge and tasting experiences. For information on Gueydon, see facebook.com/covinomichelle. For information about the wine class, go to nochi.org/nwp.
Gambit: How did you develop your wine knowledge?
Michelle Gueydon: I am not someone who grew up with wine at my table at all. I didn’t know wine came from grapes. But I went to college in (New York’s) Finger Lakes region — Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In my free time, I used to pull leaf at Dr. (Konstantin) Frank vineyards. And I took some classes.
I have been in the wine industry for about 16 years, but I was first in politics and scheduling and events management. I joke that my first job was in politics and that’s why I drink for a living now. I worked for a wine collector and I started taking (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) WSET (classes) thinking I might be involved in the wine industry in the future. The CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers) is a little more service based. WSET is a little more technical. You can go into wine making, wine writing. At that point, I was just interested in learning more. There are reasons we take certifications. It’s great to have that certification, but sometimes people get lost in that. You have a piece of paper and a pen and you’re studying for a test, but wine and food are an evolving culture.
Over the course of my career, I have participated in many aspects of the wine and food world. I was a harvest intern in Sonoma — walking the fields, picking the grapes. That helped me immensely — getting dirty, understanding it at the ground level.
Gambit: What do you notice about wine and wine service when you go into a restaurant?
Gueydon: I like to see things that are unique to that restaurant. I cringe when I see a bunch of restaurants in an area that all have the same wine list. I look for adventure. I like to see a wine bar or a restaurant with a signature.
With the service aspect, a lot of wine makers and oenologists call themselves custodians of the country. We need to be custodians of wine in service. We need to know how to articulate other palates. If you try some new stuff, how do you interpret why you liked that new wine — because you ventured from a cabernet and tried a tannat?
I am working for a South African wine importer right now, and it opened my eyes to what’s going on there. I have learned so much from my conversations with wine makers. Most interesting is the diversity of varieties in South Africa. At the beginning, I thought chenin blanc and pinotage was what they had to offer. Now they’ve come a long way. The soils are so old — the soils there are older than in Bordeaux. They’re going back to older techniques. They’re using bush vines, which are smaller yield, so there’s more concentration of flavor.
The other thing I like to see when I walk into a restaurant is that it’s not about saying, “What’s your favorite wine? I’ll take that.” I always say you always respond with a question: “What are you in the mood for, what do you like to drink?” We’re not dictating palates, it’s about understanding palates.
Nostalgia is one of the ingredients in Ana Castro’s dishes at Lengua Madre
Gambit: What are you including in the class at NOCHI?
Gueydon: The syllabus is an amalgamation. The goal is that participants will gain a higher level of knowledge related to varieties, regions and understanding labels, winemaking decisions and processes and food pairings. But they will walk away and know how to apply their knowledge with confidence and adventure in future wine experiences, whether you are in hospitality as a career or an enthusiast who wants to better understand wine.
The history (of wine) is really important. That’s where this whole “natural” — I use the term very loosely because it is not defined — but the movement, a lot of winemakers are going back to the ways things were done.
(We’ll cover) the fingerprints of the major grape varietals. That was a cabernet because it has these qualities on fruits, herbal qualities, secondary characteristics. Evaluating and tasting wines is the best way to do that. The major wine regions, touching on the ones connected to history (that) are coming back into our world, like Croatia, Serbia and Lebanon.
I do a wine pairing workshop. It breaks down pairing the components of food with different types of wine. We’re going to do a pop-up and study the way (students) interact with people. Being more diplomatic and taking the knowledge we’ve learned and convey it to other people and have fun with it instead of rote memorization. You don’t have to be a certified sommelier to be great at service and deliver service that is uniquely ours.
NOCHI is fostering a continuing culture of learning and education. Louisiana has a great community of food and beverage. Most of that surrounds cocktails, but wine has come a long way.