Meet Penny Grant, Group Sommelier of Blackbird Bar & Grill
From stomping grapes as a child in the vineyards of country Victoria to her sommelier experiences with some of Australia’s most notable restaurants (Circa, Taxi, Maze, Stokehouse) Penny Grant’s passion for and knowledge of wine is already the stuff of industry legend – especially following her successes with Brisbane’s Blackbird Bar & Grill. Penny took some time from her schedule to talk with Wine Selectors about the importance of mentors and a few of her favourite things.
Your career began at 16! What made you so passionate about joining the industry?
My parents have always been heavily wine focussed. My mum was managing restaurants and bottle shops when I was in high school. After school, my sister and I would dust bottles and help her stock fridges. She is now State Manager for Mezzanine Wine. We have always been surrounded by great wine and we were very fortunate that mum and dad would always share.
You’ve worked at some fantastic establishments with some very distinguished restaurateurs and featured in many notable publications. What are your most memorable career highlights so far?
Blackbird was my first wine list and it was scary, launching this venue took a lot out of us. Just getting it off the ground was a huge achievement, and winning Sommelier of the year for the Good Food Guide in the same year was the icing on an already full on but exciting year. Blackbird has continued to achieve great awards to this day and I know it will just continue to grow under the watchful guidance of Marcel and his team.
How did having mentors shape your career?
The relationships you build with people who are generous with their knowledge and time sets the standard for how we then train others. I owe my career to the people who trained me, and continue to do so in other ways now. Whether it be Chris Crawford who has played a big role in my wine show judging development and my first junior sommelier role, or Lincoln Riley who remains my rock for guidance and friendship. The importance of finding these people in your career will pay dividends for life.
What achievements are you most proud of?
My daughter Alba. Also Blackbird being nominated in the Top 3 wine lists in Australia for Gourmet Traveller Wine list of year 2018.
What advice would you give to other women in the wine industry?
Surround yourself with the right people. Don’t waste energy on the things you cannot control, spend your time on being the most prepared in the room instead. Knowledge is power.
What’s the best part about being a sommelier and working at Blackbird Bar & Grill?
My floor days are over I'm sad to say, but the best thing about being in my role as group sommelier is the training and education time I get to spend with our sommeliers. Marcel Thomson our head sommelier and his team continue to evolve the wine list and keep Blackbird on its successful path.
What sets Blackbird apart from other fine dining establishments you’ve worked at?
We can pretty much accommodate any kind of experience you want here. Steak from our Infierno 96 ironbark fired wood grill, fresh seafood on ice, slow cooked lamb shoulders, whole fish, truffles, caviar, burgers, fresh pasta, Cristal at 2am in our bar that's open until 5am, events for 500 people downstairs, 3 private dining rooms, wine list with over 500 bins, and our biggest asset our incredibly talented staff.
How do you decide which wines to include on Blackbird’s extensive wine list?
We follow the simple philosophy that each and every wine has to be a great example of variety, vintage and region. Most importantly there has to be a guest in mind, food to match and a balance of price across the list. We focus on what our guests enjoy and ensure there are ample options.
If you had to pick a favourite wine on the list, which one would it be and why?
2018 Hughes & Hughes Barrel Ferment Riesling from the Coal River Valley in Tasmania. I’d have to say it’s my go to bottle to take home, not expensive and doesn’t have to be. Riesling with substance, texture, great acid and most importantly an abundance of flavour. Tassie Riesling is epic!
What’s your favourite wine varietal and wine?
Riesling probably and it’s a bit cliché from a sommelier but you can never have enough. 2017 Joh Jos Prum Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett Riesling - Mosel, Germany. Also, tough question, how can we choose a favourite…?
What’s your ultimate wine and food match?
I generally say fried chicken and white burgundy.
What is your favourite…
Blackbird menu item: Brisbane Valley Quail, roasted breast + confit leg w chestnut puree, pine mushrooms + quince.
White wine: 2016 Mount Mary Chardonnay - Yarra Valley, VIC
Red wine: 2012 San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo Sangiovese - Tuscany, Italy
Sparkling Wine: 2011 Meadowbank Blanc de Blancs - Derwent Valley, TAS
Australian holiday destination: Booloumba Creek National Park, Sunshine Coast QLD. Amazing rainforest for camping, crystal clear water.