Interview with Steve Marvin

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Wray's wine manager, Steve Marvin. Photo by Andy Sawyer.

If you’ve ever wandered through the wine section of Wray’s in Chalet Place and wondered who writes those notes on the shelves, it’s Steve Marvin, Wray’s wine manager. We checked in with him to see how he got his job, how he buys wine for Wray’s … and what wines he’d bring with him to a desert island.

Name & Age: Stephen W. Marvin

Age: 63

Personal: Pamela, my wife of 43 years (better aged than any wine I’ve ever had, and just keeps getting better!), and I have three kids — Jon, Adam and Jason. We also have two perfect grandchildren — Taurin, 12, and Elijah, 7. No animals, except for my kids!

Profession/job title:
Wine department manager at Wray’s Chalet since November 2007. (I was previously a practicing attorney, specializing in taxation and estate planning. Selling wine and being involved in the wine industry is much more fun!)

Where did you grow up, go to school, etc.?
I grew up in Yakima and went to school at Gilbert Elementary, Wilson Junior High and Eisenhower High schools. I attended college at Whitworth (1 year), YVCC (1 year), University of Washington (2 years) and the University of Wisconsin Law School (JD and the University of Miami (LLM/Taxation).
I practiced law (specializing in tax and estate tax planning) in Milwaukee, WI from 1974-1985, and then in Yakima from 1986-1996.
How long have you worked at Wray’s? How did you get into your current position?
I started at Wray’s Chalet in November 2006. The previous wine department manager left earlier in the year. At the time I was just a wine customer, and I was no longer practicing law. I asked who was replacing the manager and heard there had been no recommendation. I said I would love to do it – long story short, here I am. Wine experience: none. I started becoming interested in cooking and wine (both of which became a hobby/passion) in the 1970s. I also have great wine resources in my sons, who have been in the wine business (both retail and wholesale) on a formal basis for many years.

We love the hand-written notes in Wray’s wine section – how many of the wines do you taste personally? As I’ve told many customers, you’ll seldom see me ever say anything like “a hint of chocolate, overtones of chocolate, blueberries, etc.” Except in rare instances (probably big Zins with pepper, smoke and/or bacon), I can never taste “hints” of this or that. My taste buds have been ruined by age and smoking (PS: I haven’t smoked in more than eight years). I mainly notice light, medium or heavy body. And my personal preference (although I appreciate all well-made wines) is for in-your-face, “Mack truck” wines.
I probably sample 10-20 wines per week – as many as I can without killing myself (although I realize my duty is to sacrifice myself for our customers!). My tombstone should probably read: “For his wine customers, he gave it all.”

How many different wines are represented in your wine section?
I haven’t added up recently. I know that we probably have more than 250 Washington wines (one of the larger selections in the state). Including everything else (California, Oregon, imports, etc.) I will guess approximately 1,000 or more wineries. Washington now has more than 700 wineries, so I have a long way to go. There are many I am not interested in, but I probably have at least 200-300 more I would like to acquire (with enough shelf space) before I would reach the point where I would say “no thanks” to a particular Washington wine. When I say “more than 250 Washington wines,” I mean just the winery. For any given winery I may carry 3-10 or more different varieties. Thus more than 250 Washington wineries translates into 1,500 or more Washington wine facings.

You’re on the proverbial desert island … what “top five” regional wines would you take with you?
1) Virtually anything from Owen Roe, which includes Owen Roe, Sharecroppers, O’Reilly’s and Corvidae – this is my favorite winery, and the winery I give the most shelf/display space. Our customers love his wines.

2) Sheridan wines – big, in-your-face type wines.

3) Gilbert Cellars – particularly the Allobroges.

4) Masset Winery – particularly Le Petite Rouge.

5) Syncline, from the Columbia Gorge — really nice wines.

Honorable mentions: Naches Heights Vineyards (Phil Cline); Windy Point Vineyards; Michael & David (from California – particularly its 7 Deadly Zins and Earthquake Zin); and Rombauer Chardonnay. Please keep in mind, I’m somewhat shooting from the hip. I’m sure there are many others that I would be happy with on the “island.” Thus, omissions don’t mean I wouldn’t take them.
Do you cook? Favorite wine-food pairing?
Yes, both Pam and I, and our sons, although not as much as in earlier years. Now we tend to do simpler, lighter foods (although I still love my beef and lamb). I love all well-made wines but lean toward red meats with a big red (a Cab, Merlot, red blend, Zin). I really like a good piece of barbequed meat with a big Zin (normally from California. Washington has some good Zins, but California is still “king, as Oregon is with Pinot Noirs). I also really like big Chardonnays from California and Sauv Blancs from New Zealand, with shrimp, scallops and halibut. (Although I enjoy salmon, halibut is my favorite – unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view. Its pricing is now such that a really nice bottle of wine to go with it costs less than the halibut itself!)
Finally, I’m a believer in no hard and fast rules. If I have a beautiful steak and the only wine I have on hand is a really nice chardonnay or sauv blanc, fine with me. Maybe not the best pairing, but it works for me!

Do you hold a wine glass by the stem or by the glass?
Out of the bottle is fine! Seriously, probably by the stem, although I don’t think it matters – I can swirl the wine either way.

Why is Yakima home to you?
After both of us grew up in Yakima, we lived in Seattle for a couple of years. Then when the Seattle Pilots moved to Wisconsin, we followed them and lived in Wisconsin for about 16 years (1970-1985). I then had a job opportunity that enabled us to move back here. It was a tough choice because we really enjoyed Milwaukee, but we always wanted to get back to the West coast and family. Plus, the weather in Wisconsin really was awful. We also viewed Yakima as a better place to raise our three boys (then ages 15, 10 and 8).
If you could boil your life philosophy down to one or two sentences, what would it be?
My faith is number one, along with family in terms of my life philosophy – these, along with various life experiences, have taught me not to take life too seriously, particularly in those areas where I have little or no control. Don’t worry about things you don’t have or can’t achieve – most of the time you’ll find your satisfaction level is much lower than you expected upon gaining or achieving whatever you worked so hard to get. Thus, relax and enjoy life (faith, family, good food and wine), and don’t sweat the small stuff.  Sit back – enjoy your family and friends with a great steak or piece of lamb with a nice bottle of wine (ok, now and then throw in some halibut, shrimp and scallops)!

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