In the service industry, wine buyers are considered especially talented. In Houston, those responsible are members of an elite squad. For them, two things are pretty much certain; a career in this field began with one memorable sip, and second, they probably rush home in between lunch and dinner service to feed some sort of pet, or little human. These are their stories.
Both hands flexed to squeeze the three-liter bag of Don Simon wine that had been broken out of the box and now sprayed unpredictably into a row of glasses waiting to be finished with cola. Madrid, Spain, 2010 and Chris Poldoian (Paul-doy-an), now general manager and wine director of acclaimed wine bar Camerata at Paulie’s, was more than an ocean away from the juicy, 90-point Napa Cabs he grew up with on the dinner table. Studying abroad as a junior, the Tuft’s student was completely immersed within Spanish culture and living every minute of it.
That same year on a visit to family friends in Paris, Poldoian was privy to a l'académie des vins anciens tasting, a private wine club that pageants all things old and bottled. Seventy-, 80-, 100-year old samplings were uncorked, the oldest of them being the hailed, dripping-sweet dessert wine from Bordeaux, a 1899 Sauternes. Though after 100 years in a bottle the youth had settled, revealing an elegant, complex bone structure; an echelon of flavor only achieved by those wines forgotten in time. Other memorable expressions included a 1955 Château Montrose and a 1960 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges Latour Cabernet Sauvignon. That night, every sip served contrast to his current wine regimen as a student— on top of anything faintly Robert Parker-approved he had tasted with his parents.
“In that one tasting my mind was open to flavors I didn’t know could exist in a bottle,” Poldoian described. “That level of age; people always talk about wine tasting of leather and dirt, or losing all the fruit flavor so that all that’s left are tertiary notes. Because my parents drank ripe, fruit bombs, I had never experienced that in a wine before.”
He returned to Boston to finish his senior year and while on assignment to pen a review for the school paper, he was again served up another aha wine by the French. Except this time in the form of a French grad student who bubbled over at the chance to recommend to Poldoian and his date the perfect pairing to the in-house-cave-rested selection unwrapped before them. Marcel Lapierre Morgon, an age-worthy cru from Beaujolais.
“It was insanely good, it felt alive in the glass, fresh, vibrant, it had verve, tenacity—it danced all over my palate.” Though the date ran its natural course, the well-crafted, quaffable gamay left a lasting impression. Excited by the revelation, Poldoian sent a photo to the senior wine enthusiast in his family who also served as the senior strategy adviser for Anheuser-Busch. His father.
“Oh Beaujolais? That’s shit wine."
Poldoian was unfazed and decided to gift him a bottle for Father’s Day, a tradition they still enjoy together. “It was the first time that my dad and I had a moment where my tastes deviated from his—it was exciting, it was a moment of me coming to my own senses about wine.”
After college, Poldoian, whose similar passion for food had him blogging and working summer jobs in the kitchen, sought to quantify both food and wine as well as his degree in Spanish Literature and Economics into a career. He entered a management training program with the Houston’s Restaurant branch of Hillstone Restaurant group and the next four years saw him bouncing from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Dallas and finally Houston. He learned how to run a wine program, but more importantly he learned the fine tunings of service: a body fleshed in detail and held together by the je ne sais quoi charm that can only come from within.
“The human connection, for me, is the most exciting part, it’s what energizes me.”
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Time was up on Texas and with the next strategic move within Hillstone upon him, Poldoian graciously declined. He had already fallen in love with Houston.
Under his direction, Camerata keeps it fresh by changing their by the glass menu every day and bottles every month. Visit him now at the OG location on 1834 Westheimer, and soon their second location in the Garden Oaks/ Oak Forest neighborhood.
Oh, and in lieu of a pet, or little human, Poldoian is an avid runner. In fact, claps please, he recently completed the London Marathon.
“What I love about running is it’s just me, it’s super quantitative in a way that wine sometimes isn’t— a competition with myself.”