Bistro Bella Vita GM earns level 3 sommelier designation

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Tristan Walczewski. Courtesy Bistro Bella Vita

The general manager of a downtown restaurant recently achieved a level three sommelier designation.

Tristan Walczewski — general manager of Bistro Bella Vita and beverage director for the eatery’s parent company, Essence Restaurant Group — in October achieved level three sommelier designation out of four possible levels.

Divided over three days, the exam held in St. Louis, Missouri, consisted of a service practical including sparkling wine service, red wine decanting service and cocktail service; a 25-minute timed blind tasting of six wines; a blind tasting of beers and spirits coupled with a written examination; and a timed written theory exam covering wine, beer, cider, dessert wines, spirits, cocktails and saké.

Walczweski holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Davenport University. He pursued the initial two designations in 2016 and 2017 and was accepted to pursue the advanced (level three) designation in January 2020, but the process was delayed by COVID-19 and other life events.

He intends to pursue the final level in 2023.

Walczweski, who is among only a handful of West Michiganders with the level three designation, said he is thankful to be able to apply what he’s learned in his role at Essence.

“The Court of Master Sommeliers provided a reference point for exceptional hospitality,” he said. “For some, their takeaway is expert knowledge. For others, it’s opportunity. I’ve always enjoyed the process of these exams, the preparation, the challenge and ultimately the reward: sharing it with the guests (and) helping cultivate it further with the staff.”

He said his knowledge will help Essence take an even more thoughtful approach to wine curation.

“There is immense thought and care into our wine programs at Essence Restaurant Group. At Bistro Bella Vita, we aim to highlight the work of the small producers, ones who take the methodic and holistic approach, farming regeneratively and sustainably, who leave the Earth better than they found it,” he said. “Much time is spent over choosing these producers with the question always at the forefront of my mind, ‘What would our guests think having this wine in their glass?’

“We work tirelessly to bring in smaller production wines — sometimes only in quantities of a case due to their supply — to add depth and intrigue to our glass, bottle and cellar list.”

Bistro Bella Vita now offers a monthly wine club and a retail wine shop from which guests can buy wines. More information on the restaurant is at bistrobellavita.com.

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