Somm Words of Wisdom

Lindsay Bennett, certified sommelier and owner of Norfolk’s Press 626 wine bar, on why chenin blanc is her go-to white, Virginia wines, mentoring women, blueberry farm life and more

by | Jan 1, 2023

Lindsay Bennett, certified sommelier and owner of Norfolk’s Press 626 wine bar

Women’s ascent is the wine world’s big buzz, but Lindsay Bennett has long been a leading certified sommelier locally. Her Press 626 in Ghent habitually earns Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence with a 450-bottle list for just 48 seats.

“About 75% of my list is under $100, so you can try something new and not break the bank,” she says. “It’s complete and balanced, not just eight million choices of $400 California cabernet.”

We chatted with Bennett recently about wine, women and more wine.

CoVa Mag: How did you wind up in wine?
Lindsay Bennett: I was bartending at Todd Jurich’s Bistro and sommelier Marc Sauter (now of Zoës) educated me about the wines we were pouring. He’d pull out maps, explaining specifics about regions and soils and diurnal trade winds off the coast of Australia. I was studying biology at ODU, planning to become an environmental lawyer, but the science and all the nerdy stuff coalesced into my loving wine.

With fires in Napa, frost in Burgundy, supply chain woes everywhere, anything to cheer about?
Well, there’s a recession. That’s not a good thing, but people drink more when they feel financially unstable.

Is this different from pandemic imbibing?
During quarantine people were a little more forgiving in their budget. Now it’s more quantity versus quality. The trend is less expensive, value-driven wines.

How has Press reacted?
We’re always tapped into affordability. I opened in 2008 when the market crashed and reworked my business plan from a high-end, dinner-only restaurant to casual lunch and dinner café. And I’ve found that people are open-minded to sampling different regions of the world. For example, they’ll try an Old World chardonnay which isn’t as heavily oaked as a big California chardonnay. Oak costs more, so this keeps the price down, but the quality is still very nice.

Tips for newbies?
Make the bartender your best friend. Don’t be afraid to sample something before buying it. If you’re at a place that won’t let you sample, you’re in the wrong place.

Your go-to wine?
Chenin blanc, personally and for my customers. You can drink it in any season, there’s all different styles from completely dry to off-dry to sweet, Old World and New. Whether guests want something creamier or softer or fruity, I can always put chenin blanc in front of them and they’re happy.

Thoughts on Virginia wines?
We’re still a new industry, learning by trial and error. It’s exciting. Cabernet franc is our superstar, but I’ve even tasted a tannat that was quite lovely. We grow decent chenin blanc, too. The source of the grapes is very important. They keep pumping out wineries which is not the same as vineyards, right? Like with anything, the cream will rise to the top. [Among Press 626’s Virginia wines are Michael Shaps and Early Mountain Vineyards.]

Innovations you fancy?
We love the Coravin [which lets you pour wine without uncorking the bottle]. One current offering with it at Press is The Feminist Party, a California red blend. A portion of the profits support the Hampton Roads Reproductive Justice League.

You’ve mentored many women.
Was that part of a master plan?
It just happened that my staff is heavily female, but everybody is welcome to join my wine family. I put many through their Level 1 and 2 sommelier certification. You can’t sell something that you’re not educated about, and passionately sharing the story of wine will make people want to take that journey with you. [She gives a shout-out to former manager Kiera Hill who opened her own business, Vino Culture in Downtown Norfolk.]

Do you want to advance beyond Level 2?
I have a 20-acre farm in North Carolina, a restaurant, a 12-year-old daughter, a husband and a dog. So, no! To become a master takes years. People take out loans so they can stop working because so much time is required.

A farm?
Last year, my husband and I purchased Wild Blue Acres with 2,000 blueberry bushes and picture-perfect views of the Albemarle Sound. I’ve always been a farmer in my head, I belonged to FFA. I can take a break there, work with plants and animals; that’s my heaven. I’ll be renting it on Airbnb and creating wedding events there.

Last words?
Have no fear. Start small financially, $10 or $15 a bottle. If it’s absolutely terrible, make sangria. Whether red or white, put a little booze in there, some juices, fruit, lots of ice. Call it a party!

Learn more about Press 626 at Press626.com.

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Categories: Archive | Drinks | People

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