By Mark Stuart
Wine is often described as a story. To Patrick Ballow, wine manager at Jonathan’s of La Jolla, “There is the wine itself, then the vintage, the earth, and the people.”
His wine story began with a simple Moscato d’Asti on a hot day in Northern Italy. Ballow found himself being “wowed” by this simple semi-sparkling aromatic varietal and realized there is a place for all styles and complexities of wine. Even today when asked what his favorite wine is, he will answer you by saying, “Paint me a picture. Where am I? Who am I with? What am I eating?” These are the musings of a true vinophile.
Ballow, pronounced “ba-loo,” brings this passion every day to the customers of Jonathan’s. Though the market is now a part of the larger family of Harvest Ranch markets, it remains mostly autonomous in its operation, allowing him the freedom to adapt the inventory to local customers. His mission is to offer the best wine and personalized service at competitive prices while working closely with the culinary side of Jonathan’s.
Store Director Michael Guinan, formerly of Fairbanks Ranch Country Club and The University Club, brings an extensive background of food and beverage knowledge to the market.
Guinan points out that Jonathan’s has distinct advantages over competitors, as they have an on-premise license allowing customers to enjoy wines by the glass or bottle at their sidewalk cafe, “Jonathan’s Q.” The license also gives them access to truly exclusive allotments of wine only available to the restaurant trade augmenting their already formidable inventory.
“Jonathan’s Q” is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily and offers gourmet salads, burgers, and other grilled entree options with an alternate Sunday brunch menu. The food is prepared by professionally trained chefs and is served tableside. Wines are available by the glass with selections changing daily, or bottles may be purchased in the store. Corkage is not charged at “The Q” providing for one of the great values in La Jolla.
The ability to acquire and inventory $750,000 of specialty and every day wines from around the world and offer them with gourmet food elevates the market to something that is ultra modern in functionality while retaining classic style and service.
Ballow manages this wine inventory with service as his first priority. Having tasted the majority of wines that are in stock, he is in a unique position to assist customers , recommending unfamiliar wines they may enjoy. He also stages specific varietals around the store in departments that have interesting food matches. It is part of his regular routine to put together wine pairings for private parties and even set aside bottles for his loyal followers.
The best way to experience his special selections is to participate in the weekly wine tastings from 5:00-7:30 p.m. every Thursday ($10), Friday ($20) and Saturday ($20). Don’t let the price fool you in to thinking that the wines on Thursday are inferior. The discounted rate is simply a promotion to get more people to participate before the weekend rush. Ballow’s goal with the tastings is to “provide an atmosphere to show what we have learned in a non-intimidating fashion that allows people to fall in love with different wines as I have.”
When he is not in the wine department, his spirit stays with the inventory as he hand writes most of the “shelf talkers” that describe the wines. If he is away, he is probably in Napa or Sonoma meeting with growers and winemakers as he heads to Northern California almost once per month to stay on top of the inner workings of the region.
Through education, food pairings, inventory selections, and customer service that simple glass of wine in Northern Italy continues to tell a story through Patrick Ballow at Jonathan’s of La Jolla.