Q&A with Blackberry Farm’s Andy Chabot

Andy Chabot is known as the Wine Geek — and for good reason. 

Chabot graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, moved to East Tennessee and began his career with Blackberry Farm in 2002. He quickly became involved in the young wine program and in less than six years, the cellar grew from 17,000 to 166,000. In 2007, Chabot became the Director of Food and Beverage, running all aspects of service and beverage operations at Blackberry Farm.

In 2022, Chabot was promoted to Senior Vice President of Food and Beverage for Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain. Chabot has been featured in Imbibe Magazine, Wine Spectator Magazine, Food & Wine Magazine, The TODAY Show, Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40, and more.

NWA Volunteer Sommelier Team with Andy Chabot, Steve Taylor and Logan Griffin. Photo by Weatherly Photography

Chabot joined us in February for The Incomparable Indulgence In the Inner Circle dinner at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Logan Griffin, Director of Food and Beverage at Blackberry Farm, also attended the dinner. We couldn’t think of anyone better to share insights on the wine lineup than the Wine Geek himself! After the dinner, Chabot shared more of his expertise with Nashville Wine Auction. 

What drew you to a career in wine?

I was a cook who went to culinary school because I loved restaurants. But it turns out, I didn’t know all the avenues you could take in food and beverage. While working at The Little Nell in Aspen as a cook, I realized that perhaps the “wine guys” were having more fun than I was having. I went back to school and then began looking for work in the dining room – hopefully to eventually focus on wine. I found Blackberry Farm and when I started, the owner, Sam Beall, was running the wine program which was in its infancy. I was able to begin helping him to grow the program and the rest is history!

What are some of the highlights of your career so far?

This is difficult to answer — there are so many high points over the last 21 years at Blackberry. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the very best chefs and wine personalities. We’ve won numerous James Beard Awards during that time, which were certainly highlight moments. But generally speaking, I love that we’ve been able to ensure that Blackberry Farm and Walland, Tennessee are talked about in the same sentence as the other top restaurants and hotels in the world. It’s always humbling to see that.

You receive many invitations with your illustrious background. What made you decide to accept an invitation to moderate this dinner? 

There is a great wine community in Nashville that has always been very friendly and generous. I honestly was honored to be asked to be a part of this dinner and when I knew Mr. Taylor was donating the wines, I knew it would be one of the top tastings I’ve ever gotten to be a part of! 

Andy Chabot, Steve Taylor and Logan Griffin. Photo by Weatherly Photography

When Steve Taylor was putting together the wines that he wanted to donate for this dinner, he very purposefully coursed together a side by side tasting of some of the most critically acclaimed vintners/wines from California and from France.  Please share your thoughts on the experience of showing and tasting these wines together.  

I said this during the dinner — and I continue to believe it — this was a really fun experience. I think what’s so special is that while trying wines of this caliber, you can still have fun. What made it fun to me other than the incredible caliber of these wines was that with each course, there were several pairings available, and I love getting to try food and wine together to see what I think works really well and things that don’t. This dinner gave me that opportunity at the very highest level.

Are there general descriptors that you might use for someone comparing say a sauvignon blanc/blend from Sancerre, Bordeaux and California – to determine their palate preference? 

Generally, yes. While all will be racy, fresh and mineral-driven, I find that Bordeaux whites that often include Semillon can be a bit waxier and often they will have some oak presence. Sancerre is clean and chalky, with some more pronounced green pepper and herbal characteristics. California versions often have more pronounced tropical flavors. In this case, the Eisele Vineyard really showcased the Sauvignon Musque in the blend which lends a unique grapey and melon type of aroma to the wine that I thoroughly enjoyed. The Haut Brion Blanc was dominated by Semillon that gave it that waxy, honeyed note, while the Silex from Dagueneau was racy, lean, and mineral-driven. A great flight!

