North Carolina-based wine importer Eric Solomon started his career in spirits as a bartender in Great Britain. The rock and roll drummer was a quick study and was sponsored by the Institute of Masters of Wine, excelling in their rigorous coursework until his UK student visa expired. Once back in the states, he found work as the director of fine wines for a Fortune 500 wine and spirits company and eventually became involved in wine importing, where he currently focuses on Spain and the south of France.
Eric was recognized as Robert Parker’s Wine Personality of the year in 2002 and in 2006, Solomon was awarded Best Importer of the Year by Food and Wine Magazine. He has been a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Eric has chosen wine pairings for our upcoming Friends of the Café Dinner featuring John Currence. Here, we had the opportunity to ask Eric some questions about himself and get some information on the wines we will be enjoying at the dinner.
AC: For our readers that may be unfamiliar with the subject, can you explain a little bit about what you do?
ES: Many people have romantic notions about being a wine importer. Don’t get me wrong, I get to see, taste and experience unforgettable things but there is also a lot of travel, sleepless nights, overindulgent meals and challenging conversation. My passion for discovering the next great wine, and the scouting promising talent, makes it all worth it at the end of the day. Also, who would hire a rusty but enthusiastic rock drummer at this point?
AC: When did you first develop an interest in wine?
ES: It began in London in the late 1970s when I walked into a wine bar looking for a job since being a drummer for several rock bands wasn’t as lucrative as you would think.
AC: Is there a specific quality in a wine producer that lets you know they might be a good match for European Cellars?
ES: The classic wines of France and Burgundy, in particular, have always informed my taste in wine. This surprises a lot of people since my focus is on Spain and the south of France but balanced, thrilling and vibrant wines can be made in even the warmest sites. I seek wines that engage both your palate and mind, wines that evoke the place from where they come and wines made as transparent as possible.
AC: Currently, how many producers do you work with?
ES: I currently work with about 100 producers in France, Spain, Switzerland, Macedonia, and Chile.
AC: Are there regions that you are currently focusing on, whose vineyards are producing new or more inventive varietals?
ES: Quite the opposite, I look for ancient varieties and old vines and those who have rediscovered and nurtured them back to life! What is old is new again. There are more and more wines being created from indigenous varieties and the cutting edge of winemaking is guided by how wines were made centuries ago – concrete and clay amphorae are some of the “newest” addition to cellars these days.
AC: Your company slogan is “Place Over Process.” Can you explain a little bit about what that means?
ES: If a wine doesn’t taste like the vineyard it comes from, then I’m not interested in putting my name on the back label. Place Over Process is just a simple way of explaining terroir – the unique stamp of soil, vine, and climate which makes it unique.
AC: Many people just browsing for wines purchase based on interesting labels more than anything else. Are you involved in advising producers on branding and how important is branding in your marketing process?
ES: I import a small group of wines that represent some of the best values in the United States. For these custom cuvées, I’m involved in the entire process from selection of vineyards, winemaking, blending, labeling, and marketing. I want to make sure that as many Americans get a chance to try these wines as possible. But the majority of the wines I import are the same as you would find in Europe. This doesn’t stop me from sharing my opinions about an ugly label or an awkward name.
AC: What resources do you recommend for those who are wine novices, but want to learn more about the subject?
ES: The easiest way to learn about wine is to trust your palate. Drink what you like, but keep trying new things. After that, find a retailer that you can trust. It may cost a little more but these people are like librarians for wine.
AC: Anything else you’d like us to know about you?
ES: Maybe if this wine importer gig doesn’t work out my fall back plan is to return to drumming. Know of any bands looking for an enthusiastic but somewhat rusty drummer? Musical references are The Who & Led Zeppelin…
AC: What can we look forward to at the Friends of the Café Dinner?
ES: Wines from growers you’ve never had before, from grapes you’re not familiar with, or places you couldn’t place on a map – and along the way some stories from my travels. It’s rumored that the stories get better as the evening goes along, so get a sitter!