The Ripple Effect of Master Stone

I met the man in 1997, at the Rubicon restaurant in San Francisco. Oblivious of its reputation, I fortuitously landed a job as a bartender at the world-renowned, establishment which boasted one of the best and most diverse wine lists in the country at the time. Owned by a prominent New York restaurateur, Drew Nieporent and his celebrity investors and partners, Robert DeNiro, Francis Ford Coppola, and Robin Williams, the restaurant was the spot to go to and be seen in the Bay Area within its newly booming tech industry. Back then, I knew that Cabernet Sauvignon was a red grape variety and Riesling a white one. Beyond that, my wine knowledge was laughable. But I was a damn good bartender, so they hired me. Later, I found out that it was partly because of my wine ignorance that they gave me the job. They needed a solid barkeep, not another Larry Stone groupie to bask in the limelight and suck the knowledge out of one of the best sommeliers in the world. Little did they know, I knew nothing about Larry Stone and seeing as how researching was an unknown tool for gathering information at the time, I could not care less. They called him Master Stone and spoke about and to him with reverence. I, on the other hand, was making great money and flirting with all the secretaries from the financial district, telling them embellished immigrant stories and topping their wine glasses with Gevrey Chambertins and Barolos without knowing what the grapes in these wines were. Then I started attending his Saturday afternoon wine tasting classes, and my life took an unexpected change in direction. Wine became my profession. Larry Stone grew up in Seattle, Washington. The only child of European immigrants, his mother, Rachel from Romanian, and his father, Irving, born in Tarnow, a historically Polish city, which back then was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Food and wine were always a vital component of his upbringing. His father worked at Pike Place Market in Seattle, supplying the family with fresh produce, and his mom was a fantastic chef. Larry made his first wine at the age of 14… from apples. While in college, his appetite for knowledge was incessant: literature, linguistics, music, art history, European and Asian religions, chemistry; he excelled in all of them. He even taught in his senior year. In his student years, while traveling in Europe, his appreciation for wine and food increased dramatically. It was then when his girlfriend at the time bought him the Alexis Lichine Encyclopedia of Wine, and he practically memorized the entire book. In 1981, to supplement his meager teaching income at the University of Washington, he applied for a wine waiter position (no one really knew what a sommelier was at the time) at the Red Cabbage restaurant, a local establishment known for its extensive wine list. The owner, very skeptical of this come-from-nowhere, self-promoting wine guy used Lichine’s Encyclopedia to test Larry’s knowledge. Guess what the outcome was? Yes, Stone got the job. The latter part of the ‘80s seemed to be the period that established and solidified Mr. Stone’s career in wine. In 1986, he won the first prize at the American Sommelier Competition. In 1988, Fred Dame nudged him into taking the master sommelier exams, given only for the second time ever in the U.S. He took and passed all three levels offered at the time: the intro, advanced, and master portion of the Court of Master Sommelier, all within a week. He was the ninth Master Sommelier in the U.S. Shortly afterward, in the same year, he proceeded to win a prestigious international French wine and spirit competition in Paris, a highly anticipated event dominated by the French for years. The competition was televised, and Stone stunned the audience and the judges with his knowledge and blind tasting skills. Now you know why they call him Master. After that, in 1989, he moved to Chicago, where after a short stint at Four Seasons, he became the wine director at Charlie Trotter’s restaurant. A job which allowed him to combine on the highest level his passion for food and wine and where he also formed some of the most important, lifelong friendships in the field. In 1993 he came back to the West Coast to open Rubicon in San Francisco. Its wine list quickly became its biggest attraction. Through his reputation and connections, Stone managed to amass an impressive collection of wines, some directly from legendary wineries like DRC, Jayer, and Gaja. I still have a copy of