This menu (linked at left) includes one course with all five of the first growth Bordeaux from 1996. Can you describe this experience in such a way that it would resonate with someone early in their wine exploration?  

I think that many people study Bordeaux early on in their wine exploration. It has a ton of history and a clear classification system. But rarely do we get to try the top growths and certainly rarely next to each other. 

To begin with, in Bordeaux, the Chateaux and the wine made by the chateaux are what are classified. They were originally classified in 1855 based on their reputation and price at the time and that hasn’t changed much since then. 

There are 61 “Crus” or classified wines and they’re rated as Premiers Crus, Deuxiemes Crus, Troisiemes Crus, Quartiemes Crus or Cinquieme Crus. There are only 5 Premiers Crus: Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut Brion, and Chateau Margaux. 

Of those five, four of them are in the classic left bank part of Bordeaux known as Medoc, while the Haut Brion is in Pessac Leognan to the south but still on the right bank. 

The 4 Medoc wines were similar in their blend and had similar tasting notes to me. Cabernet Sauvignon dominated with either Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot backing them up. The Haut Brion was dominated by Merlot.

I thought it was great to try these wines with age. First off, because 1996 was a really great vintage on the right bank that year that many would call “classic” so it was just a pleasure to get to try these wines. 

But I like tasting wines like this with some age mostly because I think they really show their personality and unique characteristics and slight flaws that to me make the wines interesting and different from one another. Had we tasted them all very young, I think they would have seemed more similar to each other. 

For me, the Chateau Latour won the night, with beautiful deep fruit, power, intensity, purity, and still a youthfulness that is a hallmark of a great night. But trying any one of them alone, I would have been floored – they were all great!

Many wine collector dinners include vintages of the same wine. For example, you attended a 28-year vertical tasting of Masseto event that the Nashville Wine Auction hosted a few years ago.  From the perspective of an expert at food and wine pairing, how would you contrast pairing food and wine at this dinner with so many grape varietals represented versus a vertical experience? What are some of the challenges you see when doing food pairing for a large vertical of the same wine? 

The biggest challenge to me is overcoming the idea that it is going to be a pairing. Sometimes, it’s best to simply understand, it’s an incredible wine tasting with a great meal but not a perfect pairing because you want the menu to progress and naturally nobody wants to eat five courses of the same food! 

The second challenge to me is how to organize the wines so everyone knows what they’re drinking and when, but also so that the groupings or flights make sense with one another. Guests will often compare wines within a single flight so we always owe it to the wines to be paired fairly or an otherwise great wine might get passed over.

Photo by Weatherly Photography

What are some of the classic pairings you recommend with some of the wines that were shown at this dinner? 

For the dinner we did, there were several great classic pairings shown. We had oysters with Sauvignon Blanc. Another great pairing would maybe have been a light salad with mustard vinaigrette and sheep’s milk cheese.

With the Chardonnay flight, we had an Apple & Parsnip bisque with crab, brown butter and pancetta. It was a really nice pairing. I also like pasta with butter sauce and black truffles, or seared scallops, or lobster — basically shellfish and butter are great with Chardonnay!

With the Pinot Noir flight, we had a stylized cassoulet which was lovely. Simple food is best for great pinot noir, and simple food without sweetness is necessary since sweet tends to mute the fruit in Pinot Noir. I really like simple light meat dishes like chicken, guinea hen, or even duck or lamb with roasted veggies and maybe some mustard which is always nice with Pinot Noir. 

Then we had the two cab flights with elk and beef. Two great pairings. I wouldn’t have done anything different! 

The crème brûlée with the Chateau d’Yquem was great. I also like fruit desserts like Tarte Tatin, which would be another classic pairing!

What inspires you most about the wine community? 

The wine community is dominated by people that want to share great experiences and to learn. At every level, those are the two things I notice and what inspires me about the wine community. It’s what I love about it. We never stop learning, and we all share with each other!

Thank you to Weatherly Photography for capturing this dinner. See the full gallery here.