While working many years in the service industry, I met several extraordinary wine sommeliers. Some are fantastic teachers and wonderful with the guests, warmly guiding patrons toward that perfect selection; others — unintentionally, perhaps — come across as elite or snobby, creating an intimidating barrier between so many who still find selecting wines daunting.
And then, there is Jason Gray Lange — a down-to-earth, making-the-world-better humanitarian, wine bartender and enthusiast. In everything he does, Lange creates a lasting impact: He spent a year in Africa, building a brighter world for orphans by farming and constructing playgrounds.
As a buyer at Sip Fine Wine in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Lange has helped guests select the right varietals and vintages, enabling fond memories over dinner parties. And his most recent project is joining the opening team at The Bounty in Greenpoint, set to open in the next couple of weeks. Prepare for impact…
The Daily Meal: So, you’re a wine guy. When did you fall in love with wine?
Jason Gray Lange: I fell in love with wine while working at Trestle on Tenth back in 2006. Ralf [Kuettel], the chef — also a sommelier — got 16 pieces of this very special cheese imported from Switzerland. We came to lineup smelling this cheese like a fragrant joke from faulty towers. Ralf rolls up with this yellow, cloudy, unfiltered, nerdy-looking wine. The wine smelled halfway funky as the cheese, but when they met, I got goose bumps as something completely new and unbelievable transpired in my mouth.
TDM: What initially turned you onto bartending?
JGL: I was a waiter in San Francisco at this awesome French Indian tapas restaurant called Tallula. The sommelier encouraged me [to become a bartender] because he thought I had a good palate.
TDM: How did your extensive wine background grow and evolve (through jobs, trips, etc.)?
JGL: No trips. I learned the old way. I was mentored by different professionals and read a lot all whilst tasting a lot of wine. The learning curve spiked in 2007, [when] I became an assistant buyer at Sip Fine Wine in Brooklyn.
TDM: What do you like most about being the assistant buyer at Sip Fine Wine in Park Slope? Will you be keeping that position when The Bounty opens?
JGL: I will stay at the shop part time. I’ve been pairing wine for some of our patrons for years now; what would their dinner parties be like if I left?
TDM: What varietals and/or regions are you especially partial to?
JGL: Pinot, gamay, syrah, romorantin, kerner, pinot grigio, ramato… Well, right now I love this little gem varietal from the Loire, menu pineau. I’m always a sucker for sancerre rouge and Alsatian pinot noir: It’s a way to drink pinot noir with backbone and structure without dropping the dough for real Burgundy. I’ve always loved northern Italy, Valle D’Aosta [and] Alto Adige. Also Cour-Cheverny, Jura-Savoie and all those tiny sub-regions below Bordeaux on the way to Cassis; Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains, the crudo whites from the Marche, and I have special place for all the varietals that travel the mainland and islands off Italy and France. I guess I’m varietally polyamorous.
TDM: Have you traveled to any wine region in particular that you love?
JGL: Actually, though I have traveled Italy extensively and been around France, I never made it to any vineyards. Although, the food in Emilia Romanga was particularly impressive.
TDM: You spent a year abroad. Where were you? What drew you there?
JGL: I was teaching and farming sustainably in South Africa, on a farm/orphanage for developmentally challenged kids. The farm was in the rural Transkei in the Eastern Cape in the village of Hobeni. Later, I lived in Malawi near Nkhata Bay. In Malawi, I helped to build a nursery school and playgrounds. I went to Africa because I always dreamed of doing so, and I could offer a useful skill set. I think if it’s in you to do work for people that need help, one should offer. I did something really extreme — no water, no electricity, in the middle of nowhere looking after special kids. What really mattered was that it reminded me how human it makes you feel to help someone. That is good for anyone. The world could use more of that, right?
TDM: Have you ever worked a harvest?
JGL: Never. I’ve done all my learning about wine making through proxy: The bottle, the mentor, and the book.
TDM: What’s on your bucket list of wines to try?
JGL: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echézeaux Grand Cru 1966. Any top producer from Côte- Rôtie 1978, although I imagine they are not even close to ready!
TDM: What are your favorite wine bars?
JGL: Juveniles in Paris! The Ten Bells [in the Lower East Side] is always fun, and RN74 in San Francisco.
TDM: Tell me how you got involved with The Bounty.
JGL: Lance Hess, one of The Bounty owners, came to a few of my vinyl DJ gigs at Nights and Weekends last year. He had heard from friends we had in common that I was a bartender and a wine guy. We talked several times over the following year as he approached his opening. Then, one day I got the call and was asked to stop by and see the build out. Over a few drinks and meeting the other partners, I was asked to become part of the opening team. Simple as that!
TDM: Are you still a DJ? Is so, how often? And, when/where?
JGL: I’m on hiatus from spinning at the moment, though last year when I met Lance around this time, it was during my weekly gig at a bar in north Williamsburg, Nights and Weekends. Although, I am gearing up to do some gigs this summer once The Bounty is taking off.
TDM: Any other jobs or extracurricular activities that you're involved in?
JGL: I am an aspiring poet and short fiction writer. My mentor has just pushed me into a 10 day trip to Savannah, Ga. Im hoping to sequester myself and come back with some good work; made without the distractions of our invasive city, that I love.
TDM: What’s it like being part of the opening team?
JGL: Well, from almost the first evening we started to treat each other like a family, learning quickly how to read one another with an almost psychic sense of anticipation. All around, it feels like working with brothers and sisters.
TDM: What does the drink menu look like?
JGL: All classic cocktails made to exact specs and proper old-school technique. Exact to the micron.
TDM: What goals do you have for its beverage program?
JGL: Well, it is not my program. Kevin Ang — also a cook in our kitchen and owner — is a true veteran bartender and behind our drinks. He wants perfection and consistency made from quality and pure ingredients. Nothing less.
TDM: Name your personal favorite Bounty cocktails (or wines) and why you love them.
JGL: I love our Dark and Stormy — a hard-shaken, buck-style drink that has a silky moose with a serious pure ginger kick: Fresh lime juice, crushed ginger juice, sugar, and dark rum. It’s shaken very hard with one cold draft ice cube until completely melted and the shaker goes silent. [Finished with] a float of soda and poured over ice in a Collins glass.
TDM: How does Bounty differ from its sister bar, The Drink in Williamsburg?
JGL: For one, we won’t be doing their famous punches. Our cocktail program is just as focused with extra attention added as Kevin has crafted his ideas with our food in mind.
TDM: Since it’s about to open, can you dish about the space?
JGL: We have a nautical and sea fairing décor, simple with lots of dark wood and clever accents without being busy. An outdoor space is in the works for mid-summer.
TDM: I’m originally from Florida, so I love seafood! Any hints on what to look forward to on the seafood-driven menu?
JGL: [It’s] a total seafood menu, as fresh and sustainable as we can get [with] raw and hot-savory offerings from the sea, a few vegetarian offerings, and some other meats. A killer burger, of course, with Vermont aged Cheddar and housemade tomato jam with hints of Aleppo peppers.