Meet Augustus Miller: Sommelier and Wine director at Industriel Restaurant in Los Angeles. He’s one of the most highly regarded sommeliers in the country, and has an acute understanding of wine at its deepest roots. He presents wine with the utmost confidence in his wine list, and in his palate. He pairs the unconventional. He blows you away with wines of exceptional quality at astounding values. He invites you to new appellations and varietals, and takes you on a journey through time. Most surprisingly, he’s 28 years old.
To better comprehend that last sentence, Augustus has only been able to legally purchase wine for the last 7 years, but has quickly developed the expertise to stand toe-to-toe with some of the world’s most talented wine snobs and master sommeliers alike. He creates an unforgettable experience at the dinner table from the very moment you meet him, and everything pours out from there. I had the great fortune of dining with him this week at Industriel, located in the heart of downtown LA near some of the city’s finest establishments (down the street from the famed Water Grill). It’s a French provençal experience rooted in urban farm cuisine, and has an eclectic mix of tradition and modern fare. Some of their staple dinner plates include a Hanger Steak with forest mushrooms in a green peppercorn demi-glacé, or even an aperitif as simple as their Daily Bread with elaborate dipping sauces. Every detail, from textured walls with vintage French-inspired photography, to reclaimed wood, iron chandeliers, and a display of illuminated honey bears hanging from the ceiling all come together to create a blend of tradition and attitude. First we would dine, and agreed to a wine-only experience, even though Industriel has become known for their creative bar mixology. I told him he could use me as his blank canvas to paint a collage of the restaurant’s finest, and to showcase both his talents as wine guru, and the creative genius of Executive Chef David Luna.
At the table
Miller began the evening by teasing my palate with both a German Petit Rosé and a young Domaine Fèvre Chablis 2010 to balance a first plate of Charred Romaine hearts. The salad was tossed in what he calls a “Green Goddess” dressing with an avocado base, mandarin oranges, and Manchego cheese. As for the wine, it presented flavors of racy lemon peel, and green apple tartness. It immediately catapulted my senses into what would surely become an experience for the books. Next up, a Chèvre Gnocchi with forest mushrooms, pine nuts, and kale in a browned sage butter, paired eloquently with a Sancerre Comte Lafond 2011 that offered a cutting grapefruit acidity. He brought out a half bottle, and knew that what came next would take me on a journey down memory lane. Mussels in a ginger leek cream, capers, oregano, and sourdough mops to soak up the broth. This was evolving quickly into a sensory explosion.
It became clear that this night was far from over as Augustus presented the first bottle of red wine. I was all-in. A young Northern Rhône Syrah, Monier Perréol Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes 2011 filled my nose with raspberry fruit, and displayed flavors reminiscent of smoked meat and chewy plum, with a silky finish. The dish served alongside it was Industriel’s Duck Cassoulet in a white bean stew with parsnips, apricots, and a Panko crust. And for the grand finale, an off-the-menu special: Rack of Lamb with red smashed potatoes, leeks, carrots, and a Pommery mustard cream sauce.
The last bottle would represent Augustus Miller to perfection. He presented a wine that we would share together for our discussion and overview of his coveted invitation to Ridge Vineyards. A Château Peyrabon Haut-Médoc 2000, something from his private selection, not found on the wine list, and to my surprise, only $15.
The list and the man behind the curtain:
Also not found on the wine list, is Augustus’ contagious excitement presenting each dish, each wine, and each new experience with ultimate passion. You can’t sit still as you anticipate the next arrival. You become enthralled in the region, the terroir, and the seed of the very fruit. It’s a time capsule, and an emotional presentation of wines that hold significant meaning to Augustus and his upbringing.
The list is a leather journal of treasures, bound in wood and brass nails, tied together with a leather lanyard. It’s not overwhelming as many wine lists are, but rather focused and concise in its offering, covering classic regions and varietals. Miller likes to offer 3 options of each wine; 1) the value bottle 2) one of his personal favorites, & 3) the popular label that gives credibility to his other selections. As he says, “It’s all about building a program and a map, creating a structure. It’s not about up-selling. I want to present a wine below budget, that blows away expectations.” To him, a perfect pairing is never the main focal point. It is more important to really listen to your guest, and take them on a journey. Most sommeliers want to impress with obscure wines and unfamiliar bottlings. Augustus would rather impress you with a $40 bottle that tastes as good, if not better, than the $100+ fancy label you were considering.
As for his favorite, and most fascinating wine region: the Willamette Valley of Oregon, and the terrior’s awarded Pinot Noir. He calls it the most affordable wine for its quality, comparing it to the likes of French Burgundy without the price tag. When asked his favorite wine, it’s simply the wine he’s drinking right now.
Without a wine background, Augustus had to learn wine theory, geography, viticulture, and train each of his senses to fully grasp his role as sommelier. Growing up around a family who guarded him from soda, candies and sweets, he was raised on his backyard orchard, and was only allowed snacks likes pistachios, and various cheeses. It was the birth of a sophisticated palate and an understanding of complex flavor. At a young age, he took a liking to beer, only deciding to pursue his sommelier certification in his mid-20’s. As he says, “beer is great, but wine can take you to the next level of flavor.”
The Journey to Ridge Vineyards – Sommelier Symposium 2013:
The purpose of my visit to Industriel, and meeting Augustus Miller, was to highlight a sacred journey reserved only for the elite class of sommeliers across the country – an invitation worth it’s weight in gold. Based on his talent, Augustus has been hand-selected alongside the country’s top somms to travel to Ridge Vineyards on May 20th & 21st. His experience will include two days of intense visitation at Ridge’s Lytton Springs & Monte Bello Estates with barrel tastings, winery tours, educational presentations, food & wine pairings, blind verticals, and wine dinners with winemaker Paul Draper conducting the entire experience, joined by his Winemaking Team, Vineyard Team, vineyard Executives, & Regional Sales Managers (the region-specific points-of-contact with the Somms themselves). As wine is such an emotional part of Augustus’ life, it is only fitting that his first memories of Ridge wine date back to his very first date with the love of his life. It is only the first journey of many in his profound budding career dedicated to a lifelong passion. –JT