Sep 12

Sara Kay’s Top 10 Cellar Management Tips

1.       Less Is More:

There are many schools of thought as to the proper system of cellar management. After working in many cellars with many different teams of people, they only constant I have found is that there are no finite rules. The best thing to do is to figure out what your organizational style is and go from there. Also, keep your system simple. If you are anything like me you constantly wish that you could jam another day in your day, but alas that is not possible! So set yourself up for success and make a system that hits all the basics and still fits into your already busy schedule. Remember “perfect” is much better in theory than in practice.

2.       Lighting, Temperature, & Positions are Everything:

  • Lighting- Wines should be away from bright hot lights! This goes beyond just sunlight. If you have a show cellar, you may be tempted to point some dazzling spot lights on your prized possessions, or if you are short on space you may want to put your cellar close to the kitchen and its heat lamps, but these are not good ideas. You want soft lighting at all times, with the least amount of heat emission possible. Anyway, it makes your cellar more romantic. (That  being said do not make it so dark that you cannot read labels… that slows productivity & can cause staff to pull and sell incorrect wines)
  • Temperature- Of course there is a perfect temperature for every bottle, and for the right price you can purchase a cellar that has special temperature controlled compartments for all of your exacting needs. But if you have a budget that is slightly less than out of this world, I recommend storing all of your wine–white, red and sparkling–at 50-59 degrees. (This is also a much more bearable temperature to work in then 35). It is also a great temperature range to taste both whites and reds, however keep ice baths on hand for serving sparkling…. and white for some of your customers who will not buy the “whites should not be beer cold” spiel.
  • Humidity- Swamps are good for very few things… and wine is not among them. Humidity can affect the temperature of your wine, but most importantly it will damage your wine’s label, which affects its value and presentably. Would you buy a $600 Bordeaux with a wrinkly, stained, and peeling label?
  • Position- It is true that not all wine needs to be laid down… but if you have space to then you may as well do it. (But make sure you can do it safely, so that the bottles do not fall and break, or hit someone in the head…. I have some war wounds.)  If you do not have space to lay everything down then I recommend that you find room to lay down your age-worthy wines, and sparkling wines, as they benefit from it the most.

3.      Follow Your Life Lines:

It is important to know the life span of each of your wines, this way you can strategize how to move your wines before they die. It benefits no one to store dead wine, and more over it does your program damage to serve it.

4.       Be Flexible With Your Storage:

I know how tempting it is to design a cellar with a perfectly fitting sleek little spot for each bottle, however if there is one constant I have noticed in wine is that there are NO Constants. A wine program is a living, growing, changing entity. So your storage area should be equally flexible.  You should be able to add and subtract wines with little effort, and without having to totally overhaul your tracking and organizational system with every new order.

5.   Make A ½ Day Every Week “Cellar Time”:

Let me start by saying that if you cannot stand detailed, repetitive tasks, then you should not be in charge of keeping your cellar in order, so find someone on your staff whose temperament and integrity fits the task. If you are up to the challenge, I recommend making a half-day of every week “Cellar Time”. I recommend doing this on the day of your deliveries, or the day after. I also recommend that this not be a busy business day for you. That way you can be focused on the task at hand. This is the most effective way of tracking your wines, putting them in their place, creating strategic sales tactics, and keeping an up-to-date log of purchases, loss, breakage, and theft.

6.       INVENTORY!!!!!!!-

This is the most tedious and also the most essential thing you can do for your cellar. It is the best way to know exactly what you have, find wines that have wandered to the wrong place, and also ones that have wandered away. I always recommend doing this with a team of two people, so that one person can find the wines, and one person can record them. This also creates a built in checks and balance system so that no one has an opportunity to fudge the numbers. I recommend doing this quarterly. (Spot checking is not sufficient!)

7.       Don’t Have Too Many Hands in the Cookie Jar:

Obviously everyone that sells wine will have to be able to navigate the cellar. However, I find it wise for there to be just one or two people in charge of entering wines into your system.  There is less room for error, or unexplained mysteries this way.

