At Vernon’s Speakeasy, we know that the right wine can take a dinner experience from great to unforgettable. That’s why we take pride in our wine selections and hire only the best to ensure the quality of our wine collection.
Vernon’s has proven its excellence time and time again, most recently by winning the Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Award in both 2020 and 2021. The levels for this award vary depending upon different criteria but all restaurants awarded are judged based on the recognition of restaurants who offer wine lists with interesting selections, appeal to a wide range of wine lovers, and are appropriate to their cuisine. Wine Spectator includes a large range of restaurants in their consideration but only award just under 3,000 restaurants from 50 states and 72 countries internationally, making this award all the more prestigious.
Vernon’s is especially proud of its ability to win the Restaurant Award of Excellence during the height of COVid-19 in 2020. Restaurants suffered greatly—and still continue to battle—during the pandemic. Fighting not just to thrive but also to survive made keeping the doors open extremely difficult, let alone selling wine off wine lists. Vernon’s found creative ways to serve their customers at the same level of quality that gave them the full Speakeasy experience without compromising safety. And thanks to our incredible wine directors, patrons were able to enjoy beautifully paired wines with their gourmet dishes on the patio of Vernon’s.
2021 only further confirmed Vernon’s ability to thrive during adversity by winning the Restaurant Award of Excellence for the second consecutive year following changing COVid restrictions. Sean Cork, the current Wine Director, and Wine Curator is a large contributor to this success. Not only does Sean’s last name make him perfect for the position, his drive and thoughtfulness for crafting wine lists that add to the experience of Vernon’s are unmatched by other wine directors across the state.
Sean was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his loving parents and three siblings. He has worked at Vernon’s for eight years, and says he, “Has truly enjoyed my experiences with this second family”.
When asked about how Sean goes about researching the wine for the restaurant’s wine lists, Cork details, “In my position, it’s important to appreciate wine, but you also have to know your clientele. I have an immense passion for wine that started as soon as I entered the Service Industry. I consider myself a foodie and my love of food led me to be intrigued by wine. As I moved into fine dining service, I began doing my homework on wine. I wanted to be able to relate to my guests and conversations flow better when you have something in common”. Sean’s passion for quality wine sets him apart from other wine directors: “Knowing wine and appreciating wine are two different things, in my opinion. Knowing wine comes from tasting the wine, seeing the wine, and identifying the flavors on the pallet. But, appreciating wine comes from knowing the process that the wine went through, the history of the winemakers and the vineyards, the regions and climate that lead to the flavors you experience in the taste. If you do the research, you’ll taste wine in a whole new way”.
Cork also understands how to consider wine lovers in the responsibilities of his role as wine director; “When I am putting together a wine list there is a lot I consider, but first and foremost, I have to consider what our guests are looking for. Wine ratings are important, and anybody interested in wine should consider ratings and vintages. This will give someone a first impression of a wine they have not tasted. Wine.com is a great resource and I look at the ratings from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator. As a Wine Director for a restaurant, I have to consider what is going to sell in the restaurant”.
At Vernon’s, we believe the customer’s experience is of the utmost importance. To execute this, we make sure staff members are educated in fine dining experiences and prepare properly. Sean’s role is no exception to this and works hard to establish confidence in his coworkers’ abilities to recommend wines: “Trainings are important for the staff because if the staff loves the wine they are going to be able to describe the wine and sell it. It’s also important to be able to explain wines and how they will be experienced without food”.
Sean also explains how his decisions change based on the expectation of the venue, “Vernon’s is a steakhouse, so we rely more on red wine. Not everyone is looking for a big tannic red but instead looks for a balanced Bordeaux blend or velvety Pinot noir. Therefore, variety is important”.
Despite Cork’s outstanding creativity in times of adversity, he describes some of the challenges he faces as a Wine Director/Curator in contemporary times: “Currently, the world is struggling with this little thing called COVid-19. This has made ordering wine very difficult for the entire industry. We are constantly changing our wine list to accurately represent what we have. That’s a struggle right now, but it’s nothing we can’t and haven’t handled. It’s important to be able to adapt and know what flavors you were looking for in that wine so that you can find the next best available option”.
Sean Cork’s work as a Wine Director during the pandemic is a great example of the resiliency and creativity Vernon’s Speakeasy embodies, and we continue to strive toward excellence in the coming years. Thanks to great employees like Sean, we are able to give customers a unique and special experience, unlike any other steakhouse.