Of Wine and Wisdom
A wine expert in Easton spills about his travels, his passion for grapes and his goals for the store.
By John Rankin
One of Easton’s esteemed wine shops can be found at the intersection of Idlewild Avenue and Route 50. Inside Wishing Well Liquors, the ubiquitous array of liquor and wine brands are neatly displayed in the front of the store. But it’s the back room where a wine aficionado will find the “good stuff” and a very special wine professional who counts his wine experience by decades, not years. Meet the wine director, Philip Bernot.
Bernot was only 15 years old when he began working at his father’s convenience store in San Diego, California. Besides snacks and personal goods, the store sold wine. It was there that he became fascinated with wine, reading everything he could about the subject. He admits to having had a few “underage sips,” but instead of the sips leading to a habit, they fueled a passion for wine. One could say that he was hooked on wine at an early age.
For Bernot, wine became much more than just a social beverage. He was fascinated by the ways that wine projects a sense of place. Since wine is an expression of the soil and climate in which the grapes grow, tasting good wine was like a travelogue to him. Wine takes an experienced and aware drinker to a specific place by presenting nuances that show differently through grapes grown in Place A versus Place B. This connection to “place” is honored particularly in France and Italy.
After moving from San Diego to Baltimore in 1982, Bernot developed the wine list for the Belvedere Hotel. He also became the sommelier at the Pacifica Restaurant, an upscale venue frequented by Robert Parker, one of the world’s renowned wine gurus. The restaurant was a crossroads for wine producers, and it was here that he dedicated his life to wine. Since then, his wine journey has taken him to wineries in France, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Chile and California, which Bernot calls “a wine country of its own.”
California, he says, enjoys many different wine producing regions, with Napa being the most famous. “While Napa is certainly the most famous region, it isn’t really my first choice. While plenty of good wine comes from Napa, the same is true for many other California regions, like El Dorado County. Mendocino wines can be lovely, and there are some very cool things happening in Santa Barbara and the Central Coast.”
Today, winemakers from around the globe continuously visit Bernot at the Wishing Well. When traveling, these people often have brutal schedules, so they genuinely appreciate being invited to Bernot’s house to relax and have a home-cooked meal.
“We have entertained many people over the years, from all parts of the wine world. One very fun lunch we had involved a distinguished, older gentleman from Umbria, Italy. He spoke very little English, and I don’t speak Italian. Thankfully, my importer was there, and he is from Italy. I wanted to cook something that he would never have in Italy, so I made Beer Can Chicken. At one point, the producer stepped out to the deck where the chicken was cooking on the grill, and he was on the phone with Italy. I still laugh about seeing his arm gestures as he told his Italian connection, “You won’t believe it, they actually stick a can of beer right up the chicken’s rear!’”
Through years of experiences like these, education and travel, Bernot became a knowledgeable and highly regarded wine director today. He treats his customers with a gentle manner to explain why a wine will be a good match for what they seek. Because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, he has no plans to travel abroad this year. But there is one more element in the blend that makes him special — his philosophy.
Philip Bernot’s wine philosophy is what sets him apart from so many wine managers in mundane wine shops. His decades of wine experience help him pair a bottle of wine with the people who will appreciate it.
“I’m exposed to huge variety here in the store. I strive to be a go-between for the people who make wine and the people who buy it,” he reasons. “I understand a wine for what it is, and I love to tell the story of wine to people.”
“I ask myself, ‘What was the producer trying to accomplish with this wine and the grapes?’ I’m looking for wines that have the most direct path from the vine to the bottle. Many brands today are the opposite — there’s too much manipulation. I’ve tasted wines whose flavor, aromas and even color has been doctored before bottling.”
This wisdom spurs reflection, and encourages the wine lover to develop their sensory evaluation skills.
At age 60, Philip Bernot is very satisfied with life and what he does. He believes he has the best job in the store. His job at Wishing Well Liquors is “lots of fun,” and he says that “it’s been a fantastic learning experience.”
“I have found the exact place in the industry for me. I love wine and I want to continue what I’m doing for as long as I can.”