8.     Make Your Key Easy To Read & Update:

It is important to have a key that tracks your cellar, and that is organized in the same fashion as the list that your guests see. This make navigating it easy for everyone. Here are some basic things that you should consider including in each wine entry on your key:

  • Bin number
  • Location/Locations Stored
  • Full Title of the Wine
  • Vintage
  • List price
  • Your cost
  • Distributor
  • Date Purchased
  • Importer (if applicable)
  • Life Line
  • Notes- i.e.: fun facts, aging notes, discounts, replacements.

9.       There are NO Good Vibrations:

Keep your cellar away from vibrations! This means anything from a jackhammer, to bass from your hip Friday night DJ. It can disturb sediment, improperly age wine, and in extreme cases knock wines out of storage and break them.

10.     Do Not Buy More Then You Can Hold:

I know that closeout  sales seem all too good, but as one who has worked on every end of the sales chain of this industry… they come around all the time. It does you no good to buy more then you can store. If wine cannot be stored properly it kills your investment. Also if you over-buy, you could be blowing your budget.

I hope these tips help!

Please feel free to post any thoughts or success stories. 

As always if I am in your area I am available for all your cellaring needs.


Sep 12

Sara Kay’s Carnitas!

Sara Kay’s Carnitas!


Pulled Pork Base!

Prep Time:10 min Cook Time: 3-3 ½ Hrs Difficulty : Easy, but time consuming.



Tools Needed:

  • Cheese Cloth
  • Cooking Twine
  • Large Dutch Oven
  • Sharp Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Bowl
  • Tongs
  • Big Spoon


  • 3 Sprigs of Marjoram
  • 3 Sprigs of Thyme
  • 1 Tbs of Coriander Seed
  • 2 Bay Leafs
  • 3 Smashed Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 Med Yellow Onion
  • Cooking Spray
  • 2 Tbs of Maldon Sea Salt (This stuff is the best… if you have trouble finding it I will help you)
  • 1 Tbs of Cracked Blk Pepper
  • 3 Lbs of Boneless Pork Shoulder (Sometimes the package will actually say Pork Roast for Carnitas. Make sure it is not marinated or brined)


  • Cut Onion into quarters, leave the core on but peal skins of.
  • Cut aprox a 1ft square of Cheese Cloth, & a 1 ½ ft of twine.
  • Doubled over the cloth so that coriander seeds do not fall out.
  • Put coriander seeds, marjoram, thyme, garlic, & Bay leafs in cloth, gather cloth up around them and tie off top with twine so that it looks like an herbal tea bag.
  • Spray pot w/ cooking spray then arrange onions around the edge of the pot and your herb pouch in the center (Make sure to leave the excess string draped over the side of the pot so that you can retrieve it later)
  • Heat Pot on medium.
  • Cut Pork in to 1 ½ to 2 in cubes (Leave the fat on!!!)
  • Arrange the pork cubes evenly around the bottom of the pot.
  • Cover with water (about a liter should do)


  • Let simmer for 2 ½ Hrs, flipping meat with tangs ever ½ hr
  • Skim the foam that rise to the top with the big spoon (This is what the spoon and bowl are for)
  • At the 2 ½ mark the meat should start to separate, when this happens, fish out the herb pouch and onions
  • Turn up heat slightly and stir occasionally until all of the liquid is absorbed into the meat and it is completely shredded, tender, and juicy


Best served as:

  • Taco Filling
  • On its own with some lime wedges
  • Next day with some BBQ Sauce

Best Wine Pairing:

A full bodied Rose!

I enjoyed mine with Dm du Grand Bouqueteau, Chinon Rose 2005, which surprisingly still had a fair bit of life in it!

I am finding all sorts of hidden gems in back rooms of dusty liquor stores down here in the RGV.

If you try this recipe please let me know how it turned out!

Happy Eating!

Sep 12

Sara Kay’s Top 10 Service Tips

I have always believed that good customer service is the most important part of any successful business. This is especially true in the food service industry, because your Chef may be amazing, your wine list may be to die for, but if the customers are treated poorly they will not come back & will most likely smear you in every Social Media outlet available. Here are 10 Tips I feel translate to good service no matter if you are Fine Dinning or Fast Food.



1.       It is all in the Timing:

Your guest should never be kept waiting or wondering. You should try and anticipate their needs. You cannot always control what is happening in the back of the house, but you can control what your customer experiences. So frequently check in, and if there is a delay keep them informed in a positive way. People would always rather be informed then neglected. And I find when you get people their orders in a timely fashion they are likely to stick around and order more, and most importantly they are more likely to return!

