Stefanie Schwartz’s wine and restaurant experience has taken her up the eastern seaboard, from her hometown in Port St. John, Florida to culinary school in Charlotte, North Carolina and then eventually to the current city she calls home, New York, New York. After graduating with a BA in Culinary Arts in 2008 and then a BS in Food Service Management—both from Johnson & Wales’ Charlotte campus—Stefanie made her way to the Big Apple. Although she’d already had a string of restaurant jobs, her first official wine job was at Appellation, a small Chelsea wine shop. There Stefanie gained valuable experience and exposure to a wide variety of wines with a special focus on the sustainable, organic, and bio-dynamically farmed wines, as well as some of the lesser known esoteric and spiritual aspects of viticulture.
From there Stefanie spent time at the Greenwich Village hotspot, L’Artusi, as a cellar hand where she earned her stripes mapping the wine cellar and developing inventory systems for the 500-bottle wine list. Her next stop was Wine Spectator where Stefanie worked as an Assistant Tasting Coordinator for the famed wine publication, organizing and arranging blind tastings and assisting with the production of the magazine’s annual Buying Guide issue. She stepped back into the restaurant scene when she took a position at Michael White’s renowned restaurant, Ai Fiori. It was there she elevated and combined her knowledge of both fine wine and upscale restaurant service, which ultimately led her to her current role as Sommelier at Chef Charlie Palmer’s Michelin-starred Aureole. Stefanie works side-by-side with Wine Director Carrie Lyn Strong developing the restaurant’s expansive, award-winning offerings and guides through a wine experience each evening.
E: When did your career in wine first begin?
S: I’d have to say as an assistant tasting coordinator at Wine Spectator. This wasn’t my first wine related job, but it was a fantastic jumping off point, exposing me to the best producers and best European regions. It definitely opened my eyes to the volume that comes from certain regions. The amount of wine in the world is mind boggling.
E: Do you remember your first wine job?
S: At a small wine store in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Appellation. The store focuses on sustainable, organic and biodynamically farmed and produced wines. It introduced me to Rudolf Steiner and the more esoteric, spiritual aspect of viticulture.
E: Aureole is an iconic New York fine dining restaurant, can you describe what your typical day at work is?
S: We are located steps away from Bryant Park, and that brings in incredibly diverse guests. During the week, we have business lunches mixed with wine luncheons and pre-matinee diners. These are fun services to work. Dinner is a bit different, with more diners who made a special trip to be with us. These guests could have traveled from as close as the Upper East Side, or from Argentina. They are here to have a tasting menu with wine pairings, and take their time enjoying the food and wine.
E: Do you enjoy working with wine pairings?
S: Pairing wines with Aureole’s food is a blast. My favorite pairing right now is with the seared foie gras. Chef Marcus has this fantastic spiced waffle and bruléed maple foam with the foie. We have some stellar Sauternes selection for a classic pairing, but we have this Pineau des Charentes by Paul Marie et Fils that is magical with this plating. I love taking these dishes and bringing something unexpected, like the Pineau des Charentes, to the table.
E: How would you describe Auerole’s aesthetic?
S: Aureole has two dining rooms. We have our Aureole dining room, which is all prix-fixe, tasting menus and white table cloths. We do a lot of tasting menus. There is also the Liberty Room at Aureole, which is a la carte and more casual. When it comes to service, diners in both rooms deserve the same attention to detail. Whether the guest is ordering a $90 bottle of wine to go with burgers in the Liberty Room or a $1,300 bottle of wine to go with lobster in the formal dining room, there is no difference. Each wine is special to that individual table, and both should be treated with the same respect.
E: What advice would you give to the next generation of hospitality professionals?
S: This is a fast paced world, and can be high stress. Mise en place is so, so important. And keep your work stations clean! Empty bottles sitting around? Get those in recycling! They aren’t needed anymore, and seeing a clean work station with help keep your mind clear and focused.
E: Sancerre or bubbles?
S: Bubbles. Specifically a Brut Champagne or Raventos i Blanc Cava.
E: What karaoke song would you rock out to?
S: Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero. I also enjoy rocking a duet of Elton John & KiKi Dee’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. I’m Kiki Dee.
E: Do you have a favorite cocktail?
S: Does bourbon with a few rocks count?
S: No? Ok, I’ll take a vieux carre or sazerac.
E: What is your favorite wine on Auerole’s list right now?
S: Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2009. Yeah, it’s a baby Barolo. But it’s just so yummy! Light to medium bodied, silky tannins, crisp acidity, and classic aromas of violet, dried rose petal, and tar. Such a beautiful wine.
E: What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
S: Chicken feet. It was just weird. They tasted like wings, but not crispy because they were steamed. Maybe if there was some ranch to dip the feet in….
E: Do you believe in free will or destiny?
S: Yes, but not specifically one or the other. I believe that we all have a path to take, but there are many forks along the way. Depending on which fork we chose to take, we can in turn change our destiny.
E: What is the first thing you do in the morning?
S: Drink a large glass of water and roll out the yoga mat. Even if it’s just twenty minutes each morning, getting a few sun salutations in really awakens the senses and centers me for the day.
E: In three words, describe what it’s like working with wine.
S: Intellectual. Humbling. Inspiring.
E: Thank you, Stefanie!