A Conversation With Emerging Private Club Wine Critic Fernando Silva

The interest in fine wines in the private club world is nothing new. Traditionally, this exclusive world is always populated with wine enthusiasts, connoisseurs, and aficionados that are usually part of the member’s board.

In some clubs, that position is filled by either the General Manager or the Food and Beverage Manager. I sat down with the industry’s wine critic, Fernando Silva, who happens to be a sommelier, wine director, and talented artist, and asked him a few questions about the changes that have arisen since 2020. 

How has the pandemic altered the wine experience in the Private Golf and Country Club industry? 

What is new, and we might have to thank the “Covid times,” is the fresh change in members’ taste for fine dining experiences outside of the big city scene. The times we spent in isolation were critical for the restaurant business, numerous places closed, and some others adopted a stringent policy directed by the CDC. It was common to see curbside pickups or separate structures out on the street. The power lunches were replaced with Zoom meetings. 

How did the club industry adapt to the influx of New Yorkers moving from the heart of Manhattan to the more suburban areas such as Westchester County?

Clubs adapted quickly, yes; the private club industry evolved. Pressure came from the same members, who could not enjoy a fine wine and food experience as they used to in the city and turned to the club to look for a similar dining experience.

Private Clubs started to pay more attention to the rising figure of the Sommeliers and Wine Directors who team up with Chefs to cater to the most demanding palates.

This was a significant shift in consumers’ opinions and choices; It seems a perfectly calculated circle formed a few years back. Moving from figures like Robert Parker Jr. to Wine Gurus like Michel Rolland and many wine enthusiasts and Connoisseurs to Sommeliers, the stigma of the wine snob started to disappear, and we now have the reinvention of the Wine Critic for private clubs.

Let’s put things into perspective Covid, and Zoom tastings and meetings brought us effortless access to wine courses and a noticeable change in study patterns for wine aficionados, sommeliers, and wine lovers.

Sommeliers and Beverage Directors in private clubs found new creative ways of keeping their members entertained while satisfying their thirst for knowledge and refined culinary experiences. In my personal experience, the Covid times brought about the transition from being a hands-on, Sommelier to a more reflective source of knowledge for a captive audience. 

How did you become the industry’s wine critic? 

During the pandemic, I began writing wine reviews on social media first and soon for Golf Kitchen magazine and several other golf publications. The private club industry has not been blind to all these movements, but as particular as it is, it has always been a unique niche where mainstream wine critics have rarely found a spot.

The private club sector is full of avid wine collectors who have been trying to define themselves or fit into a category for years. Mainstream tastings are far from what a private club needs today; as I mentioned earlier, the private club industry has changed and evolved. It keeps moving forward, offering high-level dining experiences to its members and guests. Keeping in mind these private club members’ needs, this special category of private club wine critic emerges today.

Can you walk us through “Silva’s 101” on how a club should build its wine cellar?

There are no shortcuts to building an excellent Wine Cellar. Good organization is primordial in this task. First of all, determine what the goal of your cellar is. Are you going to keep wines in storage for a long time, or are you looking to move your inventory quickly?

In the private club industry, we cater to many different audiences, so it would be wise to separate your wines depending on the purpose, i.e., “Events and Outing Wines” or “Premium Cellar Wines.” Do some research and learn about your member’s favorite wine regions, then purchase accordingly. It is easier to introduce new wines when you know the regions they love and offer similar wines based on that knowledge.

A sound Bin number System is advantageous as well as labeling and dividing the cellar into countries, regions, and subregions, Like California “Napa,” Italy “Piedmont” or France “Burgundy.”

wine pouring management teamWhen it comes to wine menu offerings, do not be afraid to challenge yourself and move out of your “comfort zone” a good idea here is to start rotating wines at least every two weeks, organize wine tastings, and invite winemakers to talk about their wines. Creativity is the key to success!

Ask for new wines if you are on the other side as a club member. As a good wine lover, you should check the wine list at your club often and ask your Sommelier or your Wine Director to show you what is new on the list! Remember that it is all about “the Experience” and having a bit of fun simultaneously!

What trends in wines do you see as we enter ‘23?

I think that “Natural Wines” are making a significant impact in the US, it started as a trend a few years back, but today we can see that they are taken more seriously. There is a return to classic Italian Grapes or the rediscovery of the Modernist approach to traditional areas, like the case of Nebbiolo in Piedmont or ready-to-drink Bordeaux.

What domestic wines are trending? 

One of my favorite wine regions is Paso Robles; the quality of this area’s red and white wines is outstanding.


Oh, la la! Too many choices, but I will narrow it down to three. My first choice would be Burgundy in France, Barolo in Piedmont, Italy, and Malbecs, from Mendoza in Argentina.

Is there a Rosé that is about to emerge?

Now, this is very interesting. We are used to the traditional Rosé, which comes from Provence, France; however, I am seeing more and more Rosés coming to the market, with a heavy focus on quality, such as Rosés from the “IGP Mediterranee” or “Chiarettos” from Lake Garda, in Italy.

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