2.       Know Your Product:

It is your job as a server to know your menu and concept inside and out. (This should not be an assignment your manager should have to give you) When you are informed you can quickly answer any question thrown your way, and excite your guests. Excited guests are happy guests and that means more money for everyone.

3.       SMILE:

No one likes to be served by tiered, grumpy, winey, bitchy, or snooty person. When you are at work you should leave your personal issues at home, or at the very least in the break room. The more pleasant you are to your guests they more they will return the favor. And the more pleasant you are to your co-workers and management the overall tone of your work place is better, and that is good business for everyone.

4.       Be a problem solver:

If your guest has a question or problem, try and find the quickest solution possible. If you do not know the answer, offer them your best guess, and let them know that are going to find out for sure….. Then go find the answer and get back to them ASAP.

5.       Take Ownership:

Of course every establishment has its own sets of rules and procedures, but there is always room to be yourself. Take pride in your guest interaction, and create some extra steps of service that are unique to you, It always leaves guests coming back for more.

6.       Cleanliness Is Next to Awesomeness:

It goes without saying that hygiene is important in food handling. This goes beyond washing your hands. The joy of food is a sensual one, and if you are serving it you should not interfere with it. You should look and smell squeaky clean…. And yes this can be achieved even if you are tattooed from your nose to your toes, or a have a heaping hive of dreadlocks. The trick is to look attentive and alert, and do not SMELL of ANYTHING!!!! Say NO to cigarette smell, coffee breath, essential oils, perfumes, strong hair products, or BO! And always have a lint roller J you may love your pets, but your guests should not know you have them.

7.       Help a Brother Out:

No matter if you work for a tip pooled house, an everyman to himself place, or you are hourly with no tips…. Service is a team sport, and if one man goes down you all suffer. If you see a team mate is having a problem and you have a chance to help… DO IT!!!! The favor will be returned. And with this everyone wins, especially your guest.  

8.       Know Your Food Allergies: (And don’t be a hater)

Food allergies are a real and growing problem. This goes hand in hand with knowing your menu. If a guest informs you they have a food allergy help them find a food they can enjoy, and if there is nothing suitable for them on the menu, be honest with them about that as well. Do not be annoyed by this! I promise it is more annoying for them to always be afraid of what they can eat that it is for you to find out if your coleslaw has dairy  in it. And NEVER should your customers be at risk of an allergic reaction out of laziness or spite. Common Allergies Are:

  • Gluten
  • Nuts (Peanuts or Tree nuts)
  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Shellfish
  • Seafood
  • Mushrooms

9.       Best Your Self:

Healthy competition with your co-workers is OK, but healthy competition with yourself is the BEST! I challenge you to pick a new item on the menu each week and become an expert on it. Try and know as much about it, get the most people excited about it, and sell the most of it as possible. This will have great positive effects on everyone.

10.   Create a Community of Regulars:

Take time to know your guests. Acknowledge and thank them for repeat visits. Learn their likes and try and surprise them with new treats they would like. Everyone likes VIP treatment, and when you do it sincerely it feels good to give it as well.



Hope these tips help. They are just a few thoughts I compiling while developing my new service training module. I would love any feedback.

Sep 12

Chardonnay… It’s Not Just Cougar Juice

 I have never been a big fan of clubs or cliques  as I feel like they limit people  from amazing experiences… and there is one such club in the wine world that DRIVES ME NUTS!!! That is the ABC Club, AKA the Anything But Chardonnay Club.

I am going to say it: I am a Sommelier and I am absolutely bat-shit crazy in love with Chardonnay, and I love it in all its forms.

That is correct, there are many different forms of Chardonnay, not just the over-oaked, toasty, buttery Chardonnay from CA that is the bane of the ABC club, and has also achieved the absolutely fabulous name of “Cougar Juice”.                

