Wines From Spain recently spoke with Matthew Kaner, Owner of Bar Covell, Augustine Wine Bar, Dead Or Alive Bar and Good Measure in Southern California. Matthew’s life-long dream was to be able to afford a nice bottle of wine. After leaving his high school job as a restaurant manager, he decided to work at the Wine Cask, a world-famous wine store and fine dining restaurant. A few years later, he moved to Los Angeles and landed a part-time job at Silverlake Wine that eventually turned into a full-time job and changed his life.
In 2010, Matthew and restaurateur Dustin Lancaster became co-owners at the no-printed-wine-list bar, Covell. Matthew knows wine is subjective, so at Covell he makes tasting all about the interaction, asking a series of questions to discover which style guests like and then pouring tasting flights according to their answers.
In 2017, Matthew also launched Good Measure, a wine centric restaurant featuring wine country cuisine inspired by European and California techniques/ingredients. Read our full interview with him below!
1. How did you get your start in the wine industry? What drove you to open your own bars and restaurants?
My start in the wine industry came in Santa Barbara, while I was pursuing music as a potential career path. I had been managing a restaurant (because if you’re going to pursue music, you’d better have a restaurant job), and one of my college roommates had a father with an insane collection of wine and for some reason he decided I was someone worth investing in fancy bottles and fancy dinners. I was blown away by wines like 1970s Grand Cru Burgundies, 1950s and 1960s Mosel Rieslings, Port Style Wines from Australia from the 1930s, etc!
I decided to quit my restaurant job, and two weeks later I had a position in wine sales at the Wine Cask Wine Store in downtown Santa Barbara.
Then in 2006 I moved to Los Angeles (LA), originally for music. But wine kept me in LA. After a few things went differently than anticipated, I ended up getting a part-time job at Silverlake Wine, an amazing wine store in Silverlake. There, I learned about community and what it means to invest yourself in a community. A few years later, a good friend of mine, Dustin Lancaster, told me he was tired of making money for other people, and he was going to open a wine bar, but only if I joined him on this venture. That’s how Bar Covell opened. On July 2, 2010, Bar Covell opened and my career changed.
Fast forward a few years, we opened Augustine Wine Bar with a friend who lives in the Sherman Oaks area of LA. Our friend insisted that the valley needed a wine bar and suggested that we should be the ones to open it. After about 18 months of listening to the same story, I looked at him in the eyes and said, “why don’t you open a wine bar in Sherman Oaks?” and a lightbulb went off in David Gibbs’ head. As a result, “the guys from Covell” teamed up with Mr. Gibbs to open Augustine Wine Bar on February 18, 2015.
About two years later, my next project was a solo business. I decided to create Good Measure: a wine centric restaurant featuring wine country cuisine inspired by European and California techniques/ingredients. Good Measure opened July 31, 2017.
2. What are your restaurants and bars’ overall philosophy on wine?
Wine is often coveted, scrutinized, and horded. At each of my establishments we handle wine with care, but also with a light heart. Wine is meant to be enjoyed with friends, lovers, new acquaintances, or even sometimes by yourself! Having a helping hand in making an informed decision on wine choices is something our culture is taking more and more seriously! We aim to guide our guests in their wine choices without trying to sound like salespeople. The goal is simple, to find the right wine for the right occasion.
3. One of the things your bars and restaurants do so well is wine education, especially for consumers. Tell us about the consumer education programming you do?
At Bar Covell we have 150 wines by the glass, and no wine list! Each guest interaction is a learning opportunity. Rather than just receiving orders, each time someone comes to the bar at Covell to order a glass of wine, it’s a conversation.
At Augustine Wine Bar our wine program is focused on vintage wine. This is a unique way for our guests to be transported back in time without having to drop a month’s rent for a bottle. Each night we feature an in-house chalk board of about 5-10 different vintage wines ranging from $18-$50 per glass.
In addition to our nightly programming, we also do events and tastings at Bar Covell, Augustine Wine Bar, and Good Measure! Giving our guests the opportunity to meet with a winemaker or maybe the ambassador for a winery. This type of opportunity allows consumers to ask more questions and to build a connection to the wine itself.
4. Are there any trends specific to Spanish wine that you see at your restaurants that surprise you?
Spanish wine is on the rise for sure! More people are asking for Cava than in the past. Where the norm had been for guests to ask for Prosecco, now it’s more commonplace to be asked for Cava. Also, the natural wine movement happening in Catalonia is really taking on in the California wine scene.
Rioja will always have a market share, Priorat has cemented itself as a serious wine region in the minds of our guests, and in the last few years wines from Galicia and Bierzo have really gained prowess and attention, especially the red wines. Also, Rias Biaxas Albariño is a well-known wine that people know to ask for in restaurants and wine bars.
5. How would you define your approach to developing a wine program and specifically your approach to curating Spanish wines?
Depending on the scope of the wine program (i.e. focus on by the glass, does it have a large wine list by the bottle, etc.) I will approach it differently. Spanish wine always plays a role in my opening wine program/wine lists, I’ll continue to tip my hat to Rioja, Cava, Priorat, Bierzo, Rias Baixas, and occasionally to Txakoli. These wines are true to their roots and have weight when found on wine lists!
6. What is your favorite Spanish wine pairings?
I love Albariño and oysters. I’m a huge fan of 100% Xarel-lo from Catalonia with pulpo. Rioja and grilled lamb chops speaks to my soul.
7. What is your single favorite Spanish wine and why?
I am a huge fan of Rioja, I’ve been there three times. My single favorite Spanish wine is basically any wine produced by R. López de Heredia.
8. You recently traveled to Northern Spain. Tell us, what is the must-see region in Spain right now for travelers?
If you find yourself in Barcelona and have a free afternoon or two, there are two incredible day trips I recommend doing for the sake of wine and culture.
Number One: GO TO PRIORAT! The wine region was established by monks who felt they would be closer to God if they established their lives there – the history is incredible. You can feel the high elevation amphitheater vineyards staring up at higher altitude jagged mountain sides. Their wines are powerful while also achieving elegance.
Number Two: go to the birthplace of CAVA! 45 minutes to an hour outside of Barcelona you can arrive at Codorníu, established in 1551. They were the first winery to produce Cava in the late 1800s and have been working for over 140 years to perfect the craft. The Codorníu winery has so much history, and the train ride will take you thru their 30km of underground caves – its worth the drive alone!