Caitlin Stansbury is a force.
L.A.'s busiest wine consultant has become its most recent wine author with the debut of Wineocology, a wine-appreciation manual steeped in exclamatory energy. The book is a culmination of years of experience on the dining floors of myriad local restaurants, where Stansbury has been consulted as part fixer, part auditor, part drill sergeant and part cheerleader, all gathered beneath a wine-geek umbrella.
Stansbury revived or stabilized many restaurant wine programs, among them the Lodge, Bastide, Tosca Wine Bar and Brix at 1601. "I became good at reversing the course of distressed operations," she says, adding that in many cases those operations had no idea how distressed they truly were. She's currently beverage director for the Jonathan Club, which, being a private club, offers her even more creative license.
Currently, more interesting wine brokers and distributors are circulating the scene than ever before. The problem, Stansbury says, has been that most restaurant wine programs haven't kept up with the culinary revolution happening in their kitchens, preferring to play it safe -- your vanilla chardonnays, your overripe pinots, your trophy cabs. That can condemn a restaurant to perpetual mediocrity.
With her nimbus of blond curls and a piercing, blue-eyed gaze, Stansbury commands attention even before she opens her mouth. When she does open it, you have the sense that the device is serving as a sort of clumsy interlocutor for all the thoughts that are firing in her brain. If life were fair, she'd be able to speak two sentences at once. But she can't, so you're left with a delivery so rapid-fire you want to say "yes" to whatever Stansbury is saying, even if it's not a yes or no question. In wine, she is one of L.A.'s most articulate and persuasive catechists.
Wineocology, co-authored with Heidi Shink, is a kind of workshop in sommelier skills in book form. (Shink, by the way, is a teetotaler -- won over by Stansbury without having to sample a drop.) For those with a long relationship with wine, there's not a lot of new ground here, but what's here is clear, swift and practical.
Stansbury's great skill as an educator and trainer is the ability to proselytize, not on behalf of wine but rather on behalf of the senses required to experience it fully. She instructs, sense by sense and palate by palate, how to awaken these skills.
"You all have what we have," she says, referring to her sommelier tribe. "We're all masters of our own senses."
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Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.