It's been a banner year for Paul Alexander. In mid-January the 37-year-old, U.S.-born Brit was tapped as the St. Regis Aspen's new sommelier (a position open for some time), and he recently achieved his Level 2 certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Not bad for a guy from the mean streets of working class central England ("The movie, "Snatch?" That was similar to the environment I grew up surrounded by," he confesses). Curbed Ski recently sat down with Alexander, a strapping fellow with a cheery, gregarious nature, and got the scoop on the "rejuvenated" St. Regis Aspen and Alexander's approach to wine.
If you like a bit of ninja with your wine, Alexander is your guy. He started practicing martial arts at a young age and eventually taught a combination of martial arts and self-defense (a bit of aikido here, a dab of karate and jujitsu there) all over the world, from Cairo to Prague. When he was 29, Alexander's mentor gave him the metaphorical boot, telling the lad he was too young to teach, because he didn't know enough about life (call it the Hard School of Siddhartha).
A longtime wine enthusiast, Alexander applied for a job as an apprentice "buttery manager" at Oxford's Christchurch College (who knew that Harry Potter's stomping grounds had labyrinthine cellars built in the 1500s?). This French term for barrel is literal, and harkens back to the original role of the sommelier, when barrels were stored in cellars rather than bottle. Alexander was captivated by the system, in which he learned to extract wine from the barrels, decant it, and present it to guests.
After two-and-a-half years in the role, Alexander was promoted to the "cellarer" position at Oxford's Wadham College, where he also began assisting with the purchasing of wine "I learned to taste wine from mentors in their 60s and 70s, who had been in the same job for decades, he says. "We were buying vintages meant to be cellared for up to 40 years, so essentially, they were buying wine for posthumous consumption."
Following an apprenticeship in Bordeaux that included working in a vineyard, and the birth of his son in 2013, Alexander "felt the need to raise the bar a bit," and decided to move into the hospitality sector. In November, he contacted St. Regis Aspen's Food & Beverage Director Rajesh Radke. In January, Alexander found himself touching down on U.S. soil for the first time since he was an infant. Says Radke on taking a chance on a relative rookie, "Paul impressed me with his passion for all things wine, and his enthusiasm to remain a student of his craft. I decided to give him a shot and what a start it's been! Within his first month he passed his Level 1 cert, and true to his word, he's now cleared Level 2 on his first go. We're proud to have him."
Alexander's primary goal for the revamped St. Regis wine program is to not only provide world-class connoisseur wines- the Opus Ones, if you will- but to build a profile of smaller, off-the-radar producers (including a roster of Italian labels, for the property's signature restaurant, Trecento Quindici Decano). "We have a great, fairly new F & B team and a fresh, community approach at the hotel," he says. "The St. Regis brand is known world-wide, but what I love about Aspen is that it's close-knit. The Little Nell, Jerome, St. Regis- all offer excellent programs that suit the character of the property. Our job (at the St. Regis) is to seek wines that fit our address."
One of Alexander's greatest strengths is his down-to-earth mien. "My job is to make people comfortable. It's not about me. I think that having a bottle of wine- whether it's a pairing, or just shared with a good friend- is an expression of the moment. Sometimes, what makes it great is that it was opened at a certain time in its life and played a part in that experience, which connects us to the wine, the food, the music, place, and people- the moment. We'll remember that forever."
Of his new life in the Roaring Fork Valley, Alexander admits, "I don't ski yet. But I've never lived anywhere that's so beautiful, with such a sense of community. People are considerate here, which is the word that I think best sums it up. I plan to stay here for a long time."
-By Laurel Miller