A quick chat with Advanced Sommelier and owner of Épernay Wine & Spirits, Jenny Benzie.
N MAGAZINE: How did you become interested in the world of wine?
BENZIE: I graduated from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA, (now University of Mary Washington) with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. I thought I would do some domestic traveling for two years before going to grad school. I spent a winter waiting tables and skiing at Big Sky Resort in Bozeman, Montana, part of two summers working in tasting rooms at wineries in Oregon, a summer in Bar Harbor, Maine, followed by working on St. John in the US Virgin Islands where I got my first job in the wine business as a Wine Steward. When I finally left St. John, I moved to Los Angeles where I pursued my Advanced Wine Studies. Eventually, I wanted to be back on the East Coast, but some place warm, which landed me in the Palm Beach area as the Wine Director at Café Boulud. It was a natural progression to work seasonally on Nantucket for a handful of years before moving here year round when I purchased Épernay Wines & Spirits. I tell my parents they got their money’s worth out of my degree because I have been studying who drinks wine, with whom and where after working in all these locations.
N MAGAZINE: A good wine is…
BENZIE: This is challenging because a sommelier will always use quantitative terms to describe a wine such as high acid, medium alcohol versus saying a wine is good because your good and my good may not be the same thing. I think overall, though, a good wine is one that stands up for the time and place in which it is consumed – a crisp, dry Sancerre paired with oysters; a refreshing, easy drinking glass of Côtes de Provence Rosé after a long day of work, the most perfect Red Burgundy to drink as the air turns cool in the fall.
N MAGAZINE: What do you think is the most “versatile” wine?
BENZIE: The most ‘versatile’ wine is what I call a ‘middle of the road’ wine. It isn’t too big to offend someone, yet isn’t too light to not stand up for itself. It will pair with with a variety of foods and occasions. For white, I would recommend a blend from Southern Rhône and red would be from Ribera del Duero, Spain.
N MAGAZINE: What is your favorite food/wine pairing here on Nantucket?
BENZIE: Local Nantucket Oysters with Christian Moreau Chablis at CRU!!!
N MAGAZINE: What is your favorite bottle of wine available at Épernay right now?
BENZIE: Pol Roger Brut Champagne Non-Vintage. If it is good enough for the Royal Wedding, this is good enough for me! I recommend this more than any other wine at the store. It’s great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, sunset, boat ride, bachelorette party, birthday, anniversary, anything.
N MAGAZINE: Can you offer some thoughts on the recent rise in rosé popularity?
BENZIE: People that come to Nantucket during the summer love to travel and those travels typically take them to St. Tropez or St. Barth’s at some point. Drinking a glass of dry rosé is part of the daily culture in these locations, so it only makes sense that this has become the norm here on Nantucket as another beautiful seaside destination. It’s great to see such a diversity of styles emerging that are made from different grape varieties and wine regions.
N MAGAZINE: Are there any trends in wine for Fall 2015?
BENZIE: Beajoulais for sure, and it would be Cru Beajoulais (not just village level or the nouveau that is released at the end of November). We have people asking for specific Crus and specific producers from the region. Most of them are still small, family owned wineries that practice minimal intervention in their winemaking processes and are very affordable.
N MAGAZINE: Épernay is the only wine shop on island that is owned and operated by Sommeliers – how do you think that sets your store apart?
BENZIE: Coming into Épernay is more than just walking in to grab a quick bottle, it’s an experience. You go to the doctor who is a specialist in their field or the lawyer with the best track record, so it only makes sense that you would shop for wine and spirits at a store that will offer you the best advice. My background is in restaurants and hospitality, whereas Kirk Baker has experience in the wholesale and distribution channels, so we make a perfect pairing to bring you great value for the selection we offer along with the quality of customer service that should be expected. I have worked in different major wine markets in the United States (Florida, California, New York) and participated as a Sommelier at some of the nation’s leading wine events (Wine Spectator Experience, Pebble Beach Food & Wine, La Paulée). These experiences have enabled me to create a large network of relationships with other industry professionals here and abroad which has proven to be extremely helpful when working with clients who come to Nantucket from all over the world. Kirk and I challenge ourselves every year by immersing ourselves in different wine regions to continue our wine education and forge new relationships that we can bring back to the island and share with our clients.
N MAGAZINE: You have a fantastic website – complete with convenient online ordering! – can you tell us a little about how that works and what other special features your site offers?
BENZIE: The concept behind the website is all about convenience and taking the shopping experience outside the four walls of the store. Coming to island and want your beverage provisions at your residence before you arrive? Need more wine and but not the hassle of driving into town? Want to send a token of appreciation to your Nantucket host after you left island? #WEDELIVER! You don’t need to download an app in order to make your purchase, you just order straight from the website. You have the option of in-store pick-up (we can meet you curbside or at the back door as well) or we deliver anywhere on the island. You can also purchase gift cards or wine club memberships (a great gift idea itself) online, along with viewing the list of our upcoming Thursday night tastings.
N MAGAZINE: Épernay is so much more than just a typical wine store where customers come in, purchase their wine, and leave – can you tell us about the other things you do?
BENZIE: Épernay is more than just a bottle shop. We are the only wine store on island that has a Wine Station that enables you to sample a variety wines at anytime you come into the store, not just the bottles that are opened at our weekly wine tasting event EVERY Thursday from 5- 7 pm. In July and August, we also host a variety of liquor or beer tastings on Wednesdays and/or Fridays. The first Thursday of the month is our Wine Club pick-up party where non-members can also attend and get to taste two wines from each of our Wine Clubs (Village Level + Premier Cru Level). Because we sell beer, wine and liquor, this is your one-stop solution for the beverage catering no matter what size your next intimate dinner party or large event is! You can complete the Beverage Catering Form online to get a quick + easy proposal for your event. Kirk and I are also Sommeliers for hire if you would like to host a wine tasting event at your private residence, as a corporate holiday event or for your next formal affair.
N MAGAZINE: What do you love most about your job?
BENZIE: The people. My degree is in Sociology, so I love the story of where the wine is made and who made it, then being able to retell and share that story with our customers. I also love the hospitality aspect of being part of someone’s Nantucket experience, whether it be their first time on island or someone who lives here year round.
N MAGAZINE: If you were to make a time capsule with the 5 items that most represent Nantucket to you, what would they be?
– A pair of Jessica Hicks earrings
– T-shirt from Cisco Brewery
– An Épernay GoVino stemless glass (plastic and perfect for the beach or boat but still stylish!)
– A Nantucket Wine Festival poster
– And (obviously) a bottle of Champagne!