Wine is my favorite storyteller (sorry Dad, you’re a close second). As General Manager at Compass Rose, you’d hope that would be the case for me. I marvel in its worldwide tradition, with its wealth of data that range in everything from geopolitics to weather—even its ability to tap into the human psyche. While I love to geek out on wine processes and profiles—and I always enjoy the company it comes with—I believe the real goal of wine is to feel captured by its ancient grace. I grew up in a world revolving around food and beverage—both personally and professionally; every bustling night at Compass Rose sets the scene to continue to learn by being surprised and delighted. By enjoying something new, we are all transported through time and space, back to original meanings and experiences. GRAPES, AM I RIGHT?
Lots of love from Georgia: Me and a few wine glasses
While I have long loved wine, as many do, I never expected my journey to lead me to Compass Rose, where I can advocate for (and prioritize!) non-traditional varietals and regions. To the initial chagrin of many, you’ll seldom see the comforting French and Italian varietals of your early years of imbibing on our menu. We’ve replaced them with wines from Kakehti, Georgia or the Bekka Valley in Lebanon; taking the opportunity to explore grapes like Georgian Mstvane and the Lebanese Merwah.
When this surprisingly daunting task to find the lost grapes of the world was initially presented to me by our own Rose Previte, I was hesitant. I questioned why I hadn’t heard of so many of these wines, wondering if they were any good—was this just another example of my own lack of experience? I wondered what people would think, especially in DC. It is safe to say I was intrigued enough by the challenge to immerse myself in a whole new world of wine. I dove into “eccentric” wines, immediately impassioned with my discoveries. My mission was made abundantly clear: How can I make the unfamiliar familiar?
To be honest, before I could even begin to unpack the wonderful world of wine, I had to take a moment to reflect on my complex relationship with bread. Stay with me.
My parents are surfers at heart, bakers by trade, and teachers by choice. Think 'Captain Fantastic' but Catholic, and more water than mountain. They are also the loving parents of seven children, with myself as the appointed ringleader of six (wild) younger brothers. To top it all off, they homeschooled all of us. I can say without hesitation that my childhood was a far cry from the typical Southern California tale, and I haven’t even gotten to the part with the bread.
The Bastasch bunch on the beach, circa 2010
Out of necessity I learned to bake bread. There we were: me and my parents, crafting an all-natural bakery out of our home kitchen. We would wake up early in the morning to surf, bake and then sell bread to the local stores. Using my wily childish charm (you know, because I was an actual child), I would shamelessly talk our way into securing shelf space in local supermarkets. As I grew in skill and into my long years of teen angst, so did the family business, requiring us to expand in LA. Our non-traditional education meant that I internalized everything as a learning experience. You know, like how my concept of normal included sprouted flours, local yeast strains, and various stages of fermentation splayed on the kitchen counter—yielding bread that turned out hearty and misshapen, with a flavor profile bending batch to batch. As my mother always said, “THE BREAD IS ALIVE!”
As you can see, I’ve always had a fun grapple with the notion of “normalcy.” I would watch my parents late at night: my dad at the kitchen table late at night, sketching plans for new machines, or batching a new recipe. Cloudy memories of my mother with flour everywhere and rolling out dough, only to see the kitchen spotless the following morning. I remember thinking, “Who are you? Do you have any idea what your are doing?” Forget the fact that my parents were driving us to a bakery in a 15 passenger airport shuttle van filled with wetsuits, sand, and books. Even our food was weird compared to my friends who had store-bought bread that came in perfectly shaped loaves. I remember longing for a life where I packed a PB&J on white bread and headed off to school instead of the family classic (avocado and sprouted wheatberry) over a self-led science lesson. The journey to embrace my own uniqueness is a beautiful dance of self discovery, but there still remains this imbalance within the family; we are a large group of complicated people who love each other but struggle to find commonality. Under it all, bread is the one thing we all have—the language that is common among a group. This lingua franca.
What’s bizarre is that, in my exploration of wine, I can’t help but think, "what am I doing? How did I get here?" In that moment of questioning, I feel connected to my parents. It conjures images of countertop jars and fermenting plant matter to create something completely new. It results in a complex, sometimes inconsistent, but delicious and intimate shared worldview. A lingua franca.
Our wine program is centered around this philosophy.
I focus on the Republic of Georgia because I have been there. Various configurations of our little Compass Rose family have traveled there over the last two years, led by Rose and hosted by the National Association of Georgian Wine. Georgia is the birthplace of wine as their fermentation culture stretches back 8000 years. Their traditional winemaking method utilizes the qvevri (kweh-vree), giant clay amphoras buried in the earth. The fermentation is unadulterated and unfiltered, using natural yeasts, resulting in wild and delicious drink. They have over 500 different indigenous varietals of grapes.
Learning about wine in Georgia
And the fact that the west—us—is just recently understanding this history is fascinating. When in Georgia, I witnessed the vinification process at several wineries. I looked down into a qvevri filled with grapes, stems, skins, and juice, and I saw a living transformation. These qvevri are without question a more grand experience than nurturing a homemade starter, but for me it is equally romantic.
We know that change happens incrementally, so my attention to the wine program is still focused on easing the guests’ minds so they feel comfortable to try something new. I think part of it is that there’s so much to learn about wine, and some people rely on whatever information they feel they can trust. “This is good simply because it is from here or is this grape.” Others have taste preferences which are well formulated, and that is something I totally respect. But through patience, education, and a sense of humor, I see growth: In a staff that has reconfigured how they serve and communicate with customers, and in our guests who choose to appreciate something different. Any of the wines on our menu can articulate this better than I, so please allow them. With each person who allows themselves to hear a new story, or a different story, they are no longer the other. They are a part of a whole, and one’s worldview expands—just a touch.