Foodie-in-Residence at the Helm ⎯ Q&A with Rick DeBlasio

General Manager, Shady Lane Cellars near Suttons Bay

Photo courtesy of Shady Lane Cellars
Besides serving as general manager at Shady Lane, DeBlasio has another title: “resident foodie.” With a degree in hospitality and restaurant management from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Mars Hill University in North Carolina, DeBlasio’s first jobs were all in restaurants — where his interest and passion for food and wine took root.
He spent six years at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., where he became responsible for running all guest operations “at the most visited winery in America,” he says. Five years ago, he left to accept the opportunity at Shady Lane.

Q: What brought you to Michigan?

My wife and I had some interest in moving to Michigan (my home state) and knew there was a blossoming wine industry here. I got connected with Shady Lane Cellars, and that is ultimately what landed me here.

Where does “resident foodie” come in?

Having a culinary background and overall passion for food — both the creative side of developing and preparing it, as well as the enjoyment of dining and experiencing the creative execution of others. We host events throughout the year at the winery and I enjoy developing those pairings, and working on those menus.

How does your food background inform your work at the winery?
I think it provides a lot of perspective — wine and food are so linked in their existence and experience that they can often inform each other. Wine and food I think both extend beyond the sum of their parts; they evoke a broader and deeper experience.

What are some of your favorite food and wine pairings?
I think sometimes we got lost in the classical and rigid thinking about food and wine, the old red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat and seafood. I like to deviate from that and find interesting alternatives, as well as food and wine combinations that might take you out of your normal comfort zone or preferences. Some examples would be eating spicy cuisine, say Middle Eastern or Indian, with bright, fruit-forward white wines like a Semi-dry Riesling, where on its own I may have a proclivity to pour a Dry Riesling. I also really like regionally focused pairings where the food and wine are mutually representative from the place they are found — a Pinot Gris from Leelanau Peninsula with fresh Great Lakes walleye is a wonderful match.
Do you find that visitors to Shady Lane like to talk food?
We put food pairings on our tasting menu, so it is often a point of discussion. People will say things like, “Ooh, I’ll try the Cabernet Franc and the Rosemary Roasted Rack of Lamb.” Other times they may inquire about a wine for dinner, or a special event they are hosting and look for recommendations. I think it helps people really engage with the wine. You can evoke a sense of place and experience. Food helps draw that connection.

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