Brent Karlicek, Beverage Director of Upward Projects, on Buying Wine for Postino and Keeping Prices Low
Brent Karlicek behind the bar at The Windsor.
It's tough to imagine a local wine cafe as popular as Postino. There are four locations around the Valley, two in the works for the East Valley, and one more only weeks away from opening its doors in Denver. If you've ever been to Postino — and of course you have — you already know all about the wine bar's approachable wine list and $5 until 5 p.m. happy hour deal.
For those wines, you have Brent Karlicek, beverage director of Upward Projects, to thank.
We caught Karlicek on the phone earlier this week to chat about what it takes to be the beverage director of a restaurant like Postino. When he answers the phone, he sounds slightly out of breath, and he tells us that he's in Denver putting the finishing touches on the new Postino restaurant. "You should see this patio!" he says. Apparently, it's huge and has a great view of the Denver skyline.
Karlicek says it wasn't a straight path that led to him becoming the beverage director of one of the Valley's most successful restaurant groups. "I grew up outside of Boston and dined in the city on a regular basis. Wine was not part of the dining experience outside of the house, but I had a huge love for the creativity of the [restaurant] industry." After moving to Santa Barbara, where he worked in restaurants that focused on wines of the region, he made his way to Arizona and landed a job at House of Tricks in Tempe.
"I was given an opportunity by Bob and Robin [Trick] to take care of the wine program. They took great care with selection and storage . . . the level of execution was really exciting." His passion for serving wine led him to the LGO Hospitality group, of which Postino Arcadia was part and where he was able to assist with wine programs for La Grande Orange and Chelsea's Kitchen as well. Eventually, Upward Projects split off from LGO Hospitality, and the rest is history.
An afternoon on the Postino patio is well spent, especially with a glass of its exclusive Stagedive Pinot Noir.
"The amazing thing is that no two days are alike," Karlicek says. "Each one has its unique set of experiences and challenges." That being said, a typical day for the beverage director could involve anything from developing relationships with importers to securing exclusive wines, traveling to California to connect with producers, blending custom products like Postino's StagedivePinot Noir, and gathering with his restaurant teams during pre-shift meetings to review wine, beer, and spirits.
"A lot of work is on the operations side, ensuring that the training process for our teams and the functionality of all our bars is seamless," he says. "As we've grown, we're very grateful that we've developed a larger team and network. A lot of the things I used to do one-on-one . . . now it's about developing leaders, getting to a place where you empower others."
We asked how he has been able to consistently source quality wines at competitive prices. "We have some pretty incredible relationships," he says. "Certain suppliers have been fundamental in understanding our very specific needs and bridging the gap in what we need." He connects directly with importers who keep an eye out for products specifically suited to Postino. "About 65 to 70 percent of our program is exclusive to us," he says. "Those relationships and consistent dialogue keep us in a place of knowledge."
As for the cost for consumers, Karlicek says it's all thanks to guests at the restaurants that the glass prices stay so low. "Our amazing customers allow us to have spectacular buying power, and we're using it," he says.
Karlicek says there's a unique strategy in designing the ever-changing wine lists for Postino. "We're looking to appeal to so many people," he says. "You have to have Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, the varietals that people are comfortable with." Karlicek says he works to select bottles that are representative of those varietals, while also trying to bring in other types of wines, like Monastrell, to encourage guests to stretch outside their comfort zones.
Mostly, Karlicek says he's grateful to his customers who have made Postino one of the busiest restaurants in the Valley, for his suppliers, and his teams that work on the ground floor each day. We asked him if he ever noticed any faux pas of those new to the world of wine, but he can't think of any. "I don't think I have the right to pick anyone apart," he says. "I'm just so happy that when I walk into the restaurant, people are drinking wine."
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