Let’s go back to the beginning of this noblest of all the noble white varietals.  Historically Chardonnay’s homeland is France, most notably in Burgundy and Champagne… that’s right all you ABC-ers… I said Champagne.  There are many different styles of Chard in Burgundy and I invite you to explore them all, however some are pricier than others. For the purpose of this article I will break it down to two styles: Oaked and Un-oaked. If you are part of the ABC club, or you just prefer a crisp clean citrusy style of white, I would like to direct your attention to Chablis. I am not talking about the cheap swill that is produced in the USA, and was super popular in the 70s. I am talking about the region in the northernmost reaches of Burgundy. They have always been all about chardonnay, and the pure expression of the grape, and the terrior (soil, climate etc). That means they do not use oak usually, because they want to show the natural crisp acidity of the grape. You can also find some nice unoaked or slightly oaked options in the Macon which is Southern Burgundy, and they are super cost effective to boot. In between these two regions is where  arguably the most beautiful expression of grape and oak exists, and  I must say I am frequently won over by that argument. Two of the best, yet sadly usually the most expensive, areas you can find these are Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet. These wines do see oak… French oak, and usually with a soft hand so they often express notes of golden apple, golden raisin, white flowers, vanilla, and brioche with a strong acidic back bone. 

I do love Burgundy…. But I also love the myth behind how Chardonnay came to be planted there. I have heard many variations on this story,  so now I will tell you mine. At this point I recommend you pour yourself a nice big glass of Chardonnay and get ready for story time.

Back in the days of yore & yester year King Charlemagne spent much of his time in Burgundy, which at the time was planted all to red grapes. He also apparently was quite the booze hound, and much to his chagrin he spilt the red wine all over his big fluffy white beard thus staining it. His wife did not approve of his boozy ways, and his scarlet beard often got him in trouble.

Charlemagne found himself in a bit of a pickle: he did love his wife and wanted to make her happy. Surely there was a way to so this, and most surely it did not involve quitting drinking, but what was to be done? He thought long and hard and outside the box. After much experimentation he discovered that white wine took out the red wine stains from his beard (FYI this is a real thing… email me if you want tips for stain removal). He also found that Chardonnay was the best white grape for the region viticulturally speaking, and, like me, he thought it was super tasty!!!

So he decreed there be a fair balance of Chard to Pinot Noire and Gamey planted in Burgundy so that he could drink red wine the first half of the day and then switch to white wine to clean his beard before returning home, thus fooling his wife into thinking he had not been drinking from noon to night. And in this way he kept the love of both his wine and his wife.

As I also briefly stated, Chardonnay is also a large player in Champagne. I will only speak of this briefly, as this article is not about bubbles. I only mention the Champagne connection to try and further break down the walls of the ABC club. If you enjoy a good Champagne Cuvee or even better a blanc de blanc…. You enjoy Chardonnay! There are only three grapes allowed in Champagne production: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, & Pinot Meunier.

When we venture outside of France, we can look at Chard the same way, Un-oaked v Oaked. If you are of an oaky persuasion I urge you to explore California, Australia, South America, or South Africa. If you want oak with a soft hand but you do not want to pay the price of Cru White Burgundy, I would recommend looking to Spain, Northern Italy, or Greece. And if you are hesitant to leave the ABC club, check out the pacific north west of the USA, Chili, & Australia marked “un-wooded”. I will say this: there are many more un-oaked Chards on the market right now, for two reasons.  The first is a simple market response to the ABC club. The second is that new oak barrels are super expensive, and global economy really sucks right now, so stainless steel is half the cost or less to produce… how lucky that un-oaked chard is trendy right now.

I will close by saying Drink Chard, however you prefer, just do not shun it. It is one of the oldest and most noble grapes for many reasons. It accepts more wine making techniques than any other with grace and ease. It has a great amount of acid which makes it a perfect food pairer, as well as being a naturally full bodied white, allowing it to stand up to even the most overbearing dishes. And finally, it is super comforting and tasty! When I am having a really really bad day nothing lifts my spirits more than a big toasty buttery Chard (Cougar Juice) and mac-n-cheese. BEST PAIRING EVER!!!!!


Here are three of my current favorite Chards:

Cougar Juice:

Frank Family Chardonnay

Napa Valley 2010








Medium Bodied:

Domain D’en Ségur, Cuvée Madeleine

Côtes-du-Tarn 2009 (A SW French Delight!!!!)





Fresh & Fruity:

West Cape Howe Un-Wooded Chardonnay

Western Australia 2011