Sitting with Somms • a #WAwine Interview Series

We recently sat down with Amanda Reed, Beverage Director at Heartwood Provisions. An Advanced Sommelier & award-winning mixologist, Reed has climbed rapidly in the ranks, heralded as one of the leading figures in the beverage space, both near and far. She got her start in restaurants in San Francisco, but has worked widely in the Seattle scene, as she’s been lead bartender at the acclaimed RN74 and General Manager of the one and only Tavern Law. 

What’s unique about her role at Heartwood Provisions, though, is that she is their very first Beverage Director. She has been at Heartwood since inception, so she’s been able to curate what she describes as an off-the-beaten path wine program. For thirty minutes on a sunny Seattle afternoon, we sat with Reed in Heartwood and talked all things #WAwine: her list, what she sees at cutting edge winemaking in Washington State, and her thoughts, in general, about wine culture today. We also asked her to pull a bottle that she is currently crushing. Her choice? See below: a 2018 Syncline Gamay from the Columbia River Gorge

There is no better month than Taste Washington Wine Month to sip local and social.

WASHINGTON WINE: Tell us a little bit about your role over at Heartwood Provisions.

AMANDA REED: I am the beverage director here at Heartwood Provisions, and for me, that is an all-encompassing role. We have a big focus on cocktails and pairing cocktails with food, but also a really fine wine program. Lots of Washington focus. Lots of local focus in general, for both our food and everything else we do here.

I've been here for two and a half years, before we actually opened. I was the first person hired and got to participate with all the concept development and design. I designed the bar and lots of our service and other concepts. Everything that we do here, I got to be a part of, which is really cool.

WW: How fun was that to be the first person in that role and assembling the wine list for yourself?

AR: It was great. It was a huge learning experience for me. I've managed bar programs and cocktail programs for years, but I hadn't managed my own program before. Our sister restaurant, Metropolitan Grill, has an incredible wine program and I've spent a lot of time there with their somms. In the early days, I sat in on tastings, and because we took so long to open, I really got to take my time to curate the list to exactly what I thought was the best fit for the restaurant. It was a very cool and humbling experience.

WW: Is there anything that you were able to do that might have been harder if you were at a different restaurant? 

AR: What's really cool about our program is the pairing concept. The creativity that a kitchen brings to the menu, there is a lot more openness, I feel, from our guests. I've been really fortunate to get to put on wines that I really enjoy and like to drink. I'm not pigeonholed into this concept of “everything needs to be Italian” or “state-focused,” you know? I get to have all the fun wines. We can do a lot of off-the-beaten path stuff, and I really love planning food-friendly wines that are well-priced, and that are going to be a really cool experience for people.

WW: What are some of the bigger changes that you've seen in the wine consumer world? 

AR: There's certainly been a movement towards awareness of where things are coming from and what we're putting in our bodies. I feel like the conversation about organic and biodynamic wines and farming practices is a lot more prevalent these days, too. And not just wine nerds, but you're average consumer, as well. I get a lot more questions about those kinds of things, which I think is great.

I love having those conversations with people. Although we're not completely represented by wines that are organic, we try to bring those on when it's fitting. And we definitely try to have a good assortment of those kind of things on our list.

WW: We asked you to choose a bottle of Washington wine for this conversation. Tell us a little bit about what bottle you chose and why.

AR: Speaking of biodynamic farming practices, I chose the Syncline Gamay Noir from the Columbia Gorge. I've been really loving wines that are coming out of the Gorge. They're a little bit more my style. The cooler climates are great for whites, which I have an affinity for. But also, reds that want acid and want brightness. And so this I think is a really stunning example of Gamay.

It's really neat how Washington has the ability to make such beautiful wines with so many different grapes. That's certainly unique, I think, to us here. The Gamay or Cabernet Franc from the Gorge have been some of my favorite wines. They pair super well with our menu. We have a lot of seafood — so it’s more of a white wine menu, in my opinion — but these lighter-style reds with softer tannins and nice acid are just delicious with our food. And it's noon on a sunny day in Seattle. What I want to be drinking is Gamay, so, cheers!

You could drink this on its own, but you could also really enjoy this with food, which obviously, here in a restaurant, is a plus.

WW: Are there other wineries or things about the Gorge that attracts you to their wines?

AR: The Gorge has, as you know, such complex soils, topography, and geology. It's pretty incredible. I love white wine, so I really love like what Savage Grace does. They have a lot of great wines that come out of there. There are Gruners that are coming out of there that are incredible. I've also been really enjoying Cabernet Franc from this region for a while. Idiots Grace does a really good Cabernet Franc from there that's very Chenin-like. It's got so much earth and that funk you want out of it.

WW: You went on our Road Trip program in 2014. How much experience had you had with Washington wine before, and how impactful was that trip for you in terms of your understanding of what's going on in Washington State?

AR: It was incredibly impactful. I moved from California in 2011, Living in San Francisco and working in restaurants in the city, you don't really see a lot of Washington. You see a lot more Oregon, and so it was a really new wine region for me to learn about. And prior to that experience, I had mostly been running cocktail bars. I had worked at RN74 — I was on the opening team there — so I had some introduction to Washington wine through that experience.

But it was very minimal up until that point. I had the best time on that trip. I just fell in love with the region, and the winemakers were all so great. I still, to this day, think it's one of the most well-organized and well-planned trips I've ever been on. I’ve been on a few wine trips at this point, but this one was so dialed in. All the details, you get to experience so much.

WW: What was something that surprised you about Washington Wine on that trip?

AR: I think it was really the diversity of grapes that are being grown out there. Obviously, you see Cabernet and Syrah, and the bigger style reds that are so popular. But there's so many great white wines coming out of Eastern Washington and these lighter style reds, as well. 

