Monty Paulsen is the son of a famous man, but that is the least interesting thing about him.
The collection of lava lamps at the door, the mysterious name, and a bathroom outfitted with jungle noises, Don Ho music and a Tiki head dispensing tissues are your first clues that EBGB Underground Wine Bar is a refreshingly different approach to wine tasting.
If that were not enough, enter Monty’s partner, Gigi Benson.
The first thing Benson might tell you is that she is an actress and an “Intuitive Extrovert,” referring to the Meyers Briggs personality profile. The next might be the story of when the cat, upon hearing the bathroom’s jungle bird sounds, jumped into the toilet. No Napa nature girl here, Benson rocks short skirts, high heels and a charismatic transparency that is hard to resist.
The Monty/Gigi dynamic has a Lucy and Desi quality: she’s outrageous, he’s deceptively reserved. Deceptive because Monty has a droll humor of his own, not surprising for the son of Pat Paulsen, a comedian best known for his appearances on the Smothers Brothers TV show and his tongue-in-cheek bid for the presidency in 1968.
Something of a Renaissance Man, Monty found his way into the wine business after earning degrees in English and enology from U.C. Davis, followed by an MBA from Duke. As head of operations and winemaking at Rosenblum Cellars, Monty nurtured lasting relationships in the wine business. According to Benson, “He has a talent for blending wine and he has these connections, they’re not networking connections. They’re real.”
When Rosenblum Cellars was sold to beverage giant Diageo, Monty had the time and money to re-invigorate his father’s label, Pat Paulsen Vineyards, and as a wine consultant, leverage his contacts with over 100 different growers. If he helps to make a wine that turns out especially good, he suggests a partnership. “I say, ‘Hey, I made this, can I claim it? They say sure, take a couple barrels,’” said Paulsen.
This talent for blending, of people as well as wines, is one of the reasons Pat Paulsen Vineyards garnered nine medals at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. A partner with a local angle, Stefanie Jackson is a winemaker who met Monty when she was a “cellar rat” at Rosenblum Cellars. Jackson created a Cabernet for Pat Paulsen Vineyards from grapes grow at Wirth Ranch, in Suisun Valley’s Green Valley appellation. “I’m a single mother and I didn’t have the money to get my wine into bottles. Monty had the wherewithal and it made for a good partnership. The difference with Monty is that he preserves the story. He gave me an opportunity.” Jackson is bullish on Suisun Valley grape growing. “I love it as a winemaker because it is stellar fruit, wonderful terroir that is a well-kept secret. The prices are still low enough for a winemaker like me and that plays out for the consumer.”
Jackson’s 2008 Wirth Ranch Cabernet is ripe with cherries and blackberries, with velvety tannins and a juicy finish. You can find it at the Pat Paulsen Vineyards website at http://www.patpaulsenvineyards.com along with other wines at a range of price points, from the edgy EBGB series at $14 to the winemaker collection at $18 and reserves at $34. Better yet, visit Monty and Gigi in person at the EBGB Underground Wine Bar. Their next event is an Academy Awards Party on Sunday, February 24, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The dress code according to Benson is “Black tie or shorts.” And check out the Tiki bathroom, don’t let the jungle birds scare you.