An interview with Frankie Villar, US Sommelier & visitor to Churton
Where are you from?
I grew up in Kansas but have lived in Chicago for the last 10 years.
Can you tell us about your family?
I grew up in the hospitality industry, my family owned restaurants and catering companies so since I was like 10 years old I’ve been passengering, but worked closely with grandmother and my dad in the restaurant as an after school job since I was around 16. Then when I was older I started working in a more corporate atmosphere in hotels etc. But yes, hospitality is what my family does.
What made you choose wine as your passion?
When I moved to Chicago I got into hotels and started working in restaurants and felt like I kind of peaked as far as serving went, so wine was like a real challenge, something that really stimulated me and was difficult – and I’ve always kind of done hard things. I enjoy a challenge, so it just really led to a passion. Learning.
How did you become a Sommelier?
It was when I started working at GT Fish and Oyster in Chicago, which was when I was introduced to Churton as well. GT is a Boka company which really has a wine focus across the whole company. Pretty much everybody that works for the company is really passionate about food and wine and it just kind of reignited something for me. So I took my introductory level within the first 6 months that I was working there then a year and a half later I wanted to do the certified and so I tested for it and I passed and it was really fantastic.
What is your Sommelier qualification?
I gained a Level 2 certified Sommelier through the Court of Sommeliers about 2 ½ years ago.
Current/Most Recent Sommelier Position?
After GT I decided to give fine dining a try and was lucky enough to find a position as Spiaggia where I was a captain and at the time, before they did their renovation for their 30th birthday celebration, the captains had to know a lot about wine, because there wasn’t a sommelier on the floor. So I had to help guide the guests through a really intense, large, Italian Wine format book. So that led me to go deeper into learning about Italian wine.
Where/When/how did you first discover Churton?
Roughly about 3-4 years ago when I started working at GT. It was our glass pour for Sauvignon Blanc and Dan Hodges from H2Vino introduced it to us. Although we had other Sauvignon Blanc’s including a Sancerre, the Churton was what everyone gravitated towards. As a result I started to become interested in learning a little bit more about Biodynamics and Organic Wine.
Impression of Churton before your visit?
I thought it would be a small, specialist, family run farm so was not at all surprised and Churton was just as I expected.
How did you come to be at Churton for harvest?
I had planned on doing it for a while now, I saw an opportunity to obtain a working holiday visa and I though Churton would be the perfect place to put that to use. So its nice and cold in Chicago at the moment and I wanted to get out of there – Dan Hodges from H2Vino was able to set up some lines of communication with Mandy and Sam and I just kind of jumped on a plane and came out here.
Only a few days into harvest but I’d like to ask you what your impression is so far?
Its fantastic. It’s exactly what I wanted to get out of the experience. It’s hard work, it’s beautiful and it has just really been wonderful.
What experiences have you had in the last few days that really stand out for you?
I think it is really surprising how many bunches of grapes are picked. Yes, I had thought grape picking – a few baskets to collect – but, when you see how may grapes and baskets are loaded for the winery at each pick it is quite astounding.
Is there anything about Churton vineyard that has surprised you?
I was hoping that it would be and it is not really a surprise but everyone is just so nice! And warm and I was hoping that it would be a good introduction and it was, I mean it’s almost like a family, Well it is a family! Literally but they have just been so open to me and adopted me and made me feel very welcome.
Favourite Churton Wine?
So I was able to taste through the wines last week and when I tasted the Best End Sauvignon Blanc I was just blown away. In the past I’ve tasted Didier Dagenau wines, the Silex and his other lines but this knocked it out of the water. It was fantastic, I was so incredibly impressed.
What dish would you pair with it?
Oh, man, what would I do that with.. I think maybe with a heartier seafood dish, I’m thinking back to at GT we had a really delicious clam bake with mussels and Italian sausage and corn and there was just lots of different layers of flavour – that that wine just cries out for.
Where would you be enjoying it and who?
Friends and family, or I could just enjoy it alone in front of a bonfire on a fall day.