It’s interesting to me, with it being such a young wine culture, just how fun it’s been to just see it evolve, watch it grow, in the eight to nine years that I've lived here. It's completely changed and transformed. You're seeing all this great Grenache and Mourvedre, and all kinds of Rhone varietals have really taken off. There's just so much more depth to the grape profiles than you see in other regions in the world.

WW: What about a lasting impression from the trip, be it a vineyard or a winemaker or moment with another Road Tripper?

AR: I think it was really cool meeting the farmers, like meeting Dick Boushey. There's so much soul there. The rides through the vineyards, hearing the stories, and seeing how close everybody is, like the farmers to the winemakers. It seems like such a symbiotic relationship between all those folks out there. I was really impressed with that. I thought that was great. It felt really like a community. Not to say that California doesn't still have that, but sometimes you don't really feel that, you know? Where I think in Washington, it's still very much all heart and soul.

WW: If you could choose a Washington winemaker to sit down with and enjoy a bottle of their wine, and talk about what they’re up to, who would it be? 

AR: That's a good question. I love Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen. He's an old friend, as I worked at RN74, so I always love to hear what he's up to. He's always doing new cool stuff, so he is one. I'm a big fan of Ben from Cadence. He's so nice and he's a very humble character in our Washington wine community. There are so many, though. A lot of good people out there.

WW: What do you think surprise people who come to Washington for their first time?

AR: For out-of-towners, we see a lot of those folks because we're right downtown, and we're a destination spot for hotels and whatnot. And so we have a lot of people in here wanting to drink Washington wine, because they're here from somewhere else and they want to experience that. They know we do Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah, but a lot of times, they're really shocked that we do everything else.

For locals, there's always stuff to uncover. There are so many small winemakers that are not promoting themselves. You don't really see them on a lot of lists. They're just coming up, so I think that there's a lot to discover for both locals and for out-of-towners.

WW: How do you make wine accessible, or unintimidating, to people who don't know much about wine but want to?

AR: When you ask that question, it takes me to my trainings, because with my staff, we have a lot of young staff who are just learning about wine for the first time. Some of them have worked here for a while, so I've been doing trainings with them and we've been tasting bottles for a few years now. But for me, my approach with guests and with the team is really just to make it fun. It doesn't have to be serious.

Like, “Tell me what you taste." We don't all taste the same thing. Like, "What is this wine for you?" And talking about structural components, but also just trying to keep it simple, not wanting to inundate people with technical terms and winemaking techniques, and all that jargon that can intimidate people. That's certainly not what we're trying to do. We want to make wine fun. 

Especially people who are a bit more open-minded. If they're asking for recommendations based on what they're eating, that's always a really good gateway for us to introduce something that’s a little more off the beaten path. They want to drink red wine, but they're getting this scallop dish, but maybe there's a little bit of pork in there, and this Gamay is going to be delicious with that, you know? Just getting people the opportunity to experience how the wine plays with the food is a great way.

WW: What excites you about the future of wine?

AR: It's still hard to do wine and cocktails, but sweet wines are super fun. It’s fun to find, for example, Gilbert Cellars doing this late harvest Tempranillo that we use in cocktails. It's delicious. Those kinds of fun little oddball things are great. Or the Semillon that Amavi makes. There’s a lot of stuff out there that doesn't get a whole lot of press because people don't necessarily drink a lot of sweet wines, unfortunately. But those are fun pieces for our cocktail program.

As far as the wine industry itself, I think just continuing to watch it evolve because again, it's changed so much. We're sort of underdogs over here, and having lived in San Francisco all those years, where it's so established and it's got so much prestige, it's fun being part of a community that's finding its voice.

WW: If there's one characteristic trait that separates Washington from other wine regions that you know about, what would that be?

AR: It is interesting when you really start learning the details of our geology, like the Missoula Floods, which is something I learned on Road Trip. I had no idea about any of that so that.

We have these old world-like soil complexities to make such interesting, deep wines. I'm just curious to see how it's going to continue to progress and I love, again, the direction of more sustainable farming practices. I love seeing more women at the helm. It's all moving in the right direction, so it'll just be fun to see how it evolves.

Columbia River Gorge AVA (PC: Discover Washington Wine)

WW: If you could hop in a car right now and drive out to any of our wine regions or a vineyard in particular, where would you go?

AR: That's a good question. I actually haven't been to the Gorge. I love what Nate Ready is doing out there. That would be super rad. He's got farms and all that. It seems like a pretty epic experience, so I'd be interested in doing that for sure.

WW: What is something that people either misunderstand or misinterpret about wine or Washington wine as a whole?

AR: Merlot. We have amazing Merlot. People still have that weird prejudice against Merlot from the 90s and Sideways. I want to see more Merlot. We do a lot with blends, which I love as well, so not necessarily going single varietal. I tend to really enjoy the more right-bank style blend where you've got Merlot and a Cabernet Franc that are working together. The wines are just so much more approachable, especially when they're young.

Everyone wants to drink the wine right now. Nobody wants to let it rest. I find that Cabernet oftentimes can be so aggressive in its youth. I think Merlot gets a bad rap just all over the world, but Washington Merlot is freaking delicious. I would want to see people embrace that.

WW: If you were to describe Washington wine in one word, what would it be?

AR: So many synonyms. Hm, one word for Washington wine. Delicious? I don't know.

WW: How about an unword to describe Washington wine?

AR: Unassuming. There certainly are the wineries that are flashy and maybe they are a little more sought after nationally, or internationally, but most are just sort of nice, regular people making good juice. You meet the winemakers and they're the nicest people, and very accessible.

To experience Amanda Reed's wizardry in person, visit her at Heartwood Provisions at 1103 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98101. You can find more info about Heartwood Provisions as their website here and follow them on Instagram @heartwoodsea.