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Take 5 with Gillian Ballance

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Title: Wine Director and Sommelier for PlumpJack Group
Hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma, now San Francisco

1. Was it a challenge to put together a wine list for Jack Falstaff that featured biodynamic and organic wines?
Some of the wines in my career that have moved me the most have been biodynamic for 10 years or so. I did a lot of research. We're still not 100% and that's ok. We don't want to cut out the usual suspects that people are looking for, the big Napa Valley Cabernets, etc. But you can have a well-balanced list with organic and biodynamic wines.

2. What are biodynamic wines?
Biodynamic viticulture is a process that is "back to the land" using an astrologic calendar to plow, winter prune--taking into consideration gravity flow, waxing and waning of the moon to create an approach that is more at one with nature. It was a science developed for farming and was adopted by vintners. Nurturing the soil. It's a more organic approach. It's similar to organic but can be even more labor intensive.

3. How did you come to wine as a profession?
I was a fine arts major, dancing in a modern dance company. My first job was at the Rainbow Room and the wine sommelier there took me to wine tastings. One of the first was Grand Cru Burgundy with Patrick Séré the burgundy expert for Joseph Drouhin. Then I took classes. Wine made my job so much more fun then just asking people how they wanted their steak cooked.

4. What's your philosophy on the pairing of food and wine?
I wish people would think outside the box a little bit more, but that's really what we're here for. I start with the basic premise of thinking like for like. Never trying to have a dish outweigh a wine or vice versa. Then I factor in preparations and sauces to determine what works best. But ultimately you should drink what you want to drink. Unless you're having shellfish with Cabernet!


5. How do wine drinkers in the Bay Area differ from those in Santa Barbara or NYC where you've also worked?
Bay Area drinkers are more like New Yorkers. Odd funky wines are much more popular here. There are a lot of California centric drinkers and in general more sophistication in ordering of wine.

On this side of town we sell more Syrah than at PlumpJack Cafe in the Marina. Here the area is saturated with 30-somethings that aren't married and don't have kids but that have good income that travel and like to eat and drink well. I find much more adventurous diners South of Market than in the Marina. PlumpJack is Chardonay and Cabernet and here it is Pinot, Syrah and everything else.

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