Q&A with Ralph Kridner

Experience is the guide in customized tastings


Name: Ralph Kridner

What he does: Wine educator and restaurant and wine consultant who conducts guided tastings

Based in: Traverse City

Ralph Kridner conducts a guided wine tasting. (Courtesy photo)

Background: Five years as a tasting room manager in Michigan wineries. Holds Certified Specialist of Wine certification and Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certification at Level 2 with Distinction.

Q. How did you start doing guided tastings?
After years of working in wineries and (the) restaurant world, I knew that I love to educate people in fun and entertaining ways. I was working as a tasting room manager and trying to figure out how I could take my passion for wine and teaching people and bring it all together. The idea came about because of our friends. We normally have monthly parties at our house, and over time it turned into selecting a theme and everyone would bring food based on the theme. I would then provide wines to go with the food — and always give a fun little presentation about the wines.

Q. Who are your customers?
Pretty much anyone who either loves wine and wants to know more about it, or those who are interested in trying wine and want to understand more about it. Anyone who wants to drink wine are my customers.

Q. How does a guided tasting work?
Guided wine tastings and virtual wine tastings are all about wine, education and a lot of fun, all at the same time. I work with the group to customize their experience. They can let me do all the work, or they can select specific wines, wine regions and food options, including a multicourse meal. When the day arrives, if it is an in-person guided wine tasting, I bring the wines and everything that is needed. I provide time for them to enjoy their meals and wine between courses and along with all the fun, educational information. I tell a lot of dad jokes. When it comes to virtual guided wine tastings, I send everyone their wines, an invitation and Zoom link.

Q. What are some of the more unusual circumstances under which you have done a guided tasting?
Mostly virtual guided wine tastings. Having to transition from in-person to Zoom took time, and then there are technical issues. Once I was doing a virtual tasting for 30 people, and with about 20 minutes left, all the people disappeared from my screen. I asked if everyone was there and they were, but I couldn’t see anyone. So I kept doing what I was doing, and with about five minutes left, they all magically reappeared. Not knowing if you are talking to anyone was a little crazy. It all worked out, but it was a little nerve-wracking for a while.

Q. Your favorite guided tasting experience?
My favorite guided wine tasting was in Suttons Bay. A group was staying at a beautiful home located high on the hill. The views were incredible. I was able to work with a caterer to develop an outstanding multicourse meal with wine pairings. Being outside for a full meal and seven wines with that view was the perfect setting, and my clients were lots of fun.

Q. What do you want people to take away from a guided tasting?
That wine isn’t just for special occasions, you don’t have to be a wine snob and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Wine is fun and it can make an everyday meal into a special occasion. There are thousands and thousands of wines, and there is a wine for every occasion. If you are going camping, you can enjoy a boxed wine, wine in a can, or lower-priced, easy-drinking wines — there are delicious ones available at $10 to $15.  When you get together with friends who enjoy wine, you can showcase and share a wine that you find fantastic. You can take your time to really contemplate the wine and talk about it. Sometimes it is a $100 bottle, and other times it is a $24 bottle that is damn good. I also like to remind people that you don’t have to stick to the “wine snob” rules, like “drink red with steak and white with chicken.” This doesn’t always make sense. If you are having filet mignon and you have guests who don’t like red wine, you don’t force them to drink red because that is what you are supposed to do.

Q. And any general wine advice/words of wisdom?
I could go on and on here, but if I have to narrow it down to a few, I would say:

  1. Don’t taste three wines and decide that you only like Chardonnay. There are amazing wines around every corner, and to limit your wine drinking to Chardonnay because you took just enough time to find one wine you like is like having pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. And, if you try Cabernet Franc, for example, at one winery and don’t like it, you shouldn’t decide never to try another Cabernet Franc. It only means you didn’t like that one. They all taste different from winery to winery, so don’t give up on a grape after one try.
  2. Wine is meant to be sipped on, tasted and thought about. I see a lot of people treating it like a shot and then saying, “I don’t like that.” They are missing all the flavors and complexities by doing so.

Find out more at ralphkridner